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Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  2,009 ratings  ·  147 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 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.
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
Neil Collins
Some very interesting ideas about the nature of media and technology. As said in the book, "The media IS the message". This phrase sums up a pretty profound revelation which is the topic of the book. That being... it is a mistake to assume that the content of media is the primary force which shapes culture and society. It is instead the medias themselves which have built in biases which need to be recognized.

Several deep concepts like this were introduced and dealt with in the first 5 or 6 chap
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
Jun 10, 2008 Lucas rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Erik Akre
Oct 29, 2015 Erik Akre rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone at all
Shelves: human-ecology
McLuhan approaches the topic of media like the fiercest warrior. He wields his great sword and cuts through all the layers of the issue, to it's core. Of course, that core is one sentence: "The medium is the message."

My favorite aspect of this is not only that it applies to radio, television, and now youtube / email / texting /etc. I like its application to things as specific as conversation (in a car, around a family meal, by a teacher to his class, etc.), or reading a magazine vs. reading a b
Marshall'as McLuhan'as dar apie 1960-70 metus pradėjo visus įtikinėti, kad „Medija - tai pranešimas“. Tikriausiai niekas su juo ilgai nesiginčijo, o jei ir ginčijosi, tai tame mažai prasmės. Kalbant apie knygą, ji giriama ir įvardijama kaip pralenkusi laikmetį ir tapusi aktualesnė dabar, po daugelio dešimtmečių karaliaujant internetui.
Su tuo galima sutikti ir nelabai. Nes didžioji dalis knygos skirta apžvelgti ir pasamprotauti, kaip įvairūs išradimai (ratas, kalba, radijas, spauda ir t.t.) pakei
Much has been said about Marshall McLuhan, and usually so extreme that it's hard to know what to think. On the one hand, he is apparently the father of the internet age, incomparably cooler than your average intellectual, the inventor of the very language and frame of reference we now use; on the other hand, he is complete nonsense, was too popular for all the wrong reasons, and didn't do his fact-checking. The vociferous loathing for him that sprang up immediately in the Sixties is kind of hard ...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?!"
(from my blog:

I was sitting in the Lincolnwood Town Center food court, under the vast ceiling of cloudy skylights, broken televisions and support beams, eating my processed food, when I realized that I was actively hating this book. I'm not sure that's ever happened before. Sitting in such a bland environment, I wasn't even sure where my frustration was coming from. I just knew that I really wanted to throw my book at something, possibly one of the many cell ph
E' impressionante vedere come un testo così attuale sia stato scritto nel 1967. In più, tutte quelle considerazioni sul futuro che il testo presenta si sono in gran parte avverate.

Ma di che cosa parla questo libro? Di mezzi di comunicazione, direbbe un lettore superficiale. In realtà, M. delinea e analizza una caratteristica umana, cioè quella di estendere le funzionalità del nostro corpo attraverso degli strumenti (mezzi o 'medium'). A differenza degli altri animali, noi siamo capaci di utiliz
William Ramsey
Constantly intriguing, often prophetic, occasionally sweeping and vague, but always provocative, if you're studying media (and if you're a human being you're studying media) you should take a gander at this book. It's bold in a way that so much academic writing these days is not. With boldness comes broad strokes and unsubstantiated claims, but then perhaps that's better than being so nervous about getting something wrong that in 200 pages you say nothing at all.

By and large this book has aged
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
Tofig Husein-Zadeh
This book is for insiders who have been studying the media's various aspects from economic, sociological, anthropological and semiotic standpoints for at least several years. So If you lack accumulated knowledge and background on media studies it might seem difficult to grasp. It is more of an encryption that can only be understood by codebreaking rather than the act of usual reading. Marshal McLuhan was one of the greatest communications analysts. This book gave me a lot. We need more people li ...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
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NEW MEDIA TO CONSIDER 2 15 Dec 08, 2012 06:56AM  
  • The Language of New Media
  • The Bias of Communication
  • Gramophone, Film, Typewriter
  • Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word
  • Technics and Civilization
  • Life on the Screen
  • Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace
  • Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!
  • No Sense of Place: The Electronic Media on Social Behavior
  • Remediation: Understanding New Media
  • Writing Machines
  • Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide
  • A Social History Of The Media: From Gutenberg To The Internet
  • Image, Music, Text
  • Being Digital
  • Simulacra and Simulation
  • The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450-1800
  • Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate
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".

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