Outline of; ‘The Medium is the Message,’ by Marshall McLuhan
The medium of any message is essential to the impact caused to the audience, and its choice is important to convey the right message and how it is viewed. In the current world of technology, the choice of medium is vital for the message intended. Therefore, there is need to take note of the medium of the message. In this essay, I will explore how the medium affects the message and eventual the medium as the message.
In my reflection of The Medium is the Message, I introduce the subject and discuss it a deeper meaning. Then I differentiate the meaning of the message and the media for easier understanding of my thoughts as discussed in my paper. I also hint about the possible errors caused by the assumption of this topic.
The next thing in line is dishing out quick and easy examples of both media and the medium and explain their relationship in regard to the subject. By this, I break down the reader’s understanding of the subject as explained by McLuhan.
By now the reader audience is assumed to be familiar to the subject, and in order to create a more concrete understanding, a real-life example is given and casually explained. This example also helps cement my conclusion confirming that the topic statement is true. I, nevertheless, expound the meaning of the medium being the message so that the message can hit home.
“The medium is the message” is a phrase that was laid down by McLuhan in his book, Understanding Media. In this case, McLuhan used the phrase to capture the attention of his readers so that they can concentrate on his message about the media. As such, he claims that the medium shapes and controls the message brought out in any context, and not the content expressed. He is quoted saying that the medium controlled the “the scale and form of human association and action.” According to McLuhan, many people are likely to make errors while trying to understand the meaning of the phrase (Federman, 2004). In normal cases, medium refers to the mass-medium that enhances communication between people in different places such as television, radio, internet, and the press. On the other hand, people define “message” as the content or information. With these definitions in mind, most people have come to disagree that “the medium is the message” instead, they claim that the message is the media for human associations and actions. Still, McLuhan had his own deep meaning of the phrase which disclaims the errors made by the public.
To bring out the deep meaning of the phrase, “the medium is the message,” McLuhan differentiates the keywords in the phrase by defining and extrapolating on them. Firstly, McLuhan defines a message as “the change of scale or pace or pattern.” In this regard, he claims that message is not merely the “content or information” as defined by the public. It is rather the outcomes or consequences that new innovation or inventions bring to society. As such, a message may be positive or negative. Generally, society expects positive messages after an innovation. However, both negative and positive messages come to pass, and they should be accepted, and necessary actions be taken. Thus, a message also entails the reaction of society towards positive or negative changes.
On the other hand, McLuhan defines the medium as “the extension of ourselves.” It is this extension that brings a change in the way things to appear before us. For example, a hammer extends the arm, and this enables it to do more than when the arm is flexed (Lodhia, 2018). Besides, an extension of human thoughts results in new innovations and inventions. As explained before, innovations and inventions result in new changes, both negative and positive. More so, the changes are what is referred to as the “message” as hinted before. Therefore, it is apparent that “the medium is the message.”
Examples of “Medium” in relation to “The Medium is the Message.”
There are several examples that prove that the medium is the message. Firstly, McLuhan uses a light bulb to demonstrate the reality of the phrase. A light bulb has no content as compared to a newspaper that has several articles printed on it. However, the same light bulb creates a medium that people in society perform most of the activities of daily living. For example, during night time, a person with a newspaper needs a light public which can illuminate continuously to enable him/her read the content on it. Despite the fact that the light bulb contains no content, it enables people to see what to do with those materials that have plenty of content. Therefore, the bulb acts as the medium for society to perform daily activities. In this case, it opens the way for content disposal, and so it is what brings the message to light.
Another example that brings out the reality of the phrase is the idea of cubism. According to McLuhan, cubism, as identified in art history is a direct confirmation that the medium is the message. With Cubism, people can identify objectives by observing and developing a sensory awareness of objects, and not by developing different perspectives to determine the shape, size, and text of objects. By applying cubism, people tend to avoid illusions related to the perspectives created towards identifying the objects or any works of art. In this regard, the idea of electric speed comes in. Before the discovery of cubism, people used to ask what structures are about. However, nowadays people tend to understand the message behind a drawing, a painting, or a melody (Berger, 2013). With the introduction of cubism, people could easily identify the message by observing the entire works of art. Since cubism is based on medium, people currently use this medium to come up with the message. Thus, cubism is clear proof that the medium is the message.
Furthermore, McLuhan compares medium to a piece of meat given to the dog as a form of distraction by a burglar so that he can accomplish his mission. In this case, giving the dog meat is ignored yet it is what necessitates the burglary activity. People tend to focus on the message, which is a burglary in this case while ignoring that the piece of meat given to the dog caused this to happen. As such, the fact remains that the medium is the message. Therefore, it is wise to focus on the medium that caused crime to occur, instead of identifying the routes that led to the crime.
A Real Life Example that relates to the Phrase “The Medium is the Message.”
Real life examples demonstrate real occurrences that show the reality behind the phrase “the medium is the message.” In this case, the example is about Facebook and its users. People from different regions in the world meet on Facebook on a daily basis. They communicate, exchange, pictures, and videos, and even organize to meet face-to-face (McLuhan, 1967). However, the key outcomes of this communication on Facebook include the effects it poses to the community. Such consequences include social changes among those who interact on Facebook. For example, people end up copying behaviors from those who are in other countries. In this case, the social changes form the message, while Facebook is medium resulting in the social changes. Therefore, society should blame the medium, which is Facebook, and not the social changes themselves. As such, this confirms that the medium results in the message, as explained by McLuhan.
In essence, the medium is essential in any message conveyed to the public, as it determines the outcomes. Most people tend to focus on the message that results after certain inventions and innovations. Yet, the routes followed to reach those outcomes is crucial and altering it can change the course of the message. A real-life example, as shown before, is Facebook which is medium that enhances communication among people all over the world. The social changes that have resulted in society are due to copying from others during random communication on Facebook. As such, the community should rather blame the medium which is Facebook, and not the resultant behaviors. In short, McLuhan is right by claiming that the medium is the message.
Berger, J. a. (2013). Communication channels and word of mouth: How the medium shapes the message. Journal of consumer research, pp,567-579.
Federman, M. (2004). What is the Meaning of The Medium is the Message?
Lodhia, S. (2018). Is the medium the message? Advancing the research agenda on the role of communication media in sustainability reporting. Meditari Accountancy Research, 26(1), 2-12.
McLuhan, M. (1967). Understanding Media. New York: New York Times.