Detail map of Old Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada Overview map of Old Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

A: Old Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Marshall McLuhan's "The Medium is the Message"

Dust jacket of the 1964 edition of Understanding Media.
Dust jacket of the 1964 edition of Understanding Media.

In 1964 Canadian educator, philosopher, and media theorist of the University of Toronto Marshall McLuhan published Undertstanding Media: The Extensions of Man.

"In it McLuhan proposed that media themselves, not the content they carry, should be the focus of study — popularly quoted as the medium is the message'. McLuhan's insight was that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not by the content delivered over the medium, but by the characteristics of the medium itself. McLuhan pointed to the light bulb as a clear demonstration of this concept. A light bulb does not have content in the way that a newspaper has articles or a television has programs, yet it is a medium that has a social effect; that is, a light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness. He describes the light bulb as a medium without any content. McLuhan states that 'a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence.' More controversially, he postulated that content had little effect on society — in other words, it did not matter if television broadcasts children's shows or violent programming, to illustrate one example — the effect of television on society would be identical. He noted that all media have characteristics that engage the viewer in different ways; for instance, a passage in a book could be reread at will, but a movie had to be screened again in its entirety to study any individual part of it.

"The book is the source of the well-known phrase 'The medium is the message'. It was a leading indicator of the upheaval of local cultures by increasingly globalized values. The book greatly influenced academics, writers, and social theorists" (Wikipedia article on Understanding Media, accessed 11-14-2009)

Timeline Themes