The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan

Omar M. Khateeb
Feb 4 · 5 min read

All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences, they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered — Marshall McLuhan

About the book

Marshall McLuhan argues technologies — from clothing to the wheel to the book and beyond — are the messages, not the content of the communication. Basically, in its fundamental essence, The Medium is the Massage is a graphical and creative representation of his “medium is the message” thesis seen in Understanding Media.

By playing on words and using the term “massage,” McLuhan suggests modern audiences enjoy MainStream media as soothing, enjoyable, and relaxing; however, the pleasure we find in the MainStream media is deceiving, because/as/since the changes between society and technology are incongruent, perpetuating an Age of Anxiety.

The Medium is the Massage demonstrates the ways the MainStream media are extensions of human senses; they ground us in physicality, but expand our ability to perceive our world to an extent impossible without the MainStream media.

These extensions of perception contribute to McLuhan’s theory of the Global Village, which would bring humanity full-circle to an industrial analogue of tribal mentality.

Notes and Quotes

  • Character no longer is shaped by only two earnest, fumbling experts. Now all the world’s a sage.
  • Politics offers yesterday’s answers to today’s questions.
  • All media are extensions of some human faculty-psychic or physical.
  • The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act-the way we perceive the world.
  • “As we begin, so shall we go.” “Rationality” and logic came to depend on the presentation of connected and sequential facts or concepts.
  • It created the portable book, which men could read in privacy and in isolation from others. Man could now inspire-and conspire. Like easel painting, the printed book add much to the new cult of individualism. The private, fixed point of view became possible and literacy conferred the power of detachment, non-involvement.
  • We have begun again to structure the primordial feeling, the tribal emotions from which a few centuries of literacy divorced us. We have had to shift our stress of attention from action to reaction. We must now know in advance the consequences of any policy or action, since the results are experienced without any delay. Because of electric speed, we can no longer wait and see. At high speeds of electric communication, purely visual means of apprehending the world are no longer possible; they are just too slow to be relevant and effective. Unhappily, we confront this new situation with an enormous backlog of outdated mental and psychological responses. We have been left d-a-n-g-l-i-n-g. Our most impressive words and thoughts betray us-they refer us only to the past, not to the present.
  • The young today reject goals. They want roles- R-O-L-E-S. That is, totally involvement. They do not want fragmented, specialized goals or jobs.
  • Where a visual space is an organized continuum of a uniformed connected kind, the war world is a world of simultaneous relationships.
  • According to a publisher, many people do not realize how much they could influence others simply by remembering accurately everything they see, hear, or read.
  • Most people find it difficult to understand purely verbal concepts. They suspect the ear; they don’t trust it. In general we feel more secure when things are visible, when we can “see for ourselves.”
  • As new technologies come into play, people are less and less convinced of the importance of self expression. Teamwork succeeds private effort.
  • Television demands participation and involvement in depth of the whole being. It will not work as a background. It engages you.
  • In television, images are projected at you. You are the screen. The images wrap around you. You are the vanishing point. This creates a sort of inwardness, a sort of reverse perspective which has much in common with Oriental art.
  • Real, total war has become information war. It is being fought by subtle electric informational media — under cold conditions, and constantly. The Cold War is the real war front — a surround — involving everybody — all the time — everywhere. Whenever hot wars are necessary these days, we conduct them in the backyards of the world with the old technologies.
  • The environment as a processor of information is propaganda. Propaganda ends where dialogue begins. You must talk to the media, not the programmer. To talk to the programmer is like complaining to a hot dog vendor at a ballpark about how badly your favorite team is playing.
  • The Newtonian God — the God who made a clock-like universe, wound it, and withdrew-died a long time ago. This is what Nietzsche meant and this is the God who is being observed. Anyone who is looking around for a simulated icon of the deity in Newtonian guise might well be disappointed. The phrase “God is dead” applies aptly, correctly, validly to the Newtonian universe which is dead. The groundrule of that universe, upon which so much of our Western world is built, has dissolved.
  • “Only the hand that erases can write the true thing” — Meister Eckhardt
  • “I-I hardly know sir, just at present — at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think Im must have been changed several times since then.”
  • “You see, Dad, Prof. McLuhan says the environment 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 agin live in a village”

“All media work us over completely” — Marshall McLuhan

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