The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore is a now classic work from 1967. It came across as a library donation twenty years ago and we rejected this duplicate copy because it had a ripped cover. I was interested in McLuhan since I was (then) a student at the University of Toronto. What kind of a fan of the Beatles and sixties culture would I be if I didn't share an interest in McLuhan and his visionary media observations? At the time of its initial publication, The Medium is the Massage must have seemed far out. The book is a mishmash of text and visuals, some pages full of words and some with next to nothing. You could turn twenty pages in two minutes or spend twenty minutes on two pages. The reading experience felt like watching a TV show, with the main show occupying the most time followed by brief spurts that were like commercials.
Forty-five years later, I can see how the book's format and the message within presaged the effects of worldwide media and the publishing industry:
"The Medium is the Massage" reveals how the medium, or process, of our time--electric technology--is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of your personal life. How it is forcing you to reconsider and re-evaluate practically every thought and every institution you formerly took for granted."
The book's appearance, that of mixing visuals and text, reminded me of later novels such as Douglas Coupland's Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture and Dennis Rodman's memoirs Bad As I Wanna Be and Walk on the Wild Side, all of which were written for readers with ever declining attention spans.Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
Love this book. It's quirky and odd, non-linear and abstract, perfectly representing our world today. It's difficult yet ultimately accessible though we never really quite know what he's talking about though, oddly enough, some days the stuff that didn't make sense becomes a beacon of light some time later. But where's the album? Hello, all you who hold intellectual copyrights on his stuff! Please re-issue this in more modern mediums. I have a copy of his LP from the 1960s and it is fascinating and remarkable and also ahead of its time. The sampling and meandering drifting beats found in techno/electronica music today hearkens back to this LP. When is it going to be re-issued? The world is waiting and is truly missing out!
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
Wisdom from the Prophet of the InternetJune 19 2006
Mark B. Cohen
- Published on Amazon.com
Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) never conceived of the Internet. But the great communications theorist understood where communications was going, and the revolutionary effects of its direction.
This book takes his sometimes impenetrable prose and places it in a context of compelling photographs, advertisements, and cartoons in order to dramatically illustrate the meaning of his words, and the radical effect that changes in communications technology have on the lives of all the world's citizens. "It is impossible to understand social and cultural changes without a knowledge of the workings of the media," he writes.
The Medium is the Massage begins and ends with quotes from Albert North Whitehead. The first is that "The major advances in civilization are processes that all but wreck the societies in which they occur." The last is that "It is the business of the future to be dangerous."
There always are jeremiads against the new by those who are accustomed to the old. McLuhan quotes Socrates: "The discovery of the alphabet will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves...You give your disciples not truth but only the semblance of truth; they will be heroes of many things, and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing."
The effects of the media on individuals are profound. "All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, pyschological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the massage. Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media work as environments. All media are extensions of some human faculty--psychic or physical."
Media affect you, the individual citizen. "Electrical information devices for universal, tyrannical womb-to-tomb surveillance are causing a very serious dilemma between our claim to privacy and the community's need to know. The older, traditional ideas of private, isolated thoughts and actions--the patterns of mechanistic technologies--are very seriously threatened by new methods of instantaneous electric information retrieval, by the electrically computerized dossier bank--that one big gossip column that is unforgiving, unforgetful and from which there is no redemption, no erasure of early 'mistakes.' We have already reached a point where remedial control, born of knowledge of media and their total effects on all of us, must be exerted...."
Media affect your family. "The family circle has widened. The whirlpool of information fathered by the electic media--movies, Telstar, flight--far surpasses any possible influence mom and dad now bring to bear. Character no longer is shaped by only two earnest, fumbling experts. Now all the world's a sage."
Media affect your neighborhood. "Electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of 'time' and 'space' and pours upon us instantly and continuously the concerns of all other men. It has reconstitued dialogue on a global scale. Its message is Total Change, ending psychic, social, economic, and political parochialism. The old civic, state, and national groupings have become unworkable. Nothing can be further from the spirit of the the new technology than 'a place for everything and everything in its place.' You can't GO home again."
Media affect your education. "Today's television child is attuned to up-to-the-minute 'adult' news--inflation, rioting, war, taxes, crime, bathing beauties--and is bewildered when he enters the nineteenth century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns, subjects, and schedules. It is naturally an environment much like any factory set-up with its inventories and assembly lines."
Media affect your job. "From the fifteenth century to the twentieth century, there is a steady progress of fragmentation of the stages of work that constitute 'mechanization' and 'specialism.' These procedures cannot serve for survival or sanity in this new time. Under conditions of electric cicuitry, all the fragmented job patterns tend to blend once more into involving and demanding roles or forms of work that more and more resemble teaching, learning, and 'human' service, in the older sense of dedicated loyalty."
Media affect your government. "Nose-counting, a cherished part of the eighteenth century fragmentation process, has rapidly become a cumbersome and ineffectual form of social assessment in an envrionment of instant electric speeds. The public, in the sense of a great consensus of separate and distinct viewpoints, is finished. Today, the mass audience (the successor to the 'public') can be used as a creative, participating force. It is instead merely given packages of passive entertainment. Politics offers yesterday's answers to today's questions. A new form of 'politics' is emerging, and in ways we haven't yet noticed. The living room has become a voting booth. Participation via television in Freedom Marches, in war, revolution, pollution, and other events is changing EVERYTHING."
Media affect our relationships with groups of other citizens. "The shock of recognition. In an electric information environment, minority groups can no longer be contained, ignored. Too many people know too much about each other. Our new environment compels commitment and participation. We have become irrevocably involved with, and responsible for, each other. There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening."
This book is, in short, a superb introduction to McLuhan's thinking. Ideally, it would be read before any of McLuhan's other books. Understanding McLuhan takes some time and thought, but the effort is well worth it to understand today's media and today's world.
"Only the hand that erases can write the true thing," McLuhan quotes Meister Eckhardt as saying. McLuhan erases preconceptions of media being relatively insignificant, and demonstrates how the media affect the way each of us sees the world in which we live.
A memorable photo in the book is one of a middle-aged man dressed in a business suit and carrying a briefcase standing upon a surfboard, riding the waves. "In his amusement born of rational detachment of his own situation, Poe's mariner in 'The Descent Into the Maelstrom' staved off disaster by understanding the action of the whirlpool," says McLuhan's accompanying prose. "His insight offers a possible strategem for understanding our predicament, our electrically-configured whirl."
The last cartoon in the book--from the New Yorker in 1966--summarizes McLuhan's essential theme. A young man with a guitar discusses McLuhan with his father in a well-appointed library. "You see, Dad, Professor McLuhan says the enviroment that man creates becomes his medium for defining his role in it. The invention of type created linear, or sequential, thought, separating thought from action. Now, with TV and folk singing, thought and action are closer and social involvement is greater. We again live in a village. Get it?"
We all should get McLuhan. The development of Internet--likely even more transformative than television--has greatly revived interest in McLuhan's view of technological changes as changing us as people, and of creating a global village for all of us to live in. "We impose the form of the old on the content of the new. The malady lingers on," McLuhan warns. We should heed his warnings and recognize, embrace, and work for constructive improvements in the ever-changing world in which we live.
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
I Get Goosebumps...Sept. 8 2000
- Published on Amazon.com
I get goosebumps just thinking about reviewing this book wherein McLuhan coins the term "the global village." On the internet, 33 years after this book was published, McLuhan had the insight and perspicacity to see just how electronics will be changing us. He's more of an electronical anthropologist here. The flash of the book has worn off some by now and the graphics, the photos and creative layout of the pages seems to be more of a period piece. Still, because this brief book portrays so many key concepts that currently fill us now. We do not notice the power of the media until we are someplace that does not have it. Like a fish out of the water, we take for granted the influence of the technology around us; we assume that they have been with us forever and we never slow down to challenge these concepts. So, thank God for McLuhan's book. I've recommended this book to my students and it's fun to see how they read it (because it's so short) and open up to some of the concepts about the media's power. It's as if they had known it all along, but needed McLuhan's book to come along and draw it out of them.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
The Best Place to StartMarch 15 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
First published in 1967, the pithy aphorisms and ideas of 'The Medium is the Massage' have been drawn from McLuhan's many other books and articles. Superbly designed by Quentin Fiore, the typography, layout and accompanying images wittily illustrate the content, making this McLuhan's most accessible text: it is by far the best place to start if you are interested in investigating McLuhan's weird, wonderful approach to the impact and importance of the media and technology. A year after its publication an audio version was released which combines selections from the text, read by McLuhan, Fiore and Jerome Agel, with an eclectic mix of musical samples and accompaniment. (This album is today available on CD.)
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
A profitable book!Aug. 18 1999
- Published on Amazon.com
I have won innumerable wagers, thanks to McLuhan. Every social function has at least one know-it-all, and as soon as I encounter him/her I manage to work in McLuhan and The Medium Is The Massage. "Message", I am corrected. "No, 'Massage'" I retort. A wager ensues, and I get my copy from the trunk of my car and pocket the winnings. And I get the pleasure of humiliating a stuffed shirt in front of lots of people.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
-The- seminal work about life as we know itOct. 20 1996
- Published on Amazon.com
Marshall McLuhan is one of the most important thinkers of our century. Understanding his ideas and his perspective is -essential- for understanding what has happened to mankind in the last twenty thousand years, especially in this century, as our technology modifies us at an accelerated pace. That's what this book, _The Medium is the Massage_, is all about. I always recommend this book to anyone involved with technology, communications, or the future. Although he originally wrote his ideas in standard prose (he was an English professor), hardly anyone read his books -- let's face it, most of us won't wade through non-sensational nonfiction. So he produced this book to exploit the printed page in its hottest form, making his ideas as tasty and easy to swallow as a hot fudge sundae. This book is thus a living example of his thesis! Though the number of ideas per page is much smaller than in his standard works (much much smaller), it packs a powerful punch by delivering the key ideas connected to descriptive graphics (one picture is worth...).
This book is to anyone involved in technology and the future what the Bible is to Christians or the Koran is to Moslems. Don't just get this book and read it -- consume it. The future of our civilization may depend on it.