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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 320

Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man is an iconic and revolutionary text in media and communication studies. McLuhan takes a relatively nihilistic approach to technology and the impact it has had on humankind’s consumption of information. Rather than consider the content of media, McLuhan considers the medium through which it is brought to the viewer. Very controversially, McLuhan disregards content all together. He chooses to not consider the impact violence on television has on young children or subliminal messages that are brought to teenagers through advertisements. Instead, he focuses solely on how media is designed. He starts the book by saying, “the Western world is imploding.” Many have suggested the McLuhan is a technophobe for his general belief that technology has produced some of the worst mediums of media. He primarily argues that media is an extension of human beings. The original form of media was human speech. Technology has simply been building upon that from the start. McLuhan sees technologies with physical capacities, such as bicycles, as largely useful in expanding human capabilities. However, electronic technologies that expand consciousness are at the heart of the implosion he originally mentions. He does not outrightly say if technology is good or bad. However, the reader is left with a fatalistic feeling based on his writing.

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His writing is most well known for coining the ideas of “hot” and “cool” media. The definitions of these are designed to be fluid and depend on the culture and environment upon which the medium of media is introduced. The general idea is that “hot mediums” are designed so that the audience has limited participation. The example he offers is a movie theater. Here the environment is designed with limited stimuli besides the movie playing itself. The lights are dark and everyone stays quiet. “Cool mediums” require some work by the audiences. For example, television is often playing in the home where there are distractions.

Form and Content

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 849

“The medium is the message” is one of those phrases that seem to summarize in a synthetic, almost formulaic way a major insight of the twentieth century. As such, it has acquired the true mark of popular notoriety: It sounds both familiar and profound, but its meaning is only vaguely understood and its source is often unknown. In fact, tracing this phrase to the book in which it is first discussed at length and to the argument which its originator builds around it is instrumental to a full understanding of its relevance.

Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media, in which the cryptic phrase appears as a chapter title, was first published in 1964, but it did not attract wide attention until the following year, when extensive review articles appeared in The New Yorker and in other influential journals. From that moment on, the international debate over McLuhan’s controversial theory gained momentum, and Understanding Media rapidly became one of the most discussed books of the 1960’s.

That was probably a most unexpected turn of events for those who had followed the development of McLuhan’s intellectual career. A Canadian by birth, he had studied engineering and then literature at the University of Manitoba. He had subsequently specialized in literary criticism at the University of Cambridge in England. McLuhan greatly admired James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot and traced some of these authors’ stylistic innovations to the symbolism and linguistic dexterity of the Elizabethans. This early interest stimulated McLuhan’s own delight in the inventive use of unusual grammatical constructions, in the creation of puns, and in a formulaic style that very...

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