Latam Booklook: "The medium is the message" by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore

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Full of witty phrases and analysis on the electronic world, McLuhan explores the effect of communicative technologies in our lives

Latam Booklook: "The medium is the message" by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore

What is it about?

The wheel, the book, the radio, the television, all these are means through which the human communicates and, for McLuhan, they determine our relationship with others and the perception of the world. The media, then, are extensions of our senses and amplify the possibilities of the body when it interacts with the world. In that sense, the wheel is an extension of the foot, the book of vision and, the most analyzed McLuhan, the electrical means of the nervous system.

Taking the above into account, the medium is the message (1967) raises its main thesis in the title: the important thing of a medium -or technology- is not the content, the information it transmits, but the same means as an enabler and causing specific social patterns. With this in mind, it consists of a series of fragments that explore the effect of various media on daily life, the creation, and abandonment of certain professions, the changes in education with the appearance of television, among others.

Precisely that fragmentariness that characterizes the book is possible to the combination that makes with the images of the graphic designer Quentin Fiore. The reading proposes an immersion in the mixture of letters and with both photographic images, as collages or drawings. Moreover, the game that is presented also includes sudden changes in typography, as well as the displacement of the text box to different parts of the page. So much so that to read some of the fragments you have to flip the book, read the letters upside down, or pass four pages to read a sentence with giant letters that do not fit on a single page.

Also read: Latam BookLook: "What we see when we read" by Peter Mendelsund

Who wrote it?

Of Canadian origin, Marshall McLuhan (1911 - 1980) was a professor of literature in the United States who, during the 60s, became a media star. He was invited to television shows, he met with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, he appeared in Annie Hall, the famous Woody Allen movie, and even took out an album of the book. All this mainly because of the extravagant and original of his media theory at the time. He himself tells in an interview that, when he gave the manuscript of the book to his editor to be published, the latter said "Marshall, normally books have a maximum of 10% new content, yours has at least 65%!

His impact was not only limited to become famous in the media but was one of the pioneers of Media Studies, a field of academic study that analyzes the role of media in human social relations. In that sense, practically everyone who has wanted to learn about communication theories must go through McLuhan.

Finally, after all the emotion of the 60's and the predictions he had made about the greater importance of the electric in human lives, the 70's McLuhan fell ill with cancer and also disappeared from the public field, as people were disappointed how his words had not been fulfilled. However, it was until 2000, with the expansion of the Internet and the creation of the digital world, that their predictions began to come to life.

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Do I read it or not?

McLuhan was a visionary at the time. Through the tracking of patterns reading Joyce, the Victorians, the modernists, and with a critical and attentive look at what was happening in their society, he managed to glimpse the effect that the electrical medium would have on human life. Although for us inhabitants of the twenty-first century and Internet users it is evident that the digital has changed the way of interacting between us and with the world, in the 60s that was not so clear.

The book is, then, the immersion in an experimental exploration, in accordance with the spirit of the counterculture of this time, of how the world was changing. If the forms of the past begin to lose validity, we must invent new ways of writing that adapt to the human being that moves in an electrical environment. In that sense, the way in which he presents his theory fragmentarily and the mixture with Quentin Fiore's images makes McLuhan's book different reading experience.

Ultimately, as you progress in reading, phrases like "Art is anything you can get away with" the same title, "the medium is the message" begin to make sense. This happens not only in reading but also in the update that we inevitably make of McLuhan as inhabitants of a digital medium with infinite information and social networks. After reading it, it is difficult to be on Instagram or Facebook without distrusting a bit of how they are determining the way we communicate and interact with the world.


LatinAmerican Post | Juan Gabriel Bocanegra

Translated from "Latam BookLook: El medio es el mensaje de Marshall McLuhan y Quentin Fiore"