McLuhan’s an egg

marshallThere have surely been hundreds of harsh critiques of Marshall McLuhan’s “Understand Media,” but I think it all comes down to something he wrote early on in the book: “Instead of asking which came first, the chicken or the egg, it suddenly seemed that a chicken was an egg’s idea for getting more eggs.” The key here is the insular mindset of the egg: It thinks of its purpose without proper context. McLuhan does the same with the content of media: He argues that content doesn’t matter — instead, he says the form is this content. This obviously irks a lot of artists, who work tirelessly within a form. Because it means everything they’ve worked on is a gray blob of insignificance. And while I’m all for knocking artists down a few pegs, I disagree with this assessment. Because, in making such an argument, McLuhan turns himself (and his argument) into the egg. He thinks about his argument, without the context of the chicken — the content.

Now McLuhan is right to some extent. We often create a narrative of the world from only our perspective. So when we manipulate media, we often think we are the central figure. However, as McLuhan writes, “It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of modern society and the stability of its inner life depend in large part on the maintenance of an equilibrium between the strength of the techniques of communication and the capacity of the individual’s own reaction.” In other words, he says our entire future depends on how we’ll be able to communicate. While I think he’s going too far with this — he’s an egg too eager — I agree that the stability of our future depends on this balance. Because form is the infrastructure; it is the foundation and the steel bars for a building. But McLuhan almost devalues art with this statement; he tells us that what makes human life enjoyable — the beautiful stained glass window and circle staircase in the lobby — are not what matter. It is, instead, the actual glass and the actual wood that matters. This robs us of how we experience our humanity.

As far as hot and cold media, his comparisons are a bit dated. However, here’s one interesting thing of note: The internet is, I think, a hot form of media because there is so much sensory stimulation from it. However, it is also a very participatory medium. And I think awareness of that juxtaposition is key. When users feel they have a mastery over certain best replica panerai parts of an internet community, they participate more — they become less of a lurker. And I think part of it has to do with how much we can make sense of the information that we see online.

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