TECHNOLOGICAL DETERMINISM

BY MARSHALL MCLUHAN

Marshall McLuhan was a brilliant Canadian scholar who failed grade six, and who then went on to earn five University degrees, including a doctorate in English from Cambridge University.

McLuhan fell out of favour by the time he died in 1980. However, he has now become the celestial hero of the electronic age, for he prophesied what has come to pass. The Internet and the World Wide Web have now created the "global village", that McLuhan envisioned in the 60’s.

He believed that the new electronic media have radically altered the way people think, feel and act. He predicted that we would be in the midst of a revolution, and that the world will never be the same.

COMMUNICATION INVENTIONS:

4 Periods

  1. Tribal age
  2. Literate age
  3. Print age
  4. Electronic age
According to McLuhan, the crucial inventions that changed life on this planet were the phonetic alphabet, the printing press and the telegraph.

Phonetic alphabet catapulted the human race into an age of literacy

Gutenberg’s press launched the Industrial Revolution

WE SHAPE OUT TOOLS AND THEY IN TURN SHAPE US

Technological Determinism means inventions in technology invariably cause cultural change. Put another way, the modes of communication shape human existence.

Harold Innis suggested that sudden extensions of communication are reflected in cultural disturbances.

McLuhan unique in claiming that channels of communication are the primary cause of cultural change

Family life, the workplace, schools, health care, friendship, religion, recreation, politics are all touched by communication technology.

McLuhan viewed every new form of media innovation to be an extension of some human faculty

Book is an extension of the eye.

Wheel is an extension of the foot.

Clothing is an extension of the skin.

Electronic circuitry or the computer is an extension of the central nervous system.

MCLUHAN DEFINES MEDIA AS ANYTHING THAT AMPLIFIES OR INTENSIFIES A BODILY ORGAN, SENSE OR FUNCTION.

Media extend our reach and increase our efficiency. Also act to filter or organize and interpret our social existence.

THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE

The way we live is largely a function of the way we process information.

The phonetic alphabet, the printing press and the telegraph were turning points because they changed the way people thought about themselves and their world.

THE NEW TECHNOLOGIES RADICALLY ALTER THE WAY PEOPLE USE THEIR 5 SENSES. CONTENT OR THE MESSAGE PLAYS A SUBORDINATE ROLE.

THE MEDIUM IS THE MASSAGE

THE MEDIUM IS THE MASS-AGE

A MEDIA ANALYSIS OF HISTORY-McLuhan supported his thesis for technological determinism by interpreting the sweep of human history from a media perspective.
 

  1. THE TRIBAL AGE. AN ACOUSTIC PLACE IN HISTORY

  2. An oral culture based on the ear.

  3. THE AGE OF LITERACY: A VISUAL POINT

  4. The alphabet fell into the acoustic world like a bombshell, installing sight at the head of the hierarchy of senses.

    Literacy jarred people out of collective tribal involvement into a "civilized" private detachment.

    It emphasized an orderly line of connected linear logic.

  5. THE PRINT AGE; PROTOTYPE OF THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

  6. If the phonetic alphabet made visual dependence possible, the printing press made it widespread.

    The print revolution demonstrated mass production of identical products. McLuhan called it the "fore runner" of the industrial revolution.

  7. THE ELCTRONIC AGE: THE RISE OF THE GLOBAL VILLAGE
Electronic media are retribalizing the human race

Instant communication has returned us to a prealphabet oral tradition where sound and touch are more important than sight. "We have gone back to the future".

We are a global village in touch with everyone, everywhere, all-at-once- all-the-time-instantaneously

Closed human systems no longer exist.
 

SOURCES: Wood, Julia. (1997) Communication Theories in Action: An Introduction Wadsworth Publishing Company.

McClish, Glen. (1997). Instructor's Manual to Accompany EM Griffin's A First Look at Communication Theory McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.

Griffin, EM. (1997) A First Look at Communication Theory. McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.

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