McLuhan states that people adapt to their environment through a certain balance or ratio of their senses, and the primary medium of the age brings out a particular sense ratio. McLuhan sees every medium as an extension of some human faculty, with the media of communication thus exaggerating this or that particular sense. In his words, "The wheel...is an extension of the foot. The book is an extension of the eye... Clothing, an extension of the skin...Electric circuitry,an extension of the central nervous system". Whatever predominates media will influence human beings by affecting the way they perceive the world.
His famous distinction between "hot" and "cool" media referred to the different sensory effects associated with media of higher or lower definition. High-definition ("hot") media, such as print or radio, are full of information and allow for less sensory completion or involvement on the part of the reader or listener than low-definition ("cool") media, such as telephone or television, which are relatively lacking in information and require a higher sensory involvement of the user. The form of each medium is associated with a different arrangement, or ratio, in the order among the senses and thus creates new forms of awareness. These transformations of perceptions are the bases of the meaning of the message. In this sense, "the medium is the message."
McLuhan is especially insistent that an analysis of media content is meaninglessmisses the pointsince it is the medium which carries the lion’s share of the communication. Simply put, the medium affects the body and the psyche in relatively unconscious ways; thus it is more powerful than the message, which largely appeals to the conscious mind.
By placing all the stress on content and practically none on the medium, we lose all chance of perceiving and influencing the impact of new technologies on man, and thus we are always dumbfounded byand unprepared forthe revolutionary environmental transformations induced by new media.
From Marshall McLuhan
Herbert Marshall McLuhan (July 21, 1911December 31, 1980) was a Canadian futurist, academic and one of the founders of modern media studies.
He was born to Elsie and Herbert McLuhan in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and raised in a Baptist Scottish-Irish family. He later converted to Roman Catholicism. McLuhan would remain a strong Catholic throughout his career. Some argue that his religion played a heavy role in his philosophical studies.
McLuhan became a pop culture figure in the 1960s with the publication of Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (McGraw-Hill, 1964) and The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (with designer Quentin Fiore, Random House, 1967).
Famous for coining the phrases "The medium is the message" (he later published a book whose title was a play on this phraseThe Medium is the Massage) and "the global village", McLuhan became one of the early purveyors of the sound bite. He asserted that each different medium is an extension of the senses that affects the individual and society in distinct and pervasive ways, further classifying some media as "hot"media which engage one's senses in a high-intensity, exclusive way, such as typography, radio, and filmand other media as "cool"media of lower resolution or intensity, that require more interaction from the viewer, such as the telephone and the television. While many of his pronouncements and theories have been considered impenetrable, and by some absurd, McLuhan's central messagethat to understand today's world, one must actively study the effects of mediaremains ever more true in the electronic age. Wired Magazine named McLuhan its "patron saint" when the magazine launched in 1993.
In his seminal work, Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man (1964), Marshall McLuhan allegedly coined the term "software" (though the Merriam-Webster dictionary traces usage of the word back to 1960).
The phrase "global village" was coined by McLuhan in 1959, and appears in 1962's The Gutenberg Galaxy, McLuhan's study of the psychological and cognitive effects of standardised printing. See /GlobalVillage and /GutenbergGalaxy.
Marshall McLuhan died December 31, 1980 of a cerebral stroke which rendered him speechless during the last year of his life.