MIT lecture on mcluhan november 4, 2010
0. Alan Kay
1. Medium is message
2. Medium is massage
3. Media avoidance
4. what is an interface?
5. computer as meta-medium
6. Software: cut, paste, remix
- Early 60’s to present
- Dynabook proposed in 1972 (iPad-like)
- Flowing, unified, fused, networked
- ALl the divisions between humans and hardware is breaking down. Interfacing all of these different
- You have to internalize or become the media, blend with it in order to use it because then you stop being
confused by it.
- Like when Facebook changes their interface, you hate it at first but then you get used to it and
don’t care. After awhile you just blend in with the medium.
- User Interface
- (thing with his kids and the weird solar thing?)
- McLuhan influenced Kay
- The effects of the medium is what he’s interested in. Don’t get lost in the content, think about how it
influences the way we live.
- 1967 he wrote a book about this
- He talks about a media environment. He’s interested in how the whole world changes as a result of it.
- Really weird way to do it, really frustrating to a lot of academics. He has an approach of the idea of
figure and ground
- The figure appears to have a structure and you just ignore the rest. We focus on the
content/device and forget about the effect it has.
- Ground seems to be shapeless, figure has structure.
- McLuhan says that by focusing on the ground, that’s culture and society, everything we don’t
really think of when you talk about a new technological device.
- He wants you to focus on the ground, not the figure
- Figure = car. Ground - highways, which would allow suburbs, which would allow suburbs, street
racing, increased fuel consumption.
- The message of the car. The car has made all of these things ^ possible
- Ratios: Things are always changing and we live in a media environment
- The massage is “in order to use a computer properly, you have to stop thinking about using a computer”
- If you can just disappear through the graphic user interface, you stop feeling disconnected from the
machine and just use it
- McLuhan thinks this can be bad because we forget about what the effects are. We are being
- People and things are networked stars. All these things come flowing in and effect who we are, how we
think and behave.
- Shaping: We shape the medium, the medium shapes us. Technology and technique. This interaction
between technologies and users is important. MIT lecture on mcluhan november 4, 2010
- Societies have always been shaped by the nature of the media than by the continent. He’s accused of
being a technological determinist (McLuhan) He’s not interested in the social impact of technology, but
how technology effects the social. Is he a tech. determinist?
- “We cannot trust our instincts or our natural physical responses to new things. They will destroy
us” Stop and notice how technologies shape us.
- Media Environments
- We aren’t sealed off from the devices we use.
- Only when we go without do we realize the effect they have on us. We take them for granted
- We quickly absorb technologies and move on. It used to take 30 years to cross USA. Now people get
upset if their flight is delayed a few hours.
- We incorporate and extend. All media extends things.
- The tire is an extension of the foot. The book is an extension of the eye (it makes text portable,
things that are far away you don’t have to witness first hand you can now read about)
- Clothing is an extension of the skin. TV and phones and computers are extensions of the
- These technologies enhance and amplify
- Types of Communication: (sounds like Toffler here)
-1. Acoustic (non electronic society, societies without any technological influence.)
- Boundless and directionless. We’re moving into an area
- Ear is all involved. It hears everything, can’t focus on one thing. It just hears regardless
- 2. Writing.
- Start to fragment communication. You can write it down, give it to people. You can
choose to read just the end of the book instead of the beginning. You can write down the
lecture today and give it to a friend and they don’t have to be here.
- Early bureaucracy.
- message of the medium of writing = bureaucracy
- The Medium Disappears. We stop thinking and start using. (learning to write is difficult
at first, but then you get used to it and you stop thinking about writing. You just write.
Absorb the medium)
- 3. Print
- Type/Print. Mass produced/production. The first form of mass production before the
Industrial Rev. 16th.c
- Uniformly repeatable commodity. Difference between type and handwriting - type
standardizes writing. Which also helps bureaucracy
- 4. Electronic Revolution (TV)
- Puts the inside outside.
- Back to acoustic space. It’s all at once. What becomes the hardest is how to filter this
stuff that’s coming from everywhere all at once. Very odd way of framing it. He calls it
- You can experience things together that are not even happening where you are.
- Global Village: Before you had to learn everything fro