ITC – Marshall McLuhan
“The Medium is the Message” & “The Playboy Interview”
Who was Marshall McLuhan?
• Born in Edmonton
• Studied English literature and popular culture at U of Manitoba (B.A. & M.A.) &
• Converted to Catholicism
• Always an "outsider"
• 1979: suffered stroke & became aphasic
• Massively popular in the 1960s, forgotten in the late 70s and 80s
• Internet and WWW brought McLuhan back
• “Patron Saint” of WIRED Magazine
• McLuhan was influenced by Innis, he accepted Innis’“Communication Thesis”
• Concerned with rhetoric, not dialectic: for McLuhan, the content of objects is less
important than the fact that they exist in culture and society.
• “The Medium is the Message”
o Content of any medium is always just another medium:
Content of speech is thought.
Content of writing is speech,
Content of printing is writing,
McLuhan’s Tetrad: The 4 Laws of the Medium
• These four effects are simultaneous, not sequential
• This four-square describes the medium's internal structure and order. The 4 Laws:
1. What does the medium enhance or intensify or make possible or accelerate?
2. If some aspect of a situation is enlarged or enhanced, simultaneously the old
condition or unenhanced situation is displaced. What is pushed aside or
rendered obsolete by the new medium?
3. What recurrence or retrieval of earlier actions and services is brought into play
simultaneously by the new medium?
4. When pushed to the limit, the new medium will tend to reverse what had been
its original characteristics. What is the reversal potential of the new form?
Analysis of the Automobile:
1. Enhances privacy
2. Renders the horse obsolete
3. Retrieves the knight in shining armour
4. Reverses into traffic jams, suburbs
Analysis of the Telephone:
1. Enhances dialogue
2. Renders privacy obsolete by eroding physical space
3. Retrieves in