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with a new introduction by Lewis H. Lapham This reissue of Understanding Media marks the thirtieth anniversary (1964-1994) of Marshall McLuhan's classic expose on the state of the then emerging phenomenon of mass media. Terms and phrases such as "the global village" and "the medium is the message" are now part of the lexicon, and McLuhan's theories continue to challenge our sensibilities and our assumptions about how and what we communicate.There has been a notable resurgence of interest in McLuhan's work in the last few years, fueled by the recent and continuing conjunctions between the cable companies and the regional phone companies, the appearance of magazines such as WiRed, and the development of new media models and information ecologies, many of which were spawned from MIT's Media Lab. In effect, media now begs to be redefined. In a new introduction to this edition of Understanding Media, Harper's editor Lewis Lapham reevaluates McLuhan's work in the light of the technological as well as the political and social changes that have occurred in the last part of this century.
This reissue marks the 30th anniversary (1964-1994) of McLuhan's classic expose on the state of the emerging phenomenon of mass media. In a new introduction, Harper's editor Lewis Lapham reevaluates McLuhan's work in the light of the technological as well as the political and social changes that have occurred in the last part of the century.
|Introduction to the MIT Press Edition|
|1||The Medium Is the Message||7|
|2||Media Hot and Cold||22|
|3||Reversal of the Overheated Medium||33|
|4||The Gadget Lover: Narcissus as Narcosis||41|
|5||Hybrid Energy: Les Liaisons Dangereuses||48|
|6||Media as Translators||56|
|7||Challenge and Collapse: The Nemesis of Creativity||62|
|8||The Spoken Word: Flower of Evil?||77|
|9||The Written Word: An Eye for an Ear||81|
|10||Roads and Paper Routes||89|
|11||Number: Profile of the Crowd||106|
|12||Clothing: Our Extended Skin||119|
|13||Housing: New Look and New Outlook||123|
|14||Money: The Poor Man's Credit Card||131|
|15||Clocks: The Scent of Time||145|
|16||The Print: How to Dig It||157|
|17||Comics: MAD Vestibule to TV||164|
|18||The Printed Word: Architect of Nationalism||170|
|19||Wheel, Bicycle, and Airplane||179|
|20||The Photograph: The Brothel-without-Walls||188|
|21||Press: Government by News Leak||203|
|22||Motorcar: The Mechanical Bride||217|
|23||Ads: Keeping Upset with the Joneses||226|
|24||Games: The Extensions of Man||234|
|25||Telegraph: The Social Hormone||246|
|26||The Typewriter: Into the Age of the Iron Whim||258|
|27||The Telephone: Sounding Brass or Tinkling Symbol?||265|
|28||The Phonograph: The Toy That Shrank the National Chest||275|
|29||Movies: The Reel World||284|
|30||Radio: The Tribal Drum||297|
|31||Television: The Timid Giant||308|
|32||Weapons: War of the Icons||338|
|33||Automation: Learning a Living||346|
|Further Readings for Media Study||361|
Posted March 29, 2001
We're really living in the McLuhan revolution, although this seminal work from this underappreciated prophet from the 1960s has gone sadly unappreciated in recent times. Even so, when you hear that an insurance company or ad agency is not primarily in the business of producing ads or insurance, but of 'putting people in touch' or 'communicating,' that rhetoric was stolen straight from Mr. McLuhan. Those huggybear ads that sell not houses (bricks and mortar) but 'homes' (secure, loving environments)--straight out of McLuhan. If he were still alive he should sue for royalties for (mis)use of his ideas. Even the term 'global village' was coined back in 1964 with the publication of this book. 'Understanding Media' is a fascinating read, but not an easy one. Most academic books are about ten percent new. Inovative ones are about 20 percent new. McLuhan claimed his was about 40 percent new, which is what makes it such a rough read. It isn't his prose style, which is charming and felicitous. But when introducing a new discipline, there must needs be enough bridges left to the old ones (in this case sociology, history, rhetoric, etc.) that redundancy occurs. An historian views the world through the lenses of war and technological advance. An economist, through boom, recession and mitigating factors like interest rates. A sociologist, through mass behavior. McLuhan's famous phrase 'the medium is the message' indicates that for him, the medium itself was the determinating factor--something as simple as a glowing light bulb or a blouse, as complicated as Las Vegas or the DEW line are all media; and it is through the lens of these media that we see the world. Drawing on these inspirations in the early 60s, McLuhan explained the hypnotic pull of black-and-white TV over radio (which is easier to ignore), the sudden popularity of small foreign cars, the 'beehive hairdo,' and the way John F. Kennedy's slightly shaggy hair looked better on TV than Richard Nixon's (giving Kennedy more credibility); along with other early Sixties phenomena. He probably wasn't the least surprised by the Beatles since they combined sex, shagginess, spontaneity and (slight) foreignness all in one package. To get the most out of 'Understanding Media' it's critical to grasp McLuhan's core definitions of 'hot' and 'cool' media to understand how his theories work in the real world. That explains why you'll see some repetition in this book, as well as what appears to be disorganization. This leads some reader/critics to assume that UNDERSTANDING MEDIA is simply sloppy and poorly edited but far from it: it's a powerful, almost radical way to restructure our view of American (and hence the world's) thinking. It seems to be working, too. Are you ready for your 15 minutes of fame?
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Posted July 4, 2003
At the time of its original publication this book was presented as the work of prophecy which totally revealed to us the real state at which humanity had arrived. MacLuhan was a tremendously original and brilliant scholar, a very good writer. The work has much in it which is insightful and provocative. But as a key to our times it is already dated. The new technologies which have emerged, including the one upon which these words are written make MacLuhan's vision of media as message in one global village seem unidimensional. The revolution in communications, however great seems somehow secondary to the technological developments in genetics and reproductive biology. The challenges made to the definition of our essential humanity by the rapid development of information technologies raise the question not only of what mankind will be in the generations ahead, but whether or not the prevalent intellect will be a human one. It is perhaps unfair to accuse MacLuhan of all the things he did not foresee. No one could have possibly foreseen them all. But he overhyped himself as one who seems to understand the key to the new human situation. It seems to me at this present impasse, no one really understands the human situation fully, and where and what it will be transformed into next.
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Posted February 10, 2010
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