A single thumb holds the cover from the right hand side
The Medium is the Massage
Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore

This cult classic from the sixties was talking primarily about television. But it feels eerily accurate even today, in the 21st century, with the rise of social media and life online.

"Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication." (Page 8)

Yesterday's tools doing today's jobs

We are trying to do today's jobs, McLuhan argues, with yesterday's tools. But, unlike us, the youth understand instinctively how things are shifting underneath us.

On community: "Electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of "time" and "space" and pours upon us instantly and continuously the concerns of all other men. It has reconstituted dialogue on a global scale." (Page 16)

On work: "When the circuit learns your job, what are you going to do?" (Page 20)

On government: "the mass audience (the successor to the "public") can be used as a creative, participating force. It is, instead, merely given packages of passive entertainment. Politics offers yesterday's answers to today's questions." (Page 22)

Extensions of human faculty

All media, he argues, is an extension of some human faculty:

  • The wheel extends the foot
  • The book extends the eyes
  • Clothings extends the skin
  • "Electric circuitry" (i.e. computers) extend the nervous system
"There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening." (Page 25)

The advent of writing, print, and the creation of "the public"

He also focuses on how the advent of writing moved our world from an acoustic one—where stories and information was passed by speaking them aloud—to a visual one. Literacy brought about private thought, as something you would do you on your own rather than with others. This means detachment in the formation of opinions.

"Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act—the way we perceive the world. When these ratios change, men change." (Page 41)

With writing and private thought, we were able to arrange out thoughts in sequence, one after the other. But it doesn't last forever.

Living in a "global village"

"Ours is a brand new world of allatonceness. "Time" has ceased, "space" has vanished. We now live in a global village...a simultaneous happening. We are back in acoustic space." (Page 63)

Now, as things move at the "speed of electricity", we pivot from action to reaction. Time and space collapse, so we have to experience everything all the time.

The creation of print media led to the creation of "the public." With the arrival of electronics, we now have "the mass" (i.e. mass media). This, combined with the "always on" feed of information means we therefore are no longer allowed the luxury of an "individual point of view."

It all moves too fast and we cannot keep up.


"Environments are not passive wrappings, but are, rather, active processes which are invisible." (Page 68)

The "professional" is of the environment. They are classified within in it, and specializes inside that environment. They're rigid.

The "amateur," though, is not of the environment. They can afford to lose at the game of the environment and also seek a deeper awareness and understanding of the environment that they are in. (This feels a little bit like the beginner's mind.)

The invention of authorship

Monks copying books didn't sign their work. Nor did they care who had written the books they were reading or copying. "Authorship" was an unknown concept before print came along.

"The invention of printing did away with anonymity, fostering ideas of literary fame and the habit of considering intellectual effort as private property. Mechanical multiples of the same text created a public—a reading public. The rising consumer-oriented culture became concerned with labels of authenticity and protection against theft and piracy. The idea of copyright-"the exclusive right to reproduce, publish, and sell the matter and form of a literary or artistic work"-was born." (Page 122)

McLuhan then argues that individual effort will give way to "teamwork" with electronic modes of work.

Publish and consume—we must do both.

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