2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful!
Reading Understanding Media brings to mind the old line that Shakespeare's plays are nothing but a bunch of clichés. McLuhan's 1964 look at the impact of technology and communications on society is laced with phrases that have become fixtures of modern language, like 'Global Village', 'Age of Information' and 'The medium is the message'. The book seeks to tie...
Published on June 1 2001 by Rolf Dobelli
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable collection of nonsense
I have rarely found so much nonsense compressed between the covers of a book. This a collection of unwarranted, groundless assertions, irresponsible generalizations and shameless one-upmanship. The success of the book in the 60's is proof of the intellectual despair that marked that decade, attempting to get out of the Vietnam Tragedy throug false gurus and other...
Published on Jan. 4 2000 by Prof. R. Paris
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful!,
This review is from: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Paperback)Reading Understanding Media brings to mind the old line that Shakespeare's plays are nothing but a bunch of clichés. McLuhan's 1964 look at the impact of technology and communications on society is laced with phrases that have become fixtures of modern language, like 'Global Village', 'Age of Information' and 'The medium is the message'. The book seeks to tie together big themes like art, culture, and social and economic history. While often successful at drawing these sweeping connections, McLuhan in certain chapters wanders into what sound like self-indulgent lectures. His analysis of television as a "cool" or low-resolution medium is dated. Phrases like "dig it" and too-numerous references to "the bomb," Mad magazine and skin-divers clearly belong to the early 1960s. But this book is valuable for its prophetic analyses. McLuhan's prediction of an emerging information-based economy and a global integration facilitated by the Internet and digital technologies is stunningly accurate. We [...] recommend Understanding Media to executives working in media, telecommunications and technology, all of whom should have at least a passing knowledge of this classic.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Provocative Book, but a little difficult,
By A Customer
This review is from: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Paperback)I'd give it 5 stars, but it's a bit dense and a little difficult. I think a lot of people have a problem with McLuhan because he didn't develop a cut and dry, easily accessible theory or body of work. I put him in a category of provocative essayists like Freud. After absorbing McCluhan, I see the world differently in a way that makes more sense. His subject matter is media, and not its content, so it is difficult to pin down. I understand why some dismiss this as a bunch of 60's twaddle, but it's not. Just read with an open mind. I found his little book "The Medium is the Massage" a fun little intro. Even though I've read a lot of McLuhan, I feel I understand about 5-10% of what he said.
5.0 out of 5 stars Modern Mystic?,
This review is from: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Paperback)Marshall McLuhan is perhaps one of the most influential authors I have read along with Timothy Leary, Alan Watts and Eliphas Levi. What McLuhan does like the authors stated is not explain in descriptive terms the media, but process oriented direction of experience. I will explain that momentarily.
This book, "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man" is by far McLuhan's greatest book. It is set up like any useful text with the first part being the theory, while the second part contains the practice. He explains in the theoretical part that media is the extension of man. That all things created by man have come from man's own experience. This is like a dream, in one sense, where one must determine at some point that they are creators of the dream, and therefore, all content of the dream must apply to the dreamer's existence, and no one elses. Likewise, all inventions and discoveries are aspects of human dimensions that have been created by man, and therefore must come from man's inner experiences. These inventions are ultimately what McLuhan calls extensions, as they extend our human capacity for that movement or experience. The foot can travel so fast, while the tire is the extension of the foot, and therefore can move at a much higher rate of speed than the foot.
It seems that the most confusing aspect of McLuhan's theories is the idea of content versus context. The assumption of media study is to psychologize advertisments or the like. This way of approach is far from his point. He says, "My own way of approaching the media is perceptual not conceptual." What he is saying is that he uses his senses to gain understanding of the media, not theoretical concepts. This is what I mean about process oriented experience, where McLuhan discusses the experience one has by, say watching television, the mode of thought one has, the patterns of thought and behavior created by television.
In other words, we become the media that we have been shaped by in our culture and time. The spoken word, the written word and the telegraph, McLuhan noted, has had the largest impact on our society. Not because of their usefulness, or whether they work or not, but because society has patterned themselves after the respective media. Are not we becoming a computerized society? Does this mean we have lots of computers that run things? Or are the people becoming computer like in their behavoir and thinking? The latter expresses more accurately McLuhan's ideas.
The second part runs over a select group of specific media and their implications on the human mind. The context in which they were placed in is by far the most important aspect as it predicts when a new media might arise. All media have their logical origins. If one determine the state of the world now, as it is, one can determine the way of the media. McLuhan discusses the written and printed word, automobile, telegraph, aeroplanes, bikes, routes, newspapers, automation, games, weapons, and many others that make for a highly evocative read.
Is McLuhan a modern mystic? It might be a heavy title for some. If one reads well enough into his work, they may get the sense he is not talking about media at all.
Understanding McLuhan's approach is about upsetting the whole sensory environment. The appeal McLuhan has had on the ages from 1964, when the book was published, is in his aphorism, "Media is the message." This little phrase scratched many heads. Most of McLuhan's writings are like this. It is not about explaining it, but involving the reader to think for himself. To evoke, as in, evocative. So the conclusions must be the readers choice, either by intuition, study, assumption, or first hand experience. One thing is for certain, if you take the time to read the book twice, it will be different than the first read.
I can say, "if you only read one book..." but those that read this book are usually of the literate group. But for me, this book has not been an informative text, but a work book, a guide, an insightful prayer book, a reference, a resource, a magical text. I cannot reccomend this book highly enough.
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man,
By A Customer
This review is from: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Paperback)At first I didn't get what McLuhan was on about. But once I cottoned on to the full implications of white light being pure information without content, it all made sense.
Anybody looking for dogma, doctrine or even decisive guidence in Understanding Media misses McLuhan's point. Here is a man who truly has an idea of how to navigate complexity.
His vision has rightly been applauded by cyber-punks, Buddhists, Catholics, and the chemically enlightened.
Much respect and love to the corruption of white light (his writing) that Mcluhan left behind.
5.0 out of 5 stars Feeling numb? Herein lies the power to feel again...,
This review is from: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Paperback)I found this book in a second-hand bookstore for under one dollar. Had never heard of it, had never heard of him but I am fascinated by the media, specifically advertising. I wore this book out and replaced it with the new edition from MIT Press. I love this book. I still can't understand it in places (this makes me study it even more to try and understand where he is coming from) but it definitely changed the way I view the media and my place within it. We are definitely beyond being influenced by the media; the media has become the ground from which we operate.
The book is challenging and it is scattered and chaotic but there is a cohesiveness to it. I suppose that style of writing was supposed to be symbolic of the way the world is (or is becoming). This book will help you to regain your ability to reintegrate yourself with the real world and stop living life as if you have "autoamputated" your true self only to watch it live on television.
While many of the analogies are "out there," most are poignant and relevent. One example is McLuhan's interpretation of the Narcissus myth from Greek mythology. Narcissus did not fall in love with his own reflection. Narcissus had no idea that the reflection he saw was himself; he thought that what he saw was something other than himself. He became transfixed by the image; it was not love, it was numbness. The television screen is our reflection; we are not separate from it -- it is merely what is inside of us extended to the outside for us to look at, thus the subtitle, The Extensions of Man. We have become Narcissus; the media is the reflection we see and, instead of falling in love with the reflection, we have become numb, forgetting (or not aware) that what we are seeing is really us. Tell me that is not relevant today.
(P.S. This is an old review from an old email address. Trying to consolidate them to my reviews file. Two years later, I it still holds well).
5.0 out of 5 stars How can intelligence survive or be revived?,
This review is from: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Paperback)Marshall McLuhan introduces us to the world of the media through history and how these media have dominated our life for centuries, from the very beginning of humanity. It explains how the invention of the phonetic alphabet has completely linearly structured our western mind, a structuring that was then amplified by the invention of the printing press. But then he jumps to THE invention that changed all that : electricity, that is still changing all that by making the old principle of linearity obsolete since electricity is founded on the principle of simultaneity. He demonstrates how today controling the flow of information is the only way to control the world. This is both illuminating and frightening. We may wonder if the Internet is not introducing a new principle : the come-back of intelligence, of intelligent analysis of data by the human brain because we finally can bring together and confront several sources and several analytical tools at the same time. The book was written before the Internet. If this is true, then there is hope. But it explains why a society, why so many people resist any new medium : it endangers their fragile equilibrium by expanding one or several of their senses, by disturbing their sense ratios, hence by giving them a feeling of amputation against which they protect themselves by rejecting the novelty. Only artists and creative minds are able to assume the new medium and even see beyond it and capture its potentialities.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding McLuhan,
This review is from: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Paperback)McLuhan, who served as the Director for the Center for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto in the mid 1960s, wrote four major works focusing focus on media's impact on society. The Mechanical Bride assesses the impacts of advertising on societal behavior and structures. The Gutenberg Galaxy assesses the influence of movable type (and the proliferation of books) on the individual. Understanding Media assesses the influence of a wide variety of media on man, his senses and his culture, and gives insight to the direction that it is taking. The Medium is the Massage explores the view that regardless of the content, the media conveying a message impacts society more heavily than the message being conveyed. Understanding Media, then, is not a solitary work. Written in 1964, it encapsulates the evolving thoughts of a futurist who is acutely aware that a variety of technological forces shape society and culture. McLuhan is not easy to read. He frequently buries his points by using analogies and historical examples that, on the surface, seem oblique to the issue under discussion. However, in McLuhan's mind, the analogies and examples are precisely on point. There is a key to comprehending McLuhan. McLuhan is a futurist. Organizations characterized by strategic vision tend to have five divisions of responsibility: The rank and file who perform daily tasks without regard to which direction the organization is going; The staff and management who organize, direct and influence the work of the rank and file; The executive leadership that provides strategic direction to the organization and who is directly responsible for the organization's success or failure; Translators who exist primarily to translate the vision of futurists into a language understandable by the executive leadership so that the leadership may decide in which direction to take the organization. The futurist, or visionary, lives in a world separate and distinct from the present - isolated from reality. The futurist's purpose is to envision, explore and blueprint unknown future, alternative, worlds so that the corporation may navigate safely without tactical or strategic failure. Futurists tend to see and articulate their vision in terms unintelligible to others save the translators. Once this is understood, the complexity of McLuhan's presentations become less distracting. Unfortunately, McLuhan did not filter his works through a translator and, therefore, comprehending McLuhan is similar to comprehending Spanish. Don't focus on the individual words. Listen to what he means. McLuhan develops three themes: First, technological innovation frequently has a disproportionate impact on society influencing individual lives, basic philosophies, and societal structures. McLuhan holds that television has changed our lives and mental processes by creating a thirst for all encompassing experiences; a thirst that seeks immediate gratification. As a window to the world, television invites participation and exploration. It creates wants and needs, provides enlightenment and encourages the viewer to actively participate in his environment. Second, that "the medium is the message." "The content of a medium is like the juicy bit of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watch dog of the mind." It is not the content of the message that ultimately affects us; it is the medium carrying the message. It is not the content of a book that is important but the movable type that printed the book. As a catalyst for change, movable type (and by extension, the printing press) shifted society from an oral culture to a print culture, fractured a church, and transformed populations into "the public". Third, that media can be categorized as "hot" or "cool". Hot media requires little audience participation because the medium performs the action in sufficient detail that the audience does not have to interact. Examples include print, radio, photography and movies which fully informs the viewer/listener who is in a receive mode. Cool media requires audience participation to fill in what is not explicitly provided by the medium. Telephones, speech and television require audience interaction and are, by McLuhan's definition, cool. McLuhan discusses a wide variety of media (paper, print, telegraph, radio, wheels, weapons, clocks, money and houses) showing that, in his mind, the content of one media is comprised of another media. The content of the telegraph is print. The content of print is writing. The content of writing is speech. McLuhan holds that developing technologies are used as extensions of man's physical and nervous systems for the purpose of enhancing man's need for increased speed or power. McLuhan distinguishes these developing technologies as either mechanical media (paper, print, movies, wheels, weapons, etc) or electric media (telegraph, radio, television and computer). Whenever mechanical media is developed and used to enhance man's senses, there is a measurable increase in knowledge or production. However, these advances frequently have unintended consequences for some other segment of society. For example, the advance of movable type (and therefore the printed word) resulted in an adverse impact on the oral traditions of preliterate cultures as well as fracturing the foundations of the Roman Church. McLuhan sees the telegraph, radio, television and the computer as a transition from mechanical media to electric media. The difference, however, is that rather than extending one or two senses, the electric media extends the whole man. Electric media provides instant knowledge and instant, broad based, communications effectively broadening man's awareness of the world about him and thereby shrinking the world to McLuhan's "global village". We are evolving from pre-literate, tribal food gatherers to an information based, electronically enhanced, oral society. For the first time in history, technology is not merely extending one of man's individual senses; it is extending our central nervous system. As electric media collapses time and space, and as electronic networks emulate human neural networks, we begin to see (through McLuhan's eye) man expanding his consciousness and his influence across the planet. At the time Understanding Media was being written, Paul Baran of the RAND corporation conceived packet-switching which became the basis for computer networking. The internet, certainly in its present form, was unknown to McLuhan, but it evolved consistent with McLuhan's views. Today's internet is composed of cool media: computers, telephone, and television (monitor with video card). The operating characteristics of the net requires extensive user participation and interaction. The synergism of the computer and the telephone produces a media consistent with McLuhan's thermometer and the net behaves as McLuhan predicted. If McLuhan appreciated the instantaneousness of electric media's contribution to knowledge, communications and worldly awareness in the 1960s, he would have been deeply gratified to see the internet ongoing evolution. Today's surfer interacts with his media far more than the couch potato, or the cell phone equipped teenager. From the bedroom computer desk, the surfer is likely researching social, academic, professional or recreational issues in the four corners of the globe without leaving his chair. Downloading images of locations he has never been, exchanging e-mail with people he has never met, and learning of things formerly the province of a few scholars, the average surfer is aptly described by McLuhan. "Men are suddenly nomadic gathers of knowledge, nomadic as never before, free from fragmentally specialism as never before - but also involved in the total social process as never before; since with electricity we extend our central nervous system globally, instantly interrelating every human experience."
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading in History of Ideas...,
This review is from: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Paperback)UNDERSTANDING MEDIA is the Marshall McLuhan "bible". He is regarded as Information Age guru so there is onus in becoming familiar with his ideas even when they are unnecessarily obscure or disputable. The concept of HOT & COOL media is an example. HOT FORMS...movies; popular music; viewed sports and (serious error!...which he laters contradicts in the same book) printed texts...are "passive" agencies: their MESSAGE is stated and "easily" interpreted. When McLuhan presented theories in the 60's, television was asserted premier MEDIUM COOL. That is: because TV screens are covered with silver dots ((ionized "active"/photons by scanning beam of electron guns)), Big Mac believed viewers had to "CONSTRUCT" the picture ACTIVELY; then glean the meaning. Today...with few exceptions...TV is recognized as activity in PASSIVITY ultra non plus. Sit there: be spoon-fed somebody's pre-packaged PROGRAM...accompanied by high-tech emotion-revving "slights" and "zounds"...and you're "programmed". Cry; fly; die or BUY as Media Wizards wave hypnotic aerial wands. You're the PROGRAM (what Ray Bradbury called in FAHRENHEIT 451, "The One-eyed Snake's FEED")that becomes what he beholds... McLuhan was a day or two behind the SUPER MEDIUM COOL which are personal computers. TV is "lay back"( or get laid-out/anesthetized into obliviosity). The COMPUTER is "lean-to" and CONSTRUCT words/worlds of meaning in text; sounds and graphics. Holographic programs will allow activist/adepts...like Dr. Morbius in FORBIDDEN PLANET...to IMAGINE "life" forms in ultimate DVD-God game. (Maybe?)
On closing note: McLuhan proposed "intense exposure to ELECTRONIC ENVIRONMENTs will atrophy LINEAR PROCESSING faculties". Translation: this is why kids CAN'T READ; and many otherwise educated folks don't like to. READING is an ACTIVE, LINEAR PROCESSING task to GLEAN & INTERPRET information from TEXT. Reading "targets" the head with IDEAS. TV; pop/rock music; most movies aim for "the gut". The "electronic" experience is emotional and sears or sates APPETITE. Possibility that no one, other than cult/freaks ((again: like Ray Bradbury's BOOK PEOPLE; regarded as criminals in 451's AD 2013)) can read looms. When Marshall McLuhan posed his ideas 40 years ago "THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE" was a cool way to psych-out hot advertising ploys (like Calvin Kline's drive to pack every female butt in our beloved USA in size 007-designer jeans). Butt today even the obvious is subtle as Yuppie-dom vies to wear-out Tommy Hilfiger ad-men for the privilege of BEING WALIKING ADVERTISEMENTS! In French, (Advertisement)means:WARNING. McLuhan's stuffy concepts may seem dated because we are inundated by their reality. The "electronic environment" is pervasive and ubiquitous as WEATHER. The Professor's theories, perhaps, bear reexamination in a nation whose educational system has crossed what David Thornberg and neo-McLuhanists call THE DIGITAL DIVIDE. The latter comprises a philosophy of Learning... therefore, "earning"/surviving...concerning PC's that cannot be glossed by PC or circumvented by Politically Correct diversion. McLuhan is a classic (Canadian)white dead guy. Nevertheless, much he implies is uncomfortably (?)true. UNDERSTANDING MEDIA: The Extensions of Man, warrants dusting-off and examing not only as essential reading in History of Ideas but practical explication in dealing with our HOT culture crisis in Education......
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Text,
This review is from: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Paperback)A Triple A Triptych for those of us that are clueless about the new fandangled.
5.0 out of 5 stars If it were nonsense, it wouldn't have come true,
This review is from: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Paperback)I believe many forget this book was written in 1964, before your personal computer and cable television. This book, however dense at times and in my opinion, predicted the explosive of the internet and modern electronic media 30 years previous. For anyone who claims the ideas about the tribal structure are false, need only investigate urban design trends today to see that the large city structure is being abandoned for smaller neighborhoods where people can walk everywhere, quite like they may in a tribe, and how the reintroduction of porches and other features that stimulate neighborhood participation are doing the same. And, if you really want some evidence that Mcluhan could base such an idea on an actually occurrence in his own time, you should read up on housing development in the Orange county of Southern California during the 1950s. A group that included the Eames' and others where they were trying to establish such a tribal urbanism, but the commuter culture was established and thus ruled, people fearing change. All that remained of their ideas were thousands of glass houses that no longer meet building code 22 and the commuter culture led to bad ideas like Brasilia, Brazil. Apparently Mcluhan was just the only person to write it down as society quashed it to remain in the safety of the old. I'm sorry but this book is utterly amazing. I look at everything differently now, everything. It makes a lot of sense if you think about it and apply it. And then you realize it was written in the 60s? Wow. Mcluhan was right on target. For those wanting an intro to Mcluhan and have small attention spans I suggest 'On Mcluhan: Forward Through the Rearview Mirror'. I am saddened that I can't attend the Center for Culture and Technology. If you are a person who wants to understand the world so much more clearly READ THIS BOOK, NOW! Another review claims that this book will be looked back on as silly 60s trash. Hmmm NO! I am only eighteen years old, never lived during the 60s, and I'm afraid I can see it is all extremely accurate now and can apply everything Mcluhan says to my everyday life and it makes things make allot more sense. READ THUS NOW. And if you wish to be more enthralled read [the] interview... with the real Bob Dobbs ( not of the church of the subgenius fame). I'm sorry anyone who doesn't like this book or, rather i should say, can't see it as prophetic and right not not worthy of at least my respect if not most people's. Sorry if harsh, but very true.
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Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan (Paperback - Oct. 24 1994)
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