TECHNOLOGICAL DETERMINISM

MARSHALL MCLUHAN
1.

INTRODUCTION.

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Media critic Marshall Mcluhan was himself a media figure He believed that the new electronic media have radically altered the way people think, feel, and act.

2. COMMUNICATION
HISTORY

I]\IVENTIONS:

THE BALANCE POINTS OF
and

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3.

Mcluhan divided human history into four epochs: tribal, literate, print,

electronic The changes from one age to *re next were rapid and were caused by new communication technology These new technologies were the phonetic alphabet, the printing press, and the telegraph The electronic media have created social upheaval.

WE SHAPE OUR TOOLS AND THEY IN TURN SHAPE US

, . . . .
4.

is technological determinism-changes in modes of communication cause cultural change and shape human existence Mcluhan extended the work of Harold Innis No aspect of culture is untouched by communication technology, Mcluhan proposed He believed that every new form of media innovation extended some human faculty Media organize and interpret our social existence.
Mcluhan's theory
TS

THE MEDIUM

THf, Mf,,SSAGE.

I Our lives are a function of the way we process information I Key communication technologies change the way people think about i
. themselves and

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their world A medium has more influence than its explicit messages Mcluhan's pun "the medium is the massage" indicates that the media work us over The dominant medium of an age dominates people.

I
5. A

MEDIA ANALYSIS OF HUMAN HISTORY
The tribal age: an acoustrc community l. The senses ofhearing, touch, taste, and smell were more advanced than visualization

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2. "Primitive" people lived richer lives than their .i. 3.
because the ear does not select People acted with more passion and spontaneity.

literate descendants

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The age of literacy: a visual point of view. L Literacy moved people from collective tribal involvement to private detachment 2. Literacy encouraged logical, linear thinking, and fostered mathematics, science, and philosophy. The print age: prototype of the industrial revolution. I . The pnnting press made visual dependence widespread 2. The development of fixed national languages produced nationalism 3. Mcluhan regarded the fragrnentation of sociefy as the most significant outcome of print The electronic age: the rise ofthe global village L Mcluhan believed that the electronic media are re-tribalizing humanity 2. In an electronic age, privacy is a luxury or a curse ofthe past 3. Linear logic is useless in the electronic society; we focus on what we feel.

6. TELEVISION IS MEDIUM COOL

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Mcluhan's media-cultural analysis sought to explain the social unrest of the
1960s

He classified media as either hot or cool

l. Hot media are high-definition channels of communication usually directed at a single sense receptor print, photographs, motion

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pictures, and radio Cool media's low-definition display draws a person in, requiring high audience participation-telephone Parallels exist between the categories of hot and cool and the left-brain and right brain functions l. Hot media tend to be highly visual, logical, and private 2. Cool media tend to be aural, intuitive, and emotionally involving Although people think of television as visual, Mcluhan disagrees; to him, television is cool because it requires viewer involvement and doesn't bypass either sight or sound.

2.

7.

LIVING ON THE EDGE OF AN ERA

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Politics Modem politicians must work the medium of television effectively The fall of the lron Curtain demonstrates the ability of the electronic media to carry the message of freedom throughout the global village Education. l. The acoustic media threaten an educational establishment invested in books 2. Educators need to plunge into the vo rtex ofelectronic technology

2.

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Sex and drugs

2.
8. THE NEW

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Mcluhan believed that television is tactile and acoustic Thus, he argued that television inspired the sexual revolution and
increased drug usage

DIGITAL AGE_AN ERA Otr'TECHNOPOLY

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Has the recent revolution in communication technology wrenched us into a new digital age that is qualitatively different from the four historical epochs Mcluhan names? Neil Postman wams that each media technology carries an inherent ideology that it thrusts upon its users Postman believes we have become a technopoly-our thought-world is dominated by technology; tools have taken over The mediated world has replaced traditional print values wiih cyber-virtues such as speech, emotional involvement, and immediate gratification Postman believes we must assess the effect on our lives oftechnologies before
we adopt them.

9. CRITIQUE: HOW COULD HE BE RIGHT? BUT WHAT IF HE IS?

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Mcluhan did not adequately support his claims His prose is very difficult to understand Deterministic theories have difficulty with the criterion of falsifiability Yet some cultural critics and media practitioners praise Mcluhan's insights 1. Tom Wolfe suggests that Mcluhan may be one of the great geniuses of our era 2. Tony Schwartz praises his insights into political advertising 3. Malcolm Muggeridge conducts Mcluhanesque analyses of religious broadcasting 4. Although it is difficult to accept all that he said, his historical analysis has heightened awareness ofthe possible cultural effects ofnew media technologies

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