Marshall Mcluhan Breaking Down the Affects of Media Long Before the Internet and Social Meda
The date is March 4th, 1954.
If you know any kids who like jokes, you know this is the army’s favorite day. On this day, the New York Times happens to be running a small story in their paper, about a group of scientists who conducted a research experiment, with click-bait-title-worthy lead line: “Television is a First Class Teacher, easily surpassing Elder Cousin Radio”.
Roughly a hundred students were used to conduct the tests, which conveyed the same material over four different media transmission types. A group watched a lecture on television, another in a television studio, a third heard it over radio broadcast and a fourth read the lecture in print. They were then given an exam to test their comprehension, and the students who had received the transmission through television did best on the exam.
The group of scientists experimenting was under the supervision of one Marshall McLuhan, the infamous, pithy nineteen-sixties era counter-cultural media guru figure. He was the one who would make all sorts of pronouncements about new technologies in his career as prototype theorist of what is today an entire discipline of ‘media studies’. As Philip Marchand notes in his compelling biography of McLuhan, the headline the Times chose regarding McLuhan’s study already had the media confusing the point. From the beginning, McLuhan and his rotating gang of hangers-on were perceived as acolytes of television and new technologies on the horizon, reveling in their powered-up buzzing glow, to the point of misrepresenting mixed results of intricate but underpowered studies like the aforementioned as skewed in favor of new media. In fact, McLuhan was a very conservative man in many ways. He converted to Catholicism and mostly abhorred the changes new technology like television was having on the world at large. Beneath the word-playing trickster-intellectual, the prober of sockets with many-pronged-forks and electric tongue was a man who studied these new technologies, he claimed, in self-defense.
I am resolutely opposed to all innovation, all change, but I am determined to understand what’s happening. Because I don’t choose just to sit and let the juggernaut roll over me. Many people seem to think that if you talk about something recent, you’re in favor of it. The exact opposite is true in my case. Anything I talk about is almost certainly something I’m resolutely against. And it seems to me the best way to oppose it is to understand it. And then you know where to turn off the buttons.MARSHALL MCLUHAN