Understanding Media

by Marshall McLuhan

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 334

Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man is a book written in 1964 by Marshall McLuhan. The story sits promptly in media studies as it argues that the medium through which information is communicated is just as important if not more imporant than the information itself. This non-fiction writing does not have explicit characters but rather provides case studies. I’ve listed a handful of these case studies below.

Light bulb. McLuhan argues that there are mediums without content. For example, the light bulb does not have any content, the way a magazine or radio show does. However, it is the medium through which we are able to see at night. He says, “a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence.”

Television. McLuhan offers television as an example of a cool medium.

Movies. McLuhan theorizes that film is an example of hot media because the environment is designed for the reader to be fully engaged in the content. The medium of a dark, quiet theater provides the viewer with the opportunity to fully engage in the content of the film.

Spoken word. McLuhan says,

It is the extension of man in speech that enables the intellect to detach itself from the vastly wider reality. Without language human intelligence would have remained totally involved in the objects of its attention.

McLuhan places great emphasis on human speech as the original and most natural form of media.

Other case studies include the written word, roads and paper routes, numbers, clothing, housing, money, clocks, print, comics, the wheel, bicycle, airplane, photograph, the press (the press is hot media), motorcars, ads, games, the telegraph, the typewriter, the telephone (the telephone is cool media), the phonograph, radio (radio is hot media), cartoons (cartoons are cool media), weapons, and automation.

A character who is described is David Sarnoff, the leader of the Radio Corporation of America. McLuhan says that the Radio Corporation of America takes the wrong approach to media by ignoring how the content is brought to the viewer.

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