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Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man Paperback – Oct 24 1994

4.4 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 389 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; REV edition (Oct. 24 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262631598
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262631594
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 567 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #76,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


...the most brilliant marketing mind of all belonged to Marshall McLuhan. Understanding Media is a timeless analysis of how language, speech and technology shape human behavior in the era of mass communication. The book is a cautionary tale for marketers today who hear the Web's siren call and ignore the power of the spoken word.

(Wall Street Journal)

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Though he was once proclaimed "the oracle of the electronic age," perhaps the world was not quite ready for Marshall McLuhan when he came to prominence in the 1960s. With the advent of digital technology, the Internet, and the global economy, however, there can be little doubt that he is relevant now. Understanding Media is one of McLuhan's most popular books, offering some of his more pungent and provocative insights on our need to adapt from a relatively slow, fragmented mechanical age to a high-speed, highly integrated electronic one. McLuhan's formidable intelligence and imagination make it both enlightening and fun to read. Northrop Frye, McLuhan's colleague at the University of Toronto, once identified "the use of paradox and the pretence of naïveté" as the two primary tactics of teaching. From his own bag of tricks McLuhan adds obscurity ("Our world has become compressional by dramatic reversal"); hyperbole ("We have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time"); tautology ("TV is environmental and imperceptible, like all environments"); and the occasional dash of absurdist whimsy ("As extension of man the chair is a specialist ablation of the posterior, a sort of ablative absolute of backside, whereas the couch extends the integral being"). McLuhan also has a flare for the catchy phrase, and in Understanding Media the reader will find his famous dictum "the medium is the message" as well as the distinction between "hot" and "cool" media discussed at length.

After setting forth a few general principles, Understanding Media conjures a fly's-eye view of late-20th-century culture, with short sections on writing, speech, comics, telephones, television, money, movies, weapons, and much more. And while the discussion is rippling with uncanny, sometimes visionary, insight, its author remains an earnest humanist at heart. "The aspiration of our time for wholeness, empathy and depth of awareness," McLuhan says, "is a natural adjunct of electronic technology.… There is a deep faith to be found in this new attitude." --Russell Prather

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A seminal and throughout sublime work that increasingly resonates the further we slide into the shallows of social media, run by the one-percent economy goons who remain largely oblivious to the environments they create but who get away with it by appearing to care or by distracting us with next-gen technologies and ideas, such as self-landing rockets and ueber-AI -- technologies themselves that will distort the reality field even further, only widen the technology have/have not gap, and thereby further disrupt humanity and human values. McLuhan would have loved the "selfie" in particular, as the fragmentation/amputation of the self from the self, and a darkly pathetic answer to the question posed in The Mechanical Bride, first published in 1951: Do you feel a need to be distinctive and mass produced?

In other words, and in acknowldgement of Nicholas Carr's own work, how shallow can you get?
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Format: Hardcover
This book is the Bible of the mediatic electric age and it has to be read as such, that is to say with a grain of salt from time to time. Marshall McLuhan shows first of all that all inventions, all activities of man are extensions of something in his body: the hand, the arm, the foot, the eye, the nose, the ear, and of course the skin and the central nervous system. He then moves to showing that the mechanical age started with the wheel as the extension of man's feet and legs, when this wheel was plugged onto some mechanical source of energy, be it natural like stream-water, or be it man-made and artificial like the steam-engine or the internal-combustion-engine. But this very mechanical revolution produces the next stage since stream-water or steam are used to make a turbine turn, like a wheel, but this time to produce electricity. And we enter the electrical age, a revolution based on the virtualization of this energy that is no longer attached to a particular action or place: it can be used in hundreds of different tasks and everywhere due to its transportation. This leads to the next revolution: the birth of communication media, hot or cool, but all of them being the message itself. Radio, cinema, TV, camera, sound-recorder, etc..., and McLuhan could not know in 1964 the Internet revolution and virtual reality, the virtualization of all human activities. However, he feels and predicts the changes that were to come. Information can be transformed and transported by machines and the possession and use of knowledge become the real working power of a man. It means clearly that social projects are no longer collective but based on individual potential, competence and activity.Read more ›
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Format: 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.
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Format: 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.
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Format: 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.
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