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Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man
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Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  1,730 ratings  ·  134 reviews
This reissue of Understanding Media marks the thirtieth anniversary (1964-1994) of Marshall McLuhan's classic expose on the state of the then emerging phenomenon of mass media. Terms and phrases such as "the global village" and "the medium is the message" are now part of the lexicon, and McLuhan's theories continue to challenge our sensibilities and our assumptions about h ...more
Paperback, 389 pages
Published October 24th 1994 by Mit Press (first published 1964)
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This was a frustrating read. Lots of intriguing ideas, but presented with vague language and very little supporting evidence. Sometimes while reading it I was unsure if I was reading the profound thoughts of a genius that was above my comprehension, the ramblings of a mad man, or just the drivel of a hack who thought he was a lot more clever than he actually was.

The scholarship in this book is embarrassingly sloppy. At times he makes big claims with absolutely no evidence to support them. When h
McLuhan wrote this in the 1960s to describe the state of media (which was then beginning to take on its still rapidly evolving electronic form. He coins now well-known phrases like "the medium is the message" and "global village." He was also the one who first said that if archeologists looked at our society a thousand years from now, they would find that our advertising is what says the most about our values and beliefs.

I was alternately fascinated and sceptical as I read this book. Much of it
The problem with so much au courant media theory is that it a) goes out of date real fast, and b) is frequently falsified within ten years. McLuhan sometimes hits the mark-- becoming an early predictor of, among other things, the Internet-- but also totally fails at predicting the future the other half of the time.

Some of his observations are quite astute. Other observations seem like meaningless, foundationless claims. Yes, there were vast cultural shifts with the arrival of the printing press
Marshall McLuhan has suffered the fate of many quotable philosophers and critics – like Nietzsche's pronouncement that “God is dead,” McLuhan's statement that “the medium is the message” has been tossed around by a populace that often fail to appreciate its full complexity. Having now read through the entirety of Understanding Media, it is clear that although McLuhan often takes his pronouncements to unnecessary extreme, he is equally often incredibly insightful, offering up a revolutionary way ...more
McLuhan is a nut. 50% of what he says is completely unintelligible bollocks, 20% of it is kind of interesting throw-away, and the other 30% is the most forward-thinking genius that has yet to be realized. it's kind of like he was looking into the future through fogged lenses...couldn't quite make everything out, but a good enough ideas.
Written in 1964, this book is startling in it’s prescience and extrapolation of the possibilities of technological growth, and still has much to offer in the understanding of sociological change. The ‘media’ of the title is not the same definition as is now commonly held: Although it does include television, radio and print, McLuhan’s ‘media’ can be taken more broadly to be any tool, technology or invention of man, which he explains as having a primary role in the extension of our senses, commun ...more
Micelle Miseracorde
In the 1960's, when normal (i.e. "non-intellectual") people could tell you who Marshall McLuhan was, the word most likely to be associated with his name would be "incomprehensabilty." This is not without reason.

Reading McLuhan is indeed a little like reading stereo assembly instructions from the future. Made all the more puzzling by the fact that virtually none of the words he uses are unfamiliar, his concepts nonetheless at first seem to be out of the reader's league, if not of another sport,
Although it's now hard to fathom, Marshall McLuhan was once ranked amongst the world's top intellectuals. Inspiring reverence and ire in equal measure, he guided the ignorant masses—like a tweed-attired Moses—into the nascent era of mass communication. Indeed, his star shone so bright that he even advised Pierre Elliott Trudeau in matters of media. But as the 70's drew to a close, McLuhan's celebrity waned as dramatically as it had risen. These days, he is perhaps best known as the originator of ...more
Mike Jensen
Mar 23, 2012 Mike Jensen marked it as books-abandoned  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the most important books of social theory from the middle of the last century, so why didn't I finish it? After all, it is about time I finally got around to it since I write about media.

First, I found it dated. The media has advanced far beyond the state that McLuhan covers in this book, making the book seem obsolete in many ways. Second, I simply dislike his assumptive style. He assumes as proven without proving. Unlike the first complaint, that fault is built into book. Third,
This made for a very frustrating reading experience. At times McLuhan has a tremendously opaque writing style, preferring to make many of his assertions first through others' words in great associative leaps that serve to obfuscate rather than illustrate, and then to return to the same topic again and again in the hope of conveying and proving by sheer weight of repetition rather than through clarity of expression. He also doesn't use references (assuming of course that my edition hasn't just be ...more
"As the printing press cried out for nationalism, so did the radio cry out for tribalism." This is just a small taste of the highly comedic historical generalizations that await you in reading this book! Here's another great one: "The hotting-up of the medium of writing to repeatable print intensity led to nationalism and the religious wars of the sixteenth century." Thank god for that concise explanation!!

Okay, I know I'm being unfair...McLuhan's 1964 publication was tremendously important, and
Like many reviews suggest, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man is a difficult read because of McLuhan's rambles and lacking evidence to support his many ideas on media as an extension of who we are as creators and consumers of content, as well as his philosophy that the medium is more important than the content it produces. However, take into account that this man is exploring ideas that had not been much discussed in the 60s and you'll find that he's an intuitive genius. He brings perspe ...more
This book hurts my head.. in a good way. We are reading it for a class at IIT Institute of Design and having great discussions about what McLuhan was trying to say and how his theories might be interpreted today. Although examples are out-of-date and sometimes pretty questionable from a historical accuracy point of view, it is a great reference to try to understand what his perspective was and see its influence on contemporary thinkers. If you want to understand a theory on how and why technolog ...more
This is a very important book to read. McLuhan effectively examines the effects of all media (telephones, electric lights, tv, print, ect..) upon society. His clear understanding of the power of man's extensions of self are well formed and outlined. His reference base swings from the Old Testament through James Joyce, to Oppenheimer. He has a very strong grasp of his topic, and very clearly describes it to any lay-person.

I spoke with a friend who revisited McLuhan's theories when looking at the
McLuhan was one of the first people to ask questions such as "does it matter if I read Hamlet, watch it in a theater, see a movie version, or see it on TV?" His answer is an emphatic yes. So while some of his work seems a little dated, McLuhan still gets a lot of credit for prodding people to talk about the importance of media. I think part of his reputation stems from the fact that he was prone to making huge blanket pronouncement and predictions (such as "the invention of printing lead to nati ...more
Jun 11, 2007 Zach rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: landed gentry
It's between this critique of Media and Benjamin's On Hashish, one of them has the answers. He has the organs transplanted in formaldehyde under a red, hot light while the test samples are chilled in the refrigerator. He drinks whatever Tom Wolfe is having, and says a whole lot that cannot be said in another way. If you want my opinion know that I don't trust him, he's over fifty!

The one question afraid to ask, "how am I supposed to remember all of this stuff?!"
McLuhan was a visionary bullshitter. Despite having virtually no evidence to back up some of his more absurd claims (some of which are steeped in racism), I'm amazed at just how spot-on some of his ideas about the evolution of the electronic age really were, and am anxious to see how they hold up in the coming decades. Many are familiar with this book as being the source of concepts such as the "global village" and "the media is the message", but you should also know that all of the tech pioneer ...more
Rafael Parreira
Somos realmente moldados, amputados ou ampliados pelos meios que utilizamos, sejam eles meios de comunicação, ferramentas ou instrumentos? Para McLuhan sim. E essa mudança sempre acontece, com consequências não só para os indivíduos e a sociedade, mas também para os meios e ferramentas anteriores, que terão que se adaptar. Ou desaparecer. Além de uma longa análise sobre o impacto de diversos meios (roda, cinema, TV etc.) na nossa civilização, o autor faz uma distinção entre duas eras, a mecânica ...more
I've pulled it out of a box to re-read after almost forty years! I remember being so intrigued by this when it was first popular. Fascinating book by the man famous for saying "the medium is the message" and then titling a book, The Medium is the Massage! Ah! To reread some of my under-linings now:

"Our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot. For the content of the medium is like the juicy piece of meat ca
Peter Dunn
As someone who makes his living trying to use my understanding of the media, I really ought to have read Marshall McLuhan’s magnum opus “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man” long before now.

..and as a fan of Patrick McGoohan’s “The Prisoner” again I really should have read it by now as McLuhan’s concept of “The Global Village” clearly had some influence on the naming of Number Six’s ‘Village’ prison.

"Understanding Media" was first published in 1964, a year after I was born, and decades b
George Walker
Although this book was written in 1964 and much of the content is obsolete in the face of new media, it is still a pioneering study in media theory. McLuhan proposes that media themselves, not the content they carry, should be the focus of study (the iPad is more important then the eBooks that it carries?). In his book McLuhan suggests that a medium changes the society not by the content delivered through it, but by the of the medium itself. McLuhan example of a light bulb illustrates his point. ...more
John Gillespie
I found that McLuhan was referenced in two starkly opposing books about the internet I read last summer: Nicholas Carr's The Shallows and Cathy Davidson's Now You See It. McLuhan died before the rise of the internet and video games, but his ideas are so prescient about those media that he seems like some kind of Nostrodamus for the electric age. Even though this book is extremely dated (he refers to television as a new medium), every chapter has some thought-provoking ideas and statements that a ...more
I found this book to be pretty difficult to get through. For two reasons - a) the ideas within are kind of radical to think about and b) it's not very well written. I say I "liked it" because it was pretty interesting and thought-provoking. But sometimes, it's tough to get on McLuhan's wavelength. This book is famous for coining the term "global village", which has been overused for at least the last 15 years in regards to the Internet.

The premise is a relatively simple one - changes in forms of
Seemingly everyone who has reviewed this book has pointed out that Understanding Media is dated. Well of course, but you also have to take into account that McLuhan wasn't writing a guidebook or a scholarly philosophical work, he was simply stating different theories about media and how it influences society; I doubt that he meant it to be read any kind of bible of media studies. That is what makes this book such a fascinating read; McLuhan is a very good writer (with a good sense of humor) and ...more
Feb 27, 2010 Adam rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: essays
"The classified ads (and stock-market quotations) are the bedrock of the press. Should an alternative source of easy access to such diverse daily information be found, the press will fold."

McLuhan published that in 1964, and for the past 10 years of my life, I've watched the truth of his prediction unfold.

This book was written in a different world. Considering this book was written before the Internet, personal computers, cell phones, GPS, video games, digital music, home video, satellite telev
Apr 24, 2014 Tomáš marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Prozatím vzdávám. McLuhlan je pro mě nesrozumitelný a nepochopitelný. Myšlenky obsažené v knize nejsou podpořeny dostatečnými argumenty a závěry, ke kterým dochází, jsou všechno, jen ne logické.
Předpokládám, že vina bude i na straně překladatelů - termíny „hot media“ a „cool media“ se určitě nedají plnohodnotně převést do jiného jazyka, aniž by se neztratila většina druhotných významů, ale konečným faktem zůstává, že Jak rozumět médiím je zoufale neaktuální a zmatené.
I would think of this book like a set of tools. McLuhan is providing the reader with a way to better understand and analyze the way the world is changing, technology-wise. I think the first section of the book, in that sense, is the most valuable, which is McLuhan laying out his philosophy and insights (e.g. the medium is the message). The second section is him applying his thinking to different technologies, some which are, admittedly, a little outdated. Nevertheless, it is helpful to try and g ...more
Wrote a thesis about this. McLunhan made the point in this book, before anyone else, that each technology has its own agenda based on its effects on our lives, independent of whatever we think we're doing with it. And since his background was literary criticism, he made the point obscurely, poetically, something that he and some of his readers enjoyed.
It's hard for me to comment on Understanding Media because I've never read anything quite like it. It's really just a whole bunch of somewhat connected thoughts, observations, and statements. There are many words that McLuhan uses that have a particular definition in the book but are in common usage to mean something else, and he never explains these. That said, once you understand that, once you get a feeling for what McLuhan is doing, Understanding Media is absolutely brilliant. I certainly do ...more
Joe Norat
McLuhan's first major work "The Gutenberg Galaxy" is far more prolific than this (his most critically acclaimed) work. His examination of the effects of print on the ratios of the sensorium is merely extended in this work. His thoughts on many of the individual media are merely restatements of others' work, however, his examination of clocks, of cars (and the peculiarity of america)and of automation is certainly worthwhile, and somewhat more original than many of the other chapters.

His use of t
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NEW MEDIA TO CONSIDER 2 13 Dec 08, 2012 06:56AM  
  • The Language of New Media
  • Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word
  • Gramophone, Film, Typewriter
  • Life on the Screen
  • Technics & Civilization
  • Being Digital
  • No Sense of Place: The Electronic Media on Social Behavior
  • Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace
  • Remediation: Understanding New Media
  • Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!
  • The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing, 1450-1800
  • The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America
  • Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution
  • Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology
  • The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays
  • Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory Of The Web
  • We Have Never Been Modern
  • The System of Objects
Herbert Marshall McLuhan CC (July 21, 1911 - December 31, 1980) was a Canadian educator, philosopher, and scholar — a professor of English literature, a literary critic, and a communications theorist. McLuhan's work is viewed as one of the cornerstones of the study of media theory. McLuhan is known for coining the expressions "the medium is the message" and the "global village".

More about Marshall McLuhan...
The Medium is the Massage The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man War and Peace in the Global Village The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century

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