understanding media

McLuhan: Hot+Cool

Stearn, G. E. (ed.) (1967). McLuhan: Hot and Cool: a primer for the understanding of and a critical symposium with responses by McLuhan. New York: Dial.

This collection of texts addressing McLuhan's ideas was first published in the late 1960s. The articles, book reviews and interviews were written by some of the leading thinkers and critics of the time, and the volume also includes a selection of essays by McLuhan himself, from the early part of his career.

2.  Tom Wolfe, The New Life Out There, pp. 15-34
Author Tom Wolfe captures the mood of the time (1965) as McLuhan's converts and critics alike wonder 'what if he is right?' The essay includes brief, accessible summaries of McLuhan's key ideas - electronic media as a new environment, changing sense ratios, aural vs visual man, tactile TV, outdated education methods, changing perceptions of space and time - and concludes with an assessment of the strengths and potential weaknesses of his ideas and a visit to a topless restaurant in San Francisco. Available online.

5.  Kenneth E. Boulding, The Medium and the Message, pp. 56-64
The economist Kenneth E. Boulding here suggests that McLuhan hits 'very large nails not quite on the head'. After providing slightly innaccurate tasters of Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media, Boulding isolates three of their key ideas: (1) social systems are structured by their communications media, irrespective of content, a proposition with which Boulding largely agrees, especially viz. writing; (2) media are hot (require little participation) or cool (require significant participation), an idea Boulding believes to be important even if it conflates the 'demandingness' of media with the additional dimensions of range and density; (3) print caused an explosion (societies fragmented) whereas electric media cause an implosion (the globe unifies), a theme which is exciting but concentrates on range to the exclusion of demandingness and density.

22.  Raymond Williams, A Structure of Insights, pp. 186-89
Raymond Williams' short, thoughtful comment on The Gutenberg Galaxy starts from the seeming paradox that 'if the books works it to some extent annihilates itself', that is, our experience in reading the book makes us critical of the linear and uniform properties of the print-culture that made it possible. McLuhan attempts to address this problem in the form of the book, which is not a linear argument but a mosaic 'structure of insights', but nonetheless inevitably relies himself on the authorities and scholarship of print. Williams' key criticism, however, is that McLuhan isolates and privileges print as a causal factor in social development, even if this remains 'a wholly indispensable' book.