Anda di halaman 1dari 5

Marshall McLuhan & Key Thinkers of Media Culture

BCM 100 Exercise 2 Word Count: 612 Sam Swain

BCM 100 Exercise 2

Communication theorist Marshall McLuhan produced work that disrupted academic ideas about the influence of media on society. McLuhans approach to media studies has been subject to criticism and controversy due to his vague and unconventional delivery. Notoriously, McLuhan stated the medium is the message (1964). This phrase summarised McLuhan's concept that most importantly and regardless of content, the medium that the individual is experiencing is what imposes a distinct sensory experience. Two particularly interesting ideas that McLuhan proposed from this concept were: that the dominant medium of an era influences society significantly and, that as a result of such connection to a medium, we are 'shaped' by the medium. Two intellectuals that, when compared to McLuhan, help validate his ideas are Vilm Flusser and Neil Postman. Cultural theorist and philosopher Vilm Flusser theorized media culture before many other cultural theorists (Poster, 2010, p 8). Like McLuhan, who proposed his media analysis of human history, where five 'ages' of society have been dictated by major changes in media (from speech, to writing, to print, to electronic, to digital), Flusser drew connection between writing and history, considering in particular the significance of this connection on the philosophical concept of temporality. Independently, both McLuhan and Flusser discussed the idea that the medium of writing produced a culture of 'linear thought'. "[According to McLuhan] words fixed on a page detach meaning from the immediacy of context ... The phonetic alphabet established the line as the organizing principle in life. In writing, letter follows letter in a connected, orderly line. Logic [and from then on linear thought] is modeled on that step-by-step linear progression" (Griffin, 2008, pp. 6-7). Synonymously, Flusser suggested "[writing] transforms senses into processes: it generates historical consciousness", emphasizing the generated effect of the medium on those who experience it. Flusser extended this idea by suggesting that the result of this effect "is a new experience of time, that is, linear time, a stream of unstoppable progress, of dramatic unrepeatability, of framing, in short, history" (Flusser, 1984). Flussers focus on the effect of linear thinking on history and time is what separates his work from McLuhan's.
Sam Swain Marshall McLuhan & Key Thinkers of Media Culture 2

BCM 100 Exercise 2

McLuhan believed that transitions between his epochs were immediate and thus the effect of the dominant medium was as well. In contrast, Flusser's view is summarised by Professor Mark Poster: "The full extension of time as linear progression emerged not with the simple discovery of writing but with a number of social and cultural changes commensurate with modern society: the printing press that made writing widely reproducible, the spread of compulsory education in modern democracies, the rise of urban commercial cultures with their heavy reliance on written documents, the emergence of the modern state with its bureaucratic form, and so forth" (Poster, 2010, p 10). Although Flusser identifies the significance of the printing press like McLuhan, he suggests that many other factors contributed to the development of linear thought. McLuhan and Flusser draw close comparison in their consideration of the effect of media on society, particularly over time. However, in his work, Flusser put less emphasis on solely the medium's contribution to media-influenced changes in society. Another key thinker comparable to McLuhan is Neil Postman. McLuhan proposed the idea that 'we shape our tools and in turn they shape us'. He was interested in the 'unintended consequences' of a media - the effects the use of a medium has that occur unintentionally. McLuhan was particularly aware of the effect the ruling medium has on a society and this can be used to explain this second concept: "Every medium emphasizes different senses using a medium day after day conditions the senses to particular kinds of sensibilities. A medium that emphasizes the ear over the eye alters the ratios of sense perception society is shaped in accordance with the dominant sensory experience of the ruling medium" (Griffin, 2008, p 3). Generally, Postman agreed with McLuhan's view and certainly believed that mediums influence the way individuals and society function. However, according to
Sam Swain Marshall McLuhan & Key Thinkers of Media Culture 3

BCM 100 Exercise 2

Postman, "a medium is a system ... it's not an object but rather a way of thinking, expressing, and experiencing ... the medium is the metaphor" (Griffin, 2008, p 13). Postman believed that with new technology, it is not what the technology allows society to do but rather what society will do with it; "a medium is the social and intellectual environment a machine creates" (Griffin, 2008, p 13). Postman was concerned with the creation and use of each new technology. He applied his concepts of technology and medium directly to the study of Media Ecology, describing the field as one that considered "how our interaction with media facilitates or impedes our chances of survival" (Postman, nd, [online]). Due to this, much of Postman's work centered on asking: what do we gain from this technology, what do we lose and what are the moral implications? Essentially, Postman's work in Media theory attempted to provide awareness and reflection over the use of technology and to question if the use was morally justified. Flusser and Postman are examples of key thinkers in media culture. The comparisons that can be drawn between their work and McLuhan's validate his work and ideas, providing proof as to how and why he was such an exceptional thinker in the field of media theory.

Sam Swain

Marshall McLuhan & Key Thinkers of Media Culture

BCM 100 Exercise 2

References:
Curtis, James M. 1972, Marshall McLuhan and French Structuralism, Boundary 2, Durham, Vol. 1, Issue. 1 Griffin, Em. 2006, A First Look at Communication Theory, 6th edition, McGraw-Hill McLuhan, M. 2003, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Gingko Press, California Poster, M. 2010, McLuhan and the Cultural Theory of Media [online], Media Tropes, Available from: http://www.mediatropes.com/index.php/Mediatropes/article/viewArticle/11931 [Accessed: 17.4.2011] Postman, N., nd, What is Media Ecology? [online], Available from: http://www.media-ecology.org/media_ecology/ [Accessed: 20.4.2011]

Sam Swain

Marshall McLuhan & Key Thinkers of Media Culture