McLuhan, M., & McLuhan, E. (1992). “Tetrads.” In Laws of media: The new science. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
technology as an extension of man; laws of media; tetrads; enhancement; obsolescence; reverse; retrieve; etymology
McLuhan tackles technology through the biases or characteristics that are inherent to the relationships between technology and man. He does this through tetrads that are pulling the different concepts associated with the technology in different directions.
“In tetrad form, the artifact is seen to be not neutral or passive, but an active logos or utterance of the human mind or body that transforms the user and his ground.” (p. 99)
“Etymology reveals a process of transformation of culture and sensibility and is also a matter of retrieval and of structure.” (p. 116)
“(…) the crucial study that remains is that of working out in precise detail the relations between second and first natures: which organs or faculties are extended or stressed or numbed and in which pattern or degree by each one of our artefacts. (…) Language is one resource and, as Joyce found, infallible when handled properly.” (p. 117)
Media enhance and obsolesce certain behaviors/characteristics and at the same time, retrieve ideas from previous grounds. However, when pushed to their maximum expression, can and will reverse from its original purpose and all of these relationships exist simultaneously around it.
I tried to use McLuhan’s tetrads as a filter for Rob Walker’s article Digital Culture, Meet Analog Fever. They would seem like digital and analog are opposite concepts but they do a really good job of complementing each other in our current society.
When Walker talks about how analog media is making a comeback (LPs, books, TV antennas), I kept thinking about how digitalizing everything has changed our relationship with our belongings. We would only purchase the CDs or LPs that we really wanted or we would save up to buy that special edition of a certain book, but now our music libraries are capable of having hundreds of thousands of songs, we can have as many books as we want on our Kindles, or iPads, or Nooks. And what I’ve seen happen lately is that people will get LPs but they will also download the album into their iTunes.
So the popularity of analog technologies in the digital age, enhances the value of the material object and it obsolesces getting the content in the fastest, most efficient way.
Because we are so used to having lots of music, movies, TV shows and whatnot one click away, would taking this to the extreme make it reverse something so common like owning music into hoarding everyday media products?