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Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man : Critical Edition Hardcover – November 1, 2003
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His critics are infuriated by his ideas...but some think his foretell our real future. --Harper's
About the Author
ALSTON W. PURVIS is Associate Professor of Graphic Design at Boston University. During his career, he has worked as an instructor at The Cooper Union and at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at The Hague. His photographs have been exhibited in Amsterdam, London, New York, and Paris. He is the author of Dutch Graphic Design, 1918-1945 (Wiley) and H. N. Werkman; and coauthor of Graphic Design 20th Century; A Century of Posters; and Wendingen: A Journal of Arts 1918-1932.
Top Customer Reviews
Most academic books are about ten percent new. Inovative ones are about 20 percent new. McLuhan claimed his was about 40 percent new, which is what makes is such a rough read. It isn't his prose style, which is charming and felicitous. But when introducing a new discipline, there must needs be enough bridges left to the old ones (in this case sociology, history, rhetoric, etc.) that redundancy occurs. That explains why you'll see some repetition in this book, as well as what appears to be disorganiztion. This leads some reader/critics to assume that UNDERSTANDING MEDIA is simply sloppy and poorly edited but far from it: it's a powerful, almost radical way to restructure our view of American (and hence the world's) society.
For what it's worth, I was a communications major in college (UVA 1977) with several McLuhan papers to my credit. email@example.com
This book, "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man" is by far McLuhan's greatest book. It is set up like any useful text with the first part being the theory, while the second part contains the practice. He explains in the theoretical part that media is the extension of man. That all things created by man have come from man's own experience. This is like a dream, in one sense, where one must determine at some point that they are creators of the dream, and therefore, all content of the dream must apply to the dreamer's existence, and no one elses. Likewise, all inventions and discoveries are aspects of human dimensions that have been created by man, and therefore must come from man's inner experiences. These inventions are ultimately what McLuhan calls extensions, as they extend our human capacity for that movement or experience. The foot can travel so fast, while the tire is the extension of the foot, and therefore can move at a much higher rate of speed than the foot.
It seems that the most confusing aspect of McLuhan's theories is the idea of content versus context. The assumption of media study is to psychologize advertisments or the like. This way of approach is far from his point. He says, "My own way of approaching the media is perceptual not conceptual." What he is saying is that he uses his senses to gain understanding of the media, not theoretical concepts.Read more ›
Although this may be McLuhan's great work, it is not best place to start. It is long and often incoherent. On page 39, McLuhan introduces a notoriously difficult metaphor that he uses through the book. It concerns hot and cool media. "Hot media are ... low in participation, and cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience." So, he explains, hieroglyphics and photographs are hot, but the phonetic alphabet and cartoons are cool. Radio and movies are hot, but the TV and the telephone are cool.
Does that make any sense? If not, the better place to start is his earlier work, The Gutenberg Galaxy. It is shorter, and the logic is much easier to follow. It lays out the basis of McLuhan's thinking about how changes in media reshape culture. If you are a systematic thinker like me, it is a far better book to get the basics of McLuhan's analytical method and ideas.
Even if you have the basics, UM is a dense, inspiring, and unsettling work. In each of the 33 chapters, McLuhan makes connections that change the way I think about culture. But just as often, he makes some nonsensical analogy or leap of logic and then fails to explain it.
In the end, it helps to stop trying to understand UM and let it inspire you to think.
In other words, it is very cool.
As an educator I endeavor to impart McLuhan's insights so that students might begin to see how profoundly every new technology changes their world.
This beautiful hardcover now sits at my side and includes historic details of McLuhan, the manuscript and its reception as well as valuable critical insights of W. Terence Gordon, an expert uniquely qualified to organize this edition.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Something everyone should read, especially as society becomes more dependent on technology and the media.Published 3 days ago by Amazon Customer
I'm going into grad school, and I use this book too much even for poli sci work!Published 4 months ago by joanofarcanada
anyone who wants to say anything intelligent about media, social media, smartphones, or just about anything else about the modern age of technology should read this. repeatedly. Read morePublished 4 months ago by jubilee logic
One of the most brilliant works from one of the most brilliant minds ever written. Ever. Period. I don't care if you don't understand what he's talking about--it's called a... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Joseph A Reid
I understand where McLuhan is coming from and it's really amazing how he got his ideas at a very early stage of humanity's technological development.Published 8 months ago by MP Hulbert
If you haven't read Understanding Media, don't be surprised if you find what's going on in the world confusing. McLuhan explained it all — or most of it — back in the 1950s. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Mike McClory