Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why, according to McLuhan, are media extensions of man?

(So I know I've already written an entry about McLuhan, but this was a question for my midterm that I feel like I answered particularly well. Enjoy:)

Marshall McLuhan’s article “The Medium is the Message…” brings up the point that our senses and all uses of our senses, especially when consuming media, cause media to be an extension of ourselves. We package messages within media because of their effectiveness in this specific method of presentation. The message (aural, textual, visual, acoustic, literary, other-sensory) that a particular media is sending (this is independent from the content) relates mainly to our sense lives; these senses, and media, McLuhan believes are in fact “extension[s] of ourselves” (107).

In utilizing the example of conformity and adaptation to changes in technology in literate societies, McLuhan states that “literate man is quite inclined to see others who cannot conform as somewhat pathetic,” (133) which is personalizing and internalizing ones interaction with media: essentially, those who understand the changing nature of technology and are able to use a medium to its full intention and expression view this ability to interact with the medium as an extension of their unique personalities and skill set. One who is more capable (be it through intellect or accessibility) to interact or interpret a certain medium tends to see others who are not able to do the same as inferior humans (or media consumers) because they have not allowed media to become a seamless or effortless part of themselves.

McLuhan also draws the parallel between the medium of money in Japan in the 1600s and typography (an early print medium) in Western cultures. A sudden injection of money within the economy of 17th century Japan caused so much change within the culture because it “reorganized the sense life of people just because it [money] is an extension of ourselves” (114); this started to cause people in Japan to believe that an individual was only as good as the amount of money they accrued, since this money was now an extension of the person as a human being operating within society. Same as with the new concept of printed money in Japan, the sudden injection of printed material into Western society thus became an extension of those who consumed it, for it became nearly impossible to separate one’s identity from that which they were reading (this somewhat relates to the literary specialist discussed in Goody and Watt).

There are several times throughout the article that McLuhan backs up his thoughts on media as an extension of man, yet none is more prevalent as when he attacks General David Sarnoff for stating "we are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them" (109). Here, McLuhan is making the argument that technology does more than just “add itself on to what we already are” (110); it actually has become a part of us, or at least part of our sensory world, which is why it is wrong for Sarnoff to attempt to separate technology from its users. Separating ourselves from media the way Sarnoff is doing "ignores the nature of the medium" (110); he's essentially placing no relationship between the connectedness of media, our senses, and self. McLuhan believes that in this Narcissistic fashion “we become what we behold” (115); in a way, we become the media we consume.

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