- Paperback: 159 pages
- Publisher: Hardwired (December 1, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 188886902X
- ISBN-13: 978-1888869026
- Product Dimensions: 4 x 0.5 x 7.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 102 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,968,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Medium Is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects
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The Medium is the Massage is Marshall McLuhan's most condensed, and perhaps most effective, presentation of his ideas. Using a layout style that was later copied by Wired, McLuhan and coauthor/designer Quentin Fiore combine word and image to illustrate and enact the ideas that were first put forward in the dense and poorly organized Understanding Media. McLuhan's ideas about the nature of media, the increasing speed of communication, and the technological basis for our understanding of who we are come to life in this slender volume. Although originally printed in 1967, the art and style in The Medium is the Massage seem as fresh today as in the summer of love, and the ideas are even more resonant now that computer interfaces are becoming gateways to the global village.
From Library Journal
From the "I can't believe this went out of print" file come two of McLuhan's signature titles. Though a lot of this may seem like freaky rantings from the Sixties (LJ 6/1/67 and LJ 11/1/68, respectively), many of McLuhan's observations on technology, violence, etc., still ring true.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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This graphic novel (another refreshing way to present argument about media) is quite a collectible to those who wish to understand more about media and communication, as McLuhan is certainly one of the theorists you can't miss!
Here are some quotes I've taken from the book; great food for thought...
"Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication."
"Until writing was invented, men lived in acoustic space: boundless, directionless, horizonless... [writing] was the basic metaphor with which the cycle of civilization began, the step from the dark into the light of the mind."
"'Time' has ceased, 'space' has vanished. We now live in a global village... a simultaneously happening."
"Many people find it difficult to understand purely verbal concepts... In general we feel more secure when things are visible, when we can "see for ourselves"."
I have nothing to say about the text. What could I add?
I am reviewing:
Or at least I might have been able to enjoy it.
Alas, none of the aforementioned qualities apply to me. And given the popularity of this book in academia, my intellect is apparently lower than even my nearly non-existent desire to attend a poetry slam. Clearly, I am not the intended audience.
Who, then, is this book suited for? The answer to that is best given after taking a few moments to examine what the book is about and how it is presented. We must understand both what it is about and how it goes about being--and isn't being what it is (whatever it is) all about? (If that last sentence elicited a, "whoahhh...heavy dude..." response from you, you may be a part of the book's intended audience.)
Let me start with how it is presented since you must be able to tolerate its appearance and taste if you are to consume its contents and benefit from the nutrition contained within. Consider the following excerpt:
"Ours is a brand-new world of allatonceness. `Time' has ceased, `space' has vanished. We now live in a global village...a simultaneous happening. We are back in acoustic space. We have begun again to structure the primordial feeling, the tribal emotions.... (63)"
I can imagine McLuhan on stage, wearing a beret, smoking a cigarette, holding a glass of pinot noir and speaking melodramatically into a microphone to a crowd of wine and coffee sippers. They applaud while I scratch my head and pray this place has tequila and transcripts of the show.
That is not to say that the style of writing is bad. But it can become dissonance that obscures the message it is trying to convey. I would not dispute that Shakespeare's sonnets are poetic masterpieces, but if you try to use that style to educate me on the effects of mass media on society, I will likely become bewildered and remain uneducated. People who enjoy his sonnets, however, may be enthralled.
The visual elements add the equivalent of more than four shots of espresso's worth of caffeine to the book and make it feel hyperactive and almost psychedelic. Black and white pictures are on nearly every page. The text varies in size from tiny to one letter being as tall as the page. Sentences may be black or white, upside down, diagonal or backwards. One page may have several paragraphs followed by one sentence that spans multiple pages.
It is possible that his style is simply too rich and cultured for my peasant-born palate (or that it is meant to be read while listening to Pink Floyd and dropping acid--I did not try that approach, though). After all, many disagree with me. In his 2004 article "A Media Ecology Review", (Communication Research Trends: Vol. 23, No. 2, p.7), Lance Straite discusses how other works by McLuhan are "challenging" because of his writing style. However, he says that "The Medium is the Massage" is, "effective because it summarizes McLuhan's key concepts and shows as well as tells the reader what McLuhan is referring to... [and] remains a good introduction to McLuhan's approach."
Those "key concepts" constitute the book's intellectual nutritional value--and there is a lot for your brain to absorb. While I found the style off-putting, I choked it down like a heaping bowl of spinach and beets (they're good for you!) and, after processing it, appreciate the book's content.
The depth of the book is conveyed in the title. According to McLuhan's official website (maintained by his family), "The Medium is the Massage" was originally supposed to be "The Medium is the Message". When McLuhan saw the error, he told the printer to, "leave it alone! It's great and right on target!"
McLuhan apparently loved wordplay (as can be seen in the book) and thought "massage" could be read in four different--yet relevant--ways: "message", "massage", "mess age" and "mass age".
The core concept of the book is how the technology of media--the physical, sensual being of it, not the content it delivers--"massages" our behavior; how it pushes and pulls us. McLuhan is not concerned with what we see and hear when we watch T.V., listen to the radio or see a billboard but rather how the media--the channels by which the content is delivered--affect us.
Few things illustrate this better than one concept he famously coined: "the global village". In her 2008 article "Understanding the Implications of a Global Village" (Reason and Respect: Vol. 4, Iss. 1, p.1), Violet Dixon wrote that McLuhan used the term to, "describe the phenomenon of the world's culture shrinking and expanding at the same time due to pervasive technological advances that allow for instantaneous sharing of culture."
McLuhan explores how changes in media have impacted how we act when we are alone, how we interact with our family, neighbors, people far away, schools, the government and more. He examines media as an almost biological extension of ourselves and why that matters.
So who is this book for?
This is a 5-Star book for readers who are hungry to explore the impact that the tools of media-content delivery have on society and find the presentation and style enjoyable. For such readers, the book is a buffet of intellectual delicacies. The concepts will fill your intellectual belly while leaving you eager to digest it so you can come back for more.
It is a 4-Star book for students (and professors) of disciplines for whom understanding the role of mass media is important but for whom the greater motivator for attaining that understanding is to satisfy a requirement and less one that is born of passion for the topic. These particular readers are also not turned off by the style and do not struggle too much with the material.
It is a 3-Star book for students like those above but who may struggle with the presentation and taste and may have to choke it down. However, digesting it can greatly strengthen their understanding of mass media. Class discussions and supplemental reading materials may be of great value to them.