The Laws of Media

McLuhan, M., & McLuhan, E. (1992). “Tetrads.” In Laws of media: The new science. Toronto: University of Toronto Press


Laws of media, tetrads, enhances, retrieval, reversal, obsolesce, etymology


McLuhan shows through tetrads how media is an extension of humans. It has transformed the user and user experience through its enhancements, retrieval, reversal and obsolesce of the original product.


“Our laws of media are intended to provide a ready means of identifying the properties f and actions exerted upon ourselves by our technologies and media and artefacts” (pg. 98).

“Enhancement and obsolescence are obviously complementary actions. Any new technique or idea or tool, while enabling a new range of activities by the user, pushes aside the older ways of doing things” (pg. 99).

“Language always preserves a play or figure ground relation between experience, and perception and its replay in expression” (pg. 121).


McLuhan writes how its through tetrads that we can understand the basis of media. It’s not just one concept or theory.

At first, it took me a couple times to understand how the tetrad works together in order to understand the basis. Thus, I broke down the four questions into simpler terms…

1. What does the artefact do to enhance it?

2. With this new enhancement, what it left behind from the ‘original’?

3. In the new form, what keeps being brought back/reoccurring from the old form and current new form?

4. How is the new form most likely to reverse back to some of its old form ways when pushed to its limit?

In other words, there’s an original purpose/meaning when it comes to media, the core of what it is and how it should be used is always the same. It’s what we build off of or decide not to use from this core that drives artefacts and how we use, learn and understand media today.

As McLuhan notes, “Obsolescence is not the end of anything; it’s the beginning of aesthetics, the cradle of taste, of art, of eloquence and of slang” (pg. 100).

In essence, how has our relationship with technology developed that pulls at this tetrad concept to drive technology and how we use it to where it is today?

This carries into McLuhan’s commentary on etymology, how culture is changes through transformation. Much like how we have changed how we use and have come to understand media.

An example I like to think of is Facebook. When Facebook just came out, it was solely for one audience. Eventually, is developed into a site where a wide age group of people began to use it. Its looks later began to change in order to fit the needs and provide easy navigation for its users. Text became less, going to and from various profiles didn’t require just a search and most noticeably today, pictures have become a main focal point on timelines and newsfeeds. Now even in profile pictures, you can have video instead of just an image.


McLuhan’s tetrads: what they are and how they work…Skype example.


Do you think eventually, we will go back to the “old ways” of using media? In other words, do you think people will get tired of having everything digitally available at the click of a button?

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