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Class 5: From Hammer to Pixel

November 5, 2020

The class discussed the reading material about Marshall McLuhan’s mid 20th Century book The Medium is the Massage and the ideas springing from it. Beginning with the title (and the peculiar substitution of Massage for Message) there was a lively exploration of what McLuhan was getting at which threw up many questions. What did he mean by medium? How could the medium be more important than the information being communicated? How has media developed since McLuhan wrote the book? Does his thesis have any relevance today? Did he really anticipate the internet? This led to a brief look at some of the media that produced step-changes in human society through the ages, from the development of writing, printing, radio, television and the worldwide web.

John reminded us of McLuhan’s student who remarked that ‘we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us’. When we look at tools as an extension of the body and our way of interfacing with the environment is seemed easier to understand the symbiotic relationship.

It is more challenging to think about putting this knowledge to use. While it is clear to us in hindsight how new technology led to the development of human society it is not so easy to see the outcome of contemporary developments. What we can do is maintain a critical awareness and vigilance while taking nothing for granted.

Selection of newspapers

Is the medium the message or the massage?

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