that an understanding of media is of utmost importance in the electronic
age shares in common with Cronenberg the view that media condition and
shape human perception and experience. The advent of electronic media
has increased the scope of mass media in the social sphere, and this
is the focus of McLuhan's investigation. In Understanding Media
McLuhan introduced a radically new perspective into the study of media
concentrating on a sensual experience of the mediated world: the major
shift in theory being the concept that "the medium is the message".1
For McLuhan, the
psychic and social consequences that media introduce into human affairs
constitute its primary message, or affect. In this way McLuhan concentrates
on the formal qualities of media, rather than the content, in order to
evaluate the way media operate in society. As methods of communication,
media organise information into formal structures that affect the pace
and pattern of social practice. The reason being, McLuhan tells us, is
that media are an extension of our senses, and are thereby organised by
patterns of sensory perception. Media are therefore "the extensions of
as the function of media is to translate human experience into external
forms of information.
A crucial aspect
of McLuhan's theory is his emphasis on the interplay between the senses
and media technology. Media are not described as being separate from the
body, in fact the body and media technology are described as being enmeshed
and interactive. They are linked integrally, since the origin of media,
as McLuhan regards it, is the extension of the nervous system and the senses
beyond the body.
In relation to the
way we experience media, McLuhan identifies different media as falling
into categories of hot or cool forms. A hot medium is "one
that is extended in 'high-definition.' High definition is the state of
being well filled with data."3
This means that the message of the medium is very defined and complete,
resulting in a low-level of sensory participation with the medium. Alternatively,
a cool medium is low in definition and data, involving more sensory participating
with the medium to complete its meaning. The television is a good example
of a cool medium, as it projects a mosaic of light particles onto the spectator,
engaging the spectator in a tactile experience of the medium. The physical
participation in the reception process is also heightened by the necessity
to order the light mosaic into a coherent form, which involves the senses
further in completing the image. Because of the high level of sensory participation,
a cool medium is more inclusive of the senses than a hot medium.
In the electronic
age McLuhan notices a movement towards more aural and tactile media forms,
which he regards as involving deeper participation from the individual.
Electronic media interact with human senses in a more inclusive relationship,
creating a more sensuous involvement between the body and media. Because
of this high level of inclusion, human experience is being extended further
into the domain of media, and it is this immersion of human activity in
forms of media that McLuhan addresses. Indeed, McLuhan envisages the future
extension of man as being the total technological simulation of consciousness
outside of our bodies, a virtual reality if you will, achieved by the complete
extension of the nervous system (the basis of sense perception) beyond
the body. This is a departure from what McLuhan regards as the specialist,
fragmentary media of the industrial age, during which sight was privileged
as the primary sense in media forms. In this way, McLuhan claims that in
the electronic age technology has radically altered our media forms, and
this in turn has caused a reorganisation of our social-structures as we
accommodate new forms of mediated experience. This, he sees as having wide
implications for social practice and human experience.
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McLuhan, Marshall, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man,
1994. Cambridge: MIT Press. p. 7.
ibid p. 3.
ibid p. 22.