Marshall McLuhan: How a Pre-Internet Academic Changed the Way We Think About the Web

Turning Heads – Utilising Psychology

The Internet, or rather the “Web 2.0″ or the “social web”, is the single most important communication invention of our time. Still, considering its seminal importance in all aspects of our lives, it is very important to consider its unintended effects and consequences. While there are many new books coming out now that do just that, from “The Net Delusion” to “The Shallows” to “The Information”, you may find it surprising that an academic, writing pre-1970, discussed the effects of the Internet ad nauseam, basically paving the way for Internet media analysis later down the line. Here are some of McLuhan’s basic ideas:

1. “The medium is the message.”

This is perhaps one of the best known of McLuhan’s sayings, one that catapulted him to fame after the publication of his book “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man”. What McLuhan essentially means here is that the “content” of a message is the least important thing to analyze, even though it is the most apparent. When thinking of the Internet, something that McLuhan conceptualized as “the global village,” we should look at how messages are transmitted in order to gauge how they affect our perceptions and behaviors.

2. “Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.”

This is an especially salient quote when we are talking about the Web as it exists today. While online schools are still in their infancy, the learning potential of the Internet is already being exploited through educational games for children, OpenCourseWare initiatives, and more.

3. “As technology advances, it reverses the characteristics of every situation again and again. The age of automation is going to be the age of ‘do it yourself.”

Can any one phrase apply to the Internet of the 21st century better than “do it yourself?” McLuhan suggested in many of his books that media could be grouped into two types

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