Marshall McLuhan


Marshall McLuhan : biography

July 21, 1911 – December 31, 1980

Additionally, Brian Winston’s Misunderstanding Media, published in 1986, chides McLuhan for what he sees as his technologically deterministic stances. Raymond Williams and James W. Carey further this point of contention, claiming:

The work of McLuhan was a particular culmination of an aesthetic theory which became, negatively, a social theory […] It is an apparently sophisticated technological determinism which has the significant effect of indicating a social and cultural determinism […] If the medium – whether print or television – is the cause, of all other causes, all that men ordinarily see as history is at once reduced to effects. (Williams 1990, 126/7)

David Carr states that there has been a long line of "academics who have made a career out of deconstructing McLuhan’s effort to define the modern media ecosystem," whether it be due to what they see as McLuhan’s ignorance toward sociohistorical context or the style of his argument.

While some critics have taken issue with McLuhan’s writing style and mode of argument, McLuhan himself urged readers to think of his work as "probes" or "mosaics" offering a toolkit approach to thinking about the media. His eclectic writing style has also been praised for its postmodern sensibilitiesPaul Grossweiler, The Method is the Message: Rethinking McLuhan through Critical Theory (Montreal: Black Rose, 1998), 155-81 and suitability for virtual space.Paul Levinson, Digital McLuhan: A Guide to the Information Millennium (New York: Routledge,1999), 30.

The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (1967)

The Medium Is the Massage, published in 1967, was McLuhan’s best seller, "eventually selling nearly a million copies worldwide."Marchand, p. 203 Initiated by Quentin Fiore,McLuhan & Fiore, 1967 McLuhan adopted the term "massage" to denote the effect each medium has on the human sensorium, taking inventory of the "effects" of numerous media in terms of how they "massage" the sensorium.According to McLuhan biographer W. Terrence Gordon, "by the time it appeared in 1967, McLuhan no doubt recognized that his original saying had become a cliché and welcomed the opportunity to throw it back on the compost heap of language to recycle and revitalize it. But the new title is more than McLuhan indulging his insatiable taste for puns, more than a clever fusion of self-mockery and self-rescue—the subtitle is ‘An Inventory of Effects,’ underscoring the lesson compressed into the original saying." (Gordon, p. 175.)

However, the on the website maintained by McLuhan’s estate says that this interpretation is incomplete and makes its own leap of logic as to why McLuhan left it as is. "Why is the title of the book The Medium is the Massage and not The Medium is the Message? Actually, the title was a mistake. When the book came back from the typesetter’s, it had on the cover ‘Massage’ as it still does. The title was supposed to have read The Medium is the Message but the typesetter had made an error. When McLuhan saw the typo he exclaimed, ‘Leave it alone! It’s great, and right on target!’ Now there are possible four readings for the last word of the title, all of them accurate: Message and Mess Age, Massage and Mass Age."

Fiore, at the time a prominent graphic designer and communications consultant, set about composing the visual illustration of these effects which were compiled by Jerome Agel. Near the beginning of the book, Fiore adopted a pattern in which an image demonstrating a media effect was presented with a textual synopsis on the facing page. The reader experiences a repeated shifting of analytic registers—from "reading" typographic print to "scanning" photographic facsimiles—reinforcing McLuhan’s overarching argument in this book: namely, that each medium produces a different "massage" or "effect" on the human sensorium.