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Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  3,269 ratings  ·  259 reviews
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 how and what we communicate.

This reissue of Understanding Media marks the thirtieth anniversary (1964-1994) of Marshall McLuhan's classic expose on the state of the then emerging
Paperback, 392 pages
Published October 24th 1994 by The MIT Press (first published 1964)
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The Brain in the Jar Trump is the result of meme culture.

Whereas Obama fit the TV image - he was clean, nice, spoke well and took the role of the superhero

Trump is bite-si…more
Trump is the result of meme culture.

Whereas Obama fit the TV image - he was clean, nice, spoke well and took the role of the superhero

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People who hated Trump helped him get elected thanks to all their memes.(less)

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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
Dec 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Apr 29, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
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
E. G.
Part I

--The Medium is the Message
--Media Hot and Cold
--Reversal of the Overheated Medium
--The Gadget Lover: Narcissus as Narcosis
--Hybrid Energy: Les Liaisons Dangereuses
--Media as Translators
--Challenge and Collapse: the Nemesis of Creativity

Part II
--The Spoken Word: Flower of Evil?
--The Written Word: an Eye for an Ear
--Roads and Paper Routes
--Number: Profile of the Crowd
--Clothing: Our Extended Skin
--Housing: New Look and New Outlook
--Money: the Poor Man's Credit Card
--Clocks: the
Jul 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
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 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
Chapters "The Medium Is the Message" / "Media Hot and Cold"
Some Notes:
- Media as extensions of the human body/mind
- Media come in pairs, one containing the other (thus "the medium is the message"); Exceptions: Speech and electric light
- Media are agents of change re experience/interaction/use of the senses
- A new medium does not replace an old one
- Cool media: Low definition, high participation; Hot media: High definition, low participation
- Nervous system protects from new media environment by
Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: canada, criticism
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
An original book, certainly. Useful academically, especially to make sense of those little details you don't seem able to fit anywhere. Pretty heavy to follow at times, but deff worth reading and rereading when needed. ...more
May 01, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: social-science
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
John Gillespie
Jul 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Micelle Miseracorde
Mar 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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,
Aug 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
It isn't always easy but it is often amazing. UNDERSTANDING MEDIA is a challenging, zesty, occasionally outrageous book that was first published in 1964 and sent media studies -- and their applications to such fields as advertising --straight into orbit. McLuhan coined the term "global village" and that's just one of his many contributions to the fledgling field of media studies. Nearly fifty-five years later, many of McLuhan's insights seem not so revolutionary -- such as his statement that the ...more
Apr 18, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: theory, orals
"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
Oct 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
how much of my awe @ this book is just bc it confirms my deepest fears about excelling only in Word Literacy and completely neglecting (and not even knowing how to approach) Visual and Audio Literacy!!!!!! Check this:

"Failure in perception occurs precisely in giving attention to the program “content” of our media while ignoring the form, whether it be radio or print or the English language itself. There have been countless Newton Minows (formerly head of the Federal Communications Commission) to
Richard Thompson
In my working life, I sometimes run into people who seem very smart, but who are nearly unintelligible. They are usually very articulate, and I walk away from the encounter puzzling over what they said, wondering what I missed and thinking that just maybe they are onto something big. McLuhan is one of these people. Almost invariably after I have let one of these experiences sink into me for a few days, I decide that nearly all of what I heard was nonsense. I am mindful of what Roland Barthes sai ...more
Jan D
Jun 18, 2020 rated it liked it
It’s complicated.
First of all: It is relatively easy to read; most of the vocabulary is common, the sentences are not overly complex, particularly given that McLuhan was followed by other media scholars, who were much harder to read. You need to be able to cope with the bold, short statements of what will happen and to whom, often without any explanation. I enjoyed that it discussed the effects of media often via literature and poetry.

I mainly read this since it is known to have had a big influ
Χαρα Κιαγ.
May 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A very thorough restrospective on the invention of media and communication and how, it not only affected but was a large factor in creating human society.
McLuhan dedicated his life into analyzing the media that were invented by humans and how it came to change their way of life and thinking. Media is not only about improvement and speed, it is an extension of our senses and it is connected to our nervous system. What kind of media and the way we use them will define our way of thinking and the
John Pistelli
I recently saw a distinguished academic Tweet, over a picture of a robot police dog, "We don't have to accept this." For Marshall McCluhan, on the other hand,
Physiologically, man in the normal use of technology (or his variously extended body) is perpetually modified by it and in turn finds ever new ways of modifying his technology. Man becomes, as it were, the sex organs of the machine world, as the bee of the plant world, enabling it to fecundate and to evolve ever new forms.
Like later and per
Mar 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Nov 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: digital-media
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
Dec 25, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Media Historians, Communications Students, Sociology students
Recommended to Michael by: Sally Cloninger
This is the book that introduced the phrase “the medium is the message,” which is now so axiomatic in discussions of modern media that it constitutes a dominant paradigm (and will probably be overthrown by a new paradigm in a few years). Although a lot of the arguments here are based in what we think of as “old media,” this is still a basic text in media studies, and it probably is necessary to introduce students to serious consideration of how electronic media have changed social interaction, a ...more
Camille Dent
09/23/2017: after returning to this work multiple times for research projects, I'm beginning to realize the genius behind it much more clearly than I did the first time that I read it. It still desperately needs a revamp, but it's a fantastic base for beginning to understand media ;)

02/26/2016: 2/5 stars

This book is extremely dense and slow. Some chapters are very interesting, while others are a struggle to get through. McLuhan is very snarky. Sometimes it is humorous. Sometimes he uses it to ut
Jan 30, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Michael P.
May 28, 2009 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,
Zeh Fernando
Feb 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hard to read, yet visionary and enlightening.

Gosh, how do I even begin talking about this one. It took me almost 4 years to finish it; I had to take breaks from our from time to time. It's one of those books that seem to be written for a different kind of focus, and so densely packed with information and connections that you start feeling overwhelmed in no time.

He has a way to just dump information. In the same sentence he links Einstein's Theory of Relativity to MAD Magazine ("relative" underst
Jun 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Neil Collins
Feb 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
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Herbert Marshall McLuhan, CC, 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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