1 Laura Krasovska Tallinn University Baltic Film and Media School Media Culture and Criticism 17.10.2006.

Marshall McLuhan: The Extensions of Man In his works, Marshall McLuhan outlined his vision of the changes that were occurring as a result of the extension of different media. He proclaimed that “new forms of media transform our experience of ourselves and our society, and this influence is ultimately more important than the content that is transmitted in its specific messages.” (Mass Communication Theory) More over, McLuhan coined a number of terms and different phrases to support his main argument “The Medium is The Message”. These terms and phrases have become a crucial part of the common vocabulary nowadays in order to dispute about the media and the society. One of such microscopic issues, with the impact of the media on our senses is the notion of the extensions of man. McLuhan suggested that “The use of any kind of medium or extension of man alters the patterns of interdependence among people, as it alters the ratios among our senses.” (Understanding Media) In other words, all technologies are extensions of our powers and capabilities. Our technologies are means of enhancing or amplifying a particular function that has use to us - whether for good or for bad (extensions and amputations). An extension occurs when an individual or society makes or uses something in a way that extends the range of the human body and mind in a way that is new. A knife might be an extension of the hand. The automobile then can be an extension of the feet because it allows man to travel almost everywhere in the same way as the feet, only this kind of traveling is faster and includes more comfort. In addition, this extension allows traveling in different weather conditions. People are “constructed” in

2 a way that they will do a great deal to ensure that after a hard work they will be able to reap the fruits of their work. This might be one of the driving forces for new media developments. Therefore, according to McLuhan, the totality of all our powers becomes a combination of all our senses and their extensions together. This helps people to get a line of different issues. In this sense, electronic media open up new landscapes and enable people to be interconnected. To continue, electronic communication is an extension of our nervous system, just as computers are extensions of our brains. Writing is an extension of speech and of memory. The use of the phone makes previous ways of communications, such as letters, smoking signals and pigeons, obsolete. The new world opens for everyone taking part into media developments. The extensions save time. To sum up, it seems that these extensions enable people to get instant access to different information and other media products through time and space and have only a positive effect. On the other hand, there are drawbacks of the concept of extensions as well. With every improvement in a particular medium or technology, the previous level of it is more likely to be whether forgotten or unutilized. It is suggested that once extended, these technologies are “amputated.” Every extension of mankind, especially technological extensions, have the effect of amputating or modifying some other extension. An example of an amputation could be already mentioned automobile. People are so excited about the invention and use it more often and they do not want to be reminded of its drawback, such as air pollution. This extension amputates the wish to walk on foot. In the context of media, for example, the use of telephone might be considered as the extension of the voice, but it amputates the option of face-to face discussions. There is no innovation that people have this need of togetherness and community. If one looks at the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it is clear that the needs

3 of self actualization, esteem and belonging are the ones associated with the psychological issues. Television culture amputates, many of the close ties of family life based on oral communication that is a part of this psychological need. When the television is turned on, everyone watches it. In order to hear and understand the content of it, nobody speaks and there is a relative silence in “this side of the television set.” To overlook a printed medium, alphabetic writing is so efficient in encoding speech that readers of it become dependent on the eye; the resources of the ear, and therefore of the memory, are reduced. Such examples of an extension having the effect of amputating some other extension can be found a long time ago discussed in Plato’s dialog “Phaedrus”. As the main speaker of Plato’s dialogs, Socrates “tells a story about the invention of arts and technologies, including writing. In the story Egyptian King Ammon disputes the claim made by a god named Theuth that, writing ‘is a branch of learning that will make the people of Egypt wiser and improve their memories.’”(Wikispaces) According to Socrates’ story, Ammon said that if men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows. (Wikispaces)

4 To conclude, it is worth mentioning that the subject that took most of McLuhan's career was the task of understanding the effects of technology, as it was related to the culture of media, and how this affected human beings and their relations with one another in communities. A number of statements supporting the idea of “The Medium is The Message” have been issued. In analyzing the concept of the extensions of man, one must look critically at the positive as well as the negative side of it. The extensions of man have the positive shape in terms of the new, developed possibilities they might provide. They are like peripheral extremities for a human being to manage more in nowadays life, when time is money. On the other hand, every extension of mankind, especially technological extensions, have the effect of amputating or modifying some other extension, which can cause the lack of responsibility towards other vital questions of everyday life, such as relationship between people in real life.

5 Works Cited Davis, Dennis K.,Ph.D., Stanely J. Baran, Ph.D. Mass Communication Theory , Third Edition, USA: Thomson Wadsworth

McLuhan, Marshall “Understanding Media – Roads and Paper Routes”, Media Culture and Criticism by Dr. James Thurlow, fall 2006.

Wikispaces. 15.10.2006. < http://pratonarrative.wikispaces.com/phaedrus>