The Medium is the Message: Was Marshal McLuhan On To Something?
“The Medium is the Message”. That’s what Marshal McLuhan, a Canadian philosopher determined was his main message of Technological Determinism.
Technological Determinism is by definition according to communicationtheory.org as,
“Technological determinism is a reductionist theory that aims to provide a causative link between technology and a society’s nature. It tries to explain as to whom or what could have a controlling power in human affairs. The theory questions the degree to which human thought or action is influenced by technological factors.” (communicationtheory.org, 2016)
McLuhan argued that the medium through which the message is being presented, is more important than the actual message itself due to how people interact with said medium. The mediums in which we present our messages are arguably more important than what is being presented because it shows advancements in technology for humankind, thus entering a new era of communication.
The video below breaks down McLuhan’s theory and explains how it impacts the way we communicate and advance as a society.
Three strong points of McLuhan’s theory are as followed:
History- and a way to pinpoint where and when human communication expanded.
Obviously, the invention of writing how ever many thousands of years ago helped solidify our knowledge, history, stories, and news into concrete evidence that what was being communicated verbally, was being communicated to larger groups than ever before. Physically being able to write, gave us more opportunity to speak to larger groups. Much like the invention of the telephone- gave us ways to communicate news and contact others more quickly. In an article written by Steven Melendez on TechWalla.com,
“The telephone was the first instantaneous communications device to find its way into large numbers of homes and businesses.” (Melendez 2022)
Another strong point of McLuhan’s theory is the ability to control the message.Being able to control the message in the sense of how it’s presented- aka, the medium it’s presented through- is a huge benefit to his theory. We can choose whichever medium we need the information processed through- how cool is that?
Finally, the third strong point to this theory is our ability to be able to produce the messages ourselves thanks to our technological advancements in the past 200 years. We now can write a message and present it to certain audiences that we want to influence or to have this information permeating their thoughts- and thus having them act on it. HELLO- Marketing!
Okay, so there’s all this good- there has to be some criticism or limitations to his theory right? Right.
Now, I don’t think McLuhan’s theory is all that great though. I will argue that unfortunately- when you focus on just the medium that you’re presenting information through- you don’t think about how each individual person is going to perceive that information- aka, miscommunication.
Another thing that could be a limitation of McLuhan’s theory is that he failed to realize that not every single person is going to be on board with the media channel that is the “hot new invention”. Thus, people may not believe what they hear on whatever the medium is- telephone, internet, social media, etc. People tend to be skeptical.
Finally, I believe another limitation of his theory- is that a positive message is going to be more well perceived than a negative one, no matter what channel it’s being presented through. A message is going to have some sort of effect on people emotionally- quite frankly the media channel doesn’t matter all that much. Emotion and understanding is still emotion and understanding- no matter the channel it’s being presented through.
In the end, I think McLuhan is absolutely right that technological advances are a key to understanding human communication and advancement. But, I still think what is being talked about can be misconstrued and misunderstood because you cannot tell the inflection of the person presenting the information.