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The Medium is the Massage: Celebrating Marshall McLuhan's Legacy

Friday, July 15, 2011

Long before Facebook friends, RSS feeds and online shopping became part of everyday lingo, the Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan studied the development of mass communication and the effects it would have on America's social landscape. In the '60s, McLuhan predicted computers would break down barriers of global communication and “enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip it into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.”

Over the course of his nearly 50-year career, McLuhan, who would have turned 100 years old next Thursday, established himself not only as a champion of media expertise -- then a relatively unexplored area of study -- but also as a household name.

Much of his work centered around the impact of modern mass media on society. His first book "The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man," which was published in 1951, was a study on pop culture. He published "The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man" in 1962, which was a look at the culture of print media. Both titles began to establish McLuhan as an expert in the field of media theory.

"Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man" was published in 1964 and was translated into over 20 languages. "The Medium is the Massage," which went into print in 1967 was also among his 15 published works. (The title was meant to read "The Medium is the Message" after the phrase that McLuhan coined. McLuhan did not, however, correct the typesetter error that switched the "a" and the "e," favoring a title that could be read as "Message," "Mess age," "Mass age," or "Massage.")

McLuhan generated appeal for his thoughts through numerous television and radio appearances and guest lectures. He got countless awards and honorary degrees, and cultural icons including Andy Warhol, John Lennon, and Yoko Ono also took note of his work. McLuhan even had a cameo appearance in Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall" -- see a clip from the film below.

McLuhan's legacy lives on through the Marshall McLuhan Center on Global Communications, which features numerous videos of McLuhan delivering his predictions on everything from the media to politics to globalization. Check out the video below for an interview with McLuhan from 1960 on his "global village" concept (the interview begins just before the three-minute mark).

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Comments [3]

You Are Creative

Care to give any opinion on how his theories relate to mass media today?

Jul. 26 2011 11:25 AM

@Eunice The title of McLuhan's book "The Medium is the Massage" was meant to read "The Medium is the Message" after the phrase that McLuhan coined. But a typesetter got it wrong back in 1967 and McLuhan did not correct the error, instead favoring a title that could be read as "Message," "Mess age," "Mass age," or "Massage." But you're not the first one who has checked in with us about what could be read as a WNYC error!

Jul. 15 2011 08:29 PM
Eunice from Putnam Valley, NY

The medium is the "massage?" I was going to forward this to professors in my graduate program in media & communications, but I think I'll wait for your correction.

Jul. 15 2011 02:50 PM

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