by Andrew McLuhan

The Meaning of ‘Medium’ is the Message.

Much of the the confusion around the statement “the medium is the message” can be avoided if the reader is willing to first consider the use of the word ‘medium’.

When Marshall McLuhan made this statement for the first time…

(in 1958, at a Vancouver conference — he would later write it up as the first chapter of Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man in 1964)

…he meant by ‘medium’ “an environment of services and disservices.” He was talking about the effects of technology, not about the technology itself — a telephone or a radio or a computer — but what and how the technology affects people and societies.

McLuhan would discuss this in terms of technology (‘figure’) and its effects (‘ground).

This all becomes confused for us today because we rely on the current definition of ‘medium’ as simply a technology, when that’s not the same definition Marshall McLuhan used. He preferred ‘milieu’ or ‘environment’.

When reading the works of Marshall McLuhan, it is helpful to keep in mind that he was an English professor who was careful and deliberate with words.

“The medium is the message because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action. The content or uses of such media are as diverse as they are ineffectual in shaping the form of human association. Indeed, it is only too typical that the “content” of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium.” (Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964, p.9)

Thank you for reading,

Andrew.