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Understanding Media:
The Extensions of Man,
Marshall McLuhan,
Signet Books, NY, 1964
311 pages

McLuhan writes about the difference between television and radio:
“TV is a cool medium. It rejects hot figures and hot issues [...]” He continues that hot characters appearing on TV appeared “rendered as a cartoon” while “Radio [was] a cool medium and [took] cartoon characters seriously.”1 About the main characteristics of radio McLuhan states “Radio affects most intimately, person-to-person, offering a world of unspoken communication between writer-speaker and the listener. That is the immediate aspect of radio. A private experience. The subliminal depths of radio are charged with the resonating echoes of tribal horns and antique drums. This is inherent in the very nature of this medium, with its power to turn the psyche and society into a single echo chamber.”(McLuhan, 261)

“For tribal peoples, for those whose entire social existence is an extension of family life, radio will continue to be a violent experience. Highly literate societies, that have long subordinated family life to individualist stress in business and politics, have managed to absorb and neutralize the radio implosion without revolution. Not so, those communitive that have had only brief or superficial experience of literacy. For them, radio is utterly explosive.”(262)

The message of radio is one of violent, unified implosion and resonance.” (263)

“If we sit and talk in a dark room, words suddenly aquire new meanings and different textures. The become richer, [...]. All those gestural qualities [...] come back in the dark, and on the radio. Given only the sound of a play, we have to fill in all of the senses, not just the sight of the action. So much do-it-yourself, or completion and “closure” of action, develops a kind of independent isolation in the young that makes them remote and inaccessible.” (264)

About ignoring the effects of technology upon society: “It goes without saying that the universal ignoring of the psychic action of technology bespeaks some inherent functions, some essential numbing of consciousness such as occurs under stress and shock conditions. The history of radio is instructive as an indicator of the bias and blindness induced in any society by its pre-existent [...]”(265)

“ ... misunderstanding of the nature of the medium rendered the restraining policies [the press criticising radio and tv] quite futile. Such has always been the case, most notoriously in government censorship of the press and of the movies. Although the medium is the message, the controls go beyond programming. The restraints are always directed to the “content,” which is always another medium. The content of the press is literary statement, as the content of the book is speech, and the content of the movie is the novel. So the effects of radio are quite independent of its programming.”(267)

“Radio provides a speed-up of information that also causes acceleration in other media. It certainly contracts the world to village size and creates insatiable village tastes for gossip, rumor, and personal malice. But while radio contracts the world to village dimensions, it hasn’t the effect of homogenizing the village quarters.”

“At no period of human culture have men understood the psychic mechanism involved in invention and technology. (300)”

1. Excellent example of "hot' TV and "cold" radio is on the brilliant "Mc Luhan" CD Rom. The sections begins with a speech by Adolf Hitler that sends chills down the spine. The same clip is repeated as a video with astonishing results: Instead of being even more powerful Hitler simply appears as a ridiculous cartoon character that cannot be taken seriously. But the twenties and thirties were radio-days ...

last update: 7/29/02011 0:41

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