Does McLuhan think that media reflects or shapes our culture in Understanding Media?

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In Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan takes a technical—one might almost say a purely linguistic—approach to the idea of "media." First of all, he focuses purely on the medium, to the exclusion of content. Most critics writing about news media would devote at least some attention to what is being...

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In Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan takes a technical—one might almost say a purely linguistic—approach to the idea of "media." First of all, he focuses purely on the medium, to the exclusion of content. Most critics writing about news media would devote at least some attention to what is being reported, but for McLuhan, the most important aspect is whether he is discussing newspapers, journals, television, radio or, indeed, the human voice, which he regards as the original medium.

So does the human voice shape our culture or reflect it? Clearly, it does both, like any other medium of communication. McLuhan differentiates between hot media, which have little viewer participation, and cool media, which have more. A movie would, by this definition, be hot. A telephone would be cold. It is clear, however, that even with this distinction, both hot and cold media shape and reflect culture. A movie, for instance, obviously reflects the culture that produced it, but iconic films also shape culture. Similarly, telephone conversations reflect the culture in which they take place, but the telephone has also had a decisive effect on language (for instance, the word "hello" was first used as a telephone greeting).

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