McLuhan’s ‘The Medium is the Massage’

Just finished reading “The Medium is the Massage’ by Marshall McLuhan. Following are some interesting excerpts and quotes that give a good insight into media and also stimulates some interesting thoughts:

“Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication.”

“All media work us over completely. They are so persuasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the massage. Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media work as environments. All media are extensions of some human faculty-psychic or physical.”

“Electric circuitry, an extension of the central nervous system. Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act-the way we perceive the world. When these ratios change, men change.”

“Until writing was invented, man lived in acoustic space: boundless, directionless, horizonless, in the dark of the mind, in the world of emotion, by primordial intuition, by terror. Speech is a social chart of this bog.”

“T he Renaissance Legacy. The Vanishing Point=Self-Effacement, The Detatched Observer. No Involvement! The viewer of Renaissance art is systematically placed outside the frame of experience. A piazza for everything and everything in its piazza. The instantaneous world of electric informational media involves all of us, all at once. No detatchment or frame is possible.”

“Art, or the graphic translation of a culture, is shaped by the way space is perceived. Since the Renaissance the Western artist perceived his environment primarily in terms of the visual. Everything was dominated by the eye of the beholder. His conception of space  was in terms of a perspective projection upon a plane surface consisting of formal units of spatial measurement. He accepted the dominance of the vertical and the horizontal-of symmetry-as an absolute condition of order. This view is deeply embedded in the consciousness of Western art. Primitive and pre-alphabet people integrate time and space as one and live in an acoustic, horizonless, boundless, olfactory space, rather than in visual space. Their graphic presentation is like an x-ray. They put in everything they know, rather than what they see. A drawing of a man hunting seal on an ice floe will show not only what is on top of the ice, but what lies underneath as well. The primitive artist twists and tilts the various possible visual aspects until they fully explain what he wishes to represent. (Carl Orff, the noted contemporary German composer, has refused to accept as a student any but the pre-school child-the child whose spontaneous sense perceptions have not yet been channeled by formal, literary, visual prejudices.) Electric circuitry is recreating in us the multidimensional space orientation of the “primitive”.”

“Ours is a brand-new world of allatonceness. “Time” has ceased, “space” has vanished. We now live in a global village… a simultaneous happening. We are back in acoustic space. We have begun again to structure the primordial feeling,  the tribal emotions from which a few centuries of literacy divorced us.”

“We have now become aware of the possibility of arranging the entire human environment as a work of art, as a teaching machine designed to maximize perception and to make everyday learning a process of discovery.”

“Environments are not passive wrappings, but are rather, active processes which are invisible. The groundrules, pervasive structure, and overall patterns of environments elude easy perception. Anti-environments, or countersituations made by the artists, provide means of direct attention and enable us to see and understand more clearly.”

“Print technology created the public. Electric technology created the mass.”

“The ear favors no particular “point of view.” We are enveloped by sound. It forms a seamless web around us. We say “Music shall fill the air.” We never say, “Music shall fill a particular segment of the air.” We hear sounds from everywhere, without ever having to focus. Sounds come from “above,” from “below,” from in “front” of us, from “behind” us, from our “right,” from our “left.” We can’t shut out sound automatically. We simply are not equipped with earlids. Where a visual space is an organized continuum of a uniformed connected kind, the ear is a world of simultaneous relationships.”

“”Authorship” – in the sense it is known today, individual intellectual effort related to the book as an economic commodity-was practically unknown before the advent of print technology….The invention of printing did away with anonymity, fostering ideas of literary fame and the habit of considering intellectual effort as private property. Mechanical multiples of te same text created a public-a reading public. The rising consumer-orientated culture became concerned with labels of authenticity and the protection against theft and piracy. The idea of copyright-“the exclusive right to reproduce, publish, and sell the matter and form of a literary or artistic work”-was born. Xerography-everyman’s brain-picker-heralds the times of instant publishing. Anybody can now become both author and publisher. Take any books on any subject and custom-make your own book by simply Xeroxing a chapter from this one, a chapter from that one-instant steal! As new technologies come into play, people are less and less convinced of the importance of self-expression. Teamwork succeeds private effort.”

“Art is anything you can get away with.”


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