Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

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Gingko Press, 2003 - Political Science - 616 pages
17 Reviews
When first published, Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media made history with its radical view of the effects of electronic communications upon man and life in the twentieth century. This edition of McLuhan's best-known book both enhances its accessibility to a general audience and provides the full critical apparatus necessary for scholars. In Terrence Gordon's own words, "McLuhan is in full flight already in the introduction, challenging us to plunge with him into what he calls 'the creative process of knowing.'" Much to the chagrin of his contemporary critics McLuhan's preference was for a prose style that explored rather than explained. Probes, or aphorisms, were an indispensable tool with which he sought to prompt and prod the reader into an "understanding of how media operate" and to provoke reflection.

In the 1960s McLuhan's theories aroused both wrath and admiration. It is intriguing to speculate what he might have to say 40 years later on subjects to which he devoted whole chapters such as Television, The Telephone, Weapons, Housing and Money. Today few would dispute that mass media have indeed decentralized modern living and turned the world into a global village.

This critical edition features an appendix that makes available for the first time the core of the research project that spawned the book and individual chapter notes are supported by a glossary of terms, indices of subjects, names, and works cited. There is also a complete bibliography of McLuhan's published works.

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Anyone that cannot read this book and see the connection between theoretical genius and quasi-prophetic reasoning wishes McLuhan's conclusions to be false more than they wish to use their mental faculties. McLuhan may be the greatest social scientific/humanist scholar of our time. When he writes that "electromagnetic tech. requires utter human docility" he speaks of our age; in his other works when he proclaims "espionage becomes an art form" is not opinion, it is prophecy of the coming of the 'Greatest Generation of Hackers,' whom will reverse the larger artifact's functioning.
If you enjoyed this book, but didn't quite understand some of the references and buzz-allusions, read McLuhan's previous work--you will find that his story is the movement from rhetorical criticism to socio-cultural revelation. We live in a post-modern world, but our ability to keep up is predicated on "finding a way out of the maelstrom," which McLuhan provides.
And the only one star review on this page makes the obviously strong claim that McLuhan is an elitist; that tends to seem to be the case with anyone that states conclusions which go against the grain and then can back it up with four or five different examples, interlocking in complex ways, pulled from social sciences and the English canon.
And McLuhan is reactionary, but not in a chronologically bound sense, only from the sense that he reacts to a few millennia of human history--so reactionary like any scholar, but also exceptionally reactionary from the sense that he applies his conclusions to a larger period of human history than most scholars would dream of touching. McLuhan is not fatalistic about media effects--he does, on the other hand, force readers to make a choice--will you allow electronic media to control you like print, or will you be the one to flip it? You can generally critique McLuhan, but your real problem is with scholarship if that's all you got.
 

Review: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

User Review  - Amber - Goodreads

Like many reviews suggest, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man is a difficult read because of McLuhan's rambles and lacking evidence to support his many ideas on media as an extension of who we ... Read full review

Contents

Introduction to the Second Edition
9
The Medium Is the Message
17
Media Hot and Cold
37
Copyright

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About the author (2003)

A poetry professor turned media theorist---or media guru, as some in the press called him at the time---Marshall McLuhan startled television watchers during the 1960's with the notion that the medium they were enthralled by was doing more than transmitting messages---it was the message: Its rapid-fire format, mixing programs and advertisements, conveyed as much as---or more than---any single broadcast element. McLuhan grew up in the prairie country of the Canadian West and studied English at the University of Manitoba and Cambridge University. As television entered a period of huge growth during the 1950's, McLuhan, then a college professor, became interested in advertising. He thought of it as something to be taken seriously as a new culture form, beyond its obvious capability of selling products. That interest led to his increasing speculation about what media did to audiences. In his unpredictable modern poetry classes at the University of Toronto, he spoke more and more of media. The students he taught were the television generation, the first to grow up with the medium. Many were fascinated by McLuhan's provocative observations that a medium of communication radically alters the experience being communicated. A society, he said, is shaped more by the style than by the content of its media. Thus, the linear, sequential style of printing established a linear, sequential style of thinking, in which one thing is considered after another in orderly fashion: it shaped a culture in which (objective) reason predominated and experience was isolated, compartmentalized, and repeatable. In contrast, the low-density images of television, composed of a mosaic of light and dark dots, established a style of response in which it is necessary to unconsciously reconfigure the dots immediately in order to derive meaning from them. It has shaped a culture in which (subjective) emotion predominates and experience is holistic and unrepeatable. Since television (and the other electronic media) transcends space and time, the world is becoming a global village---a community in which distance and isolation are overcome. McLuhan was crisp and assured in his pronouncements and impatient with those who failed to grasp their import. McLuhan's most famous saying, "the medium is the message," was explicated in the first chapter of his most successful book, "Understanding Media," published in 1966 and still in print. It sold very well for a rather abstruse book and brought McLuhan widespread attention in intellectual circles. The media industry responded by seeking his advice and enthusiastically disseminating his ideas in magazines and on television. These ideas caused people to perceive their environment, particularly their media environment, in radically new ways. It was an unsettling experience for some, liberating for others. Though McLuhan produced some useful insights, he was given to wild generalizations and flagrant exaggerations. Some thought him a charlatan, and he always felt himself an outcast at the university, at least partly because of his disdain for print culture and opposition to academic conventions. He never seemed quite as energetic after an operation in 1967 to remove a huge brain tumor, but he continued to work and teach until he suffered a stroke in 1979. He died a year later. Though today his writings are not discussed as much by the general public, his thesis is still considered valid and his ideas have become widely accepted.

W. Terrence Gordon is Associate General Editor of the Gingko Press McLuhan publishing program, author of the biography Marshall McLuhan: Escape into Understanding and McLuhan for Beginners.

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