It seems to me that Marshall McLuhan loved wordplay. The title The Medium is the Massage is no exception. Maybe he was making a statement about the way that the media massage or beat us, or perhaps he was making a pun on the new “mass-age” – the era of message to masses.
McLuhan made this wordplay the subtitle of Understanding Media, his best known, best-selling book. It is easy to overlook how far-reaching McLuhan’s thesis is, partly due to our habit of accepting metaphors as metaphors.However McLuhan believed that metaphors, similes, puns, and other literary tricks have the power to reveal the true nature of things, rather than just accelerate the writer’s task of getting points and information across. Therefore, McLuhan’s investigations in his Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964) deal with the media and its effects.To McLuhan, any medium is an extension (actually, a virtual extension, or “prosthesis”) of our bodies, minds, or beings (just as a prosthetic arm is a physical extension of the body, clothes are an extension of the skin; the bicycle, and the car extend the human foot; also, the computer can be thought of as extending our central nervous system, and even more “Man becomes..
. the sex organs of the machine world, as the bee of the plant world, enabling it to fecundate and to evolve ever new forms. ” (Understanding Media p. 56) McLuhan was primarily concerned with changes in cultures and societies under the influence of the media.He distinguished three Ages of Man: In the first place – The Preliterate, or Tribal, era of very non-hierarchical, democratic societies, relying on the ear, as opposed to the eye, to keep us “sensitive, hyperaesthetic, and all-inclusive”; the dependence on the ear held us closer to “the seamless web of tribal kinship and interdependence in which all members of the group lived in harmony” (Playboy interview, 1969 http://heim. ifi. uio.
no/~gisle/overload/mcluhan/pb. html ). Secondly -The Gutenberg Age where “The Gutenberg Revolution” intensified the effects of the older (writing) technology.According to McLuhan, Gutenberg’s invention (which was the idea of splitting up of the text into individual components such as lower and upper case letters, punctuation marks, ligatures and abbreviations, based upon the tradition of medieval scribes), immensely extended the impact of the phonetic alphabet, inevitably forcing “man to comprehend in a linear, uniform, connected, continuous fashion. ” Of course it was a revolution when Gutenberg invented the technique to have books printed instead of the old handwriting. It meant that the free word suddenly was widely spread.After Gutenberg the ideas of life and of freedom was not any longer a privilege for monks in the monasteries The phonetic alphabet as an extension of both our bodies and minds, set off a whole chain reaction of changes in human societies.
The phonetic alphabet distressed out tribal sensorium, fragmenting us and turning us into psychically indigent “individuals”, or “units. ” It thus led to hierarchy in societies, and also to linear thought, centralization, and everything from logic to nationalism. In other words, everything that happened to the world happened because of the new communication form -the print.Gutenbergi?? s importance for the democratic development of our societies cannot be overestimated. Today, however, we are all taking part in a second revolution, the digital revolution, which McLuhan outlined as The Electronic Age which we will have at least the same impact, perhaps even bigger than the Gutenberg innovation some hundred years ago. And finally, in The Electronic Age of Retribalized Man (involving full sensory involvement) that “instant communication” online will bring people together again: by being able to speak to practically anyone in the world at any time, people will “retribalize.” The relationship of man’s senses to media isn’t just a matter of importance but of mental response resulting in social consequences in which any changes in the hierarchy of man’s senses changes man himself. Industrial or visual man, who is divided into rational parts by way of economics, is the ultimate individualist because of the partitions he has learned from the alphabet and the printing press.
One of the greatest potentialities of our new tools of communications–described by Marshall McLuhan as extensions of our senses–is to make visible those existences and experiences which cannot be perceived directly.However, up until the seventeenth century, Western society valued the parts of the human body and understood that they worked together, the brain included. This was part of an organic philosophy that respected nature as a living organism: mature was seen as female, it was nurturing and motherly, satisfying the needs of human kind. At the other hand, nature could at times be wild, unpredictable, and the originator of chaos. According to McLuhan, it was the role of the scientific revolution to perform two functions on nature: to mechanize it and to control or have power over it.Although seen through early Christianity and Platonic philosophy, it is at this time when Western ideas made a profound shift away from organic theory and towards Enlightenment, thus marginalizing nature, Earth and the body. The Enlightened philosophical movement of the seventeenth century, which is characterized by the prevalence of human logic and reason over the illogical quality of nature, was in part a product of Reni?? Descartes’ (1596-1650) notion of existence, “I think, therefore I am.” The Enlightenment theory further assumes that knowledge resides in the rationality of brain and because it is objective and independent, it is separate from our world and our bodies and is essentially disembodied.
Our bodies are thus part of nature, which according to Enlightenment, is something to mechanize and have power over. This Enlightened point of view is the driving force behind the notion that “Virtual Reality” works of art facilitate a disembodied experience.These theories show the means of communication’s effects originated from creative individuals’ capacity to understand the perceptive changes, which came from technological effects over artists. Thus, McLuhan believes that the artist can solve disequilibrium problems made by the surfacing of a new mean. “The artist can correct the relations between feelings before new technology’s impact put the conscious procedures to sleep. ” (McLuhan, 1964, p.