What Would Marshall McLuhan Think of Social Media?

Marshall McLuhan was a media theorist and Canadian academic. He coined the terms “the medium is the message,” “global village,” and “the content is the audience.” He would have been 100

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years old next year. Sadly, he died almost 30 years ago on Decem

ber 31, 1980. Long before the advent of the Internet and social media. What would Marshall McLuhan think about social media? I believe he would be delighted with the concept. He would use LinkedIn to connect with other academics. He’d tweet information to his students. He’d set up Facebook groups to discuss communication trends. He would use podcasts to get his message to his audience. McLuhan was a man before his time. He left us with an enduring body of work. It seems as relevant today as it did in the 1960’s and 1970’s. His most famous book was Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964) – the source for the quote,

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“the medium is the message.” In essence, this famous quote means that the technologies that we use to communicate with others become extensions of our bodies. We use blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, podcasts, and YouTube videos to enrich our senses and connect with the outside world. They are extensions of us. The media influences how we think and act. Want proof of how media can reshape who we are? Try “cyber bullying” where the relative anonymity of the Internet is used to inflict pain and humiliation on the victim. Both the victim and the perpetrator are definitely reshaped by these violent acts. In McLuhan’s day, television and radio were the medium. Today, it’s the Internet and social media. Check out this classic video from 1960 on YouTube where he talks about the “Global Village.” [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-C6FDcUutj8] Amazing! Close your eyes and they both could be talking about the gadgets of today. Robert K. Logan, Emeritus Professor in the Physics Department at the University of Toronto, collaborated with McLuhan in the 1970s. Professor Logan wrote a guest post entitled “The 14 Messages of New Media [http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2007/08/the-14-messages-of-new-media218.html] on the MediaShift blog. In it he states: If McLuhan were around today, I think he would see the impact of new media as an extension of his observations on the impact of the early electronic media. And in fact the effects seem to be even more intense with new media than they were for electronic mass media. Examples of the intensification of effects with new media include McLuhan’s observations that with electronic media: new online casino

  1. our involvement with each other would increase,
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  3. social structures and access to information would decentralize,
  4. “consumer becomes producer as the public becomes participant role player,”
  5. the media become extensions of

    our psyches,

  6. “the entire business of man becomes learning and knowing,”
  7. there is a growth of interdisciplinarity,
  8. a melting of national borders and the rise of a global village, and
  9. “Men are suddenly nomadic gatherers of knowledge, nomadic as never before — but also involved in the total social process as never before; since with electricity we extend our central nervous system globally, instantly interrelating every human experience”

Professor Logan also states: What McLuhan was unable to envision is that with hypertetxt, the Internet and search engines

there is an actual speed-up of the flow of electric information. This explains why each of the items listed above become even more intense with new media as compared with the older electronic mass media that McLuhan knew and analyzed. I am sure he is looking down from the great Internet in the sky and smiling at all the new developments he predicted over 40 years ago. Like Professor Logan, I’m convinced that Marshall McLuhan would have used social media to get his message across to his audience. He would have relished seeing how borders dissolve between people continents apart through the use of new technologies. He would be one of the earliest adopters of social media tools.scam

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