McLuhan’s Theory and Communication

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McLuhan’s theory of communication is based on a view of the nature of media and how it worked in the nineteen sixties. Although his theory is based on the state of the media in the nineteen sixties, it is still very applicable to the way we understand media and communication and the way works in the present time. Based on his view of the media and communication, we can create a general understanding of media and communication in present-day society. This paper seeks to establish how McLuhan’s theory helps in creating a general understanding of communication and media in today’s society.

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McLuhan’s theory of communication is applicable to society today; there are some aspects of media that were of general interest to McLuhan. First is that media as the content. This is the same as stating that the “media is the message” (McLuhan Eric 28). This gives a general understanding that media is the message that affects individuals but not the content. Given that his theory is based on the view of the media in the sixties, such a view was not readily acceptable as media did not have much impact and influence on the lives of people. However, such a view is more applicable to society today especially with the advancement of mass communication technologies which has made it easy for the media to influence its consumers.

The remark “media is the message” simply means that whatever means is used to communicate a message has no content so the message is the medium of communication itself. Although this view may seem to be controversial, his explanation through the use of “light bulb” as having no content but able to create space shades molighter. This then gives a further extension to the general understanding of communication technologies in the present world such that the usage of such media is shaped by the context in which it is applied. The different media used to communicate affect humans in different ways such that we react differently to the same message sent through different media. The way we react to the message from the different media is taken to be the message received. Also, such reactions from the use of given media technology are shaped by the context (the society in which the media operates in) such that we selectively choose type of media to use to communicate different information because we are aware of the type of reaction to be elicited on the recipients of the communication. The media therefore is the message because it limits what our attention will be drawn to and we selectively choose things to pay attention to in our environment based on the media used to communicate (Biagi, 24).

McLuhan also sought to understand the nature of communication and perception and how together with the environment influenced human sensibilities. He sought to understand how different types of arts affected humans especially on their daily life. He was also interested in understanding the different ways that communication can be affected by the introduction of new technologies in communication. Man according to him is embracing the use of technology with the aim of improving or having a higher effect on the sensory effect to humans in such disciplines as arts. The question that needs to asked is does the introduction of technology in communication and general life man really affect the way that man communicates? McLuhan’s view was different that the introduction of such technologies does have an effect on the way that man communicates (McLuhan Eric 38). However, the greatest impact that communication can elicit more effect on people is by use of environmental features that aid in meaning delivery. Artists aim at using some aspects in their messages that draw direct attentions to the environment to aid understanding. With this respect therefore environmental features in communication do not stand exclusive in meaning delivery. Today many artists still combine the elements of context in their communication so that the message is clearly communicated. Any communication therefore requires the elements of the current environment, as created by technology, for the message to be effectively delivered. This does not mean that the use of the old environment affect message delivery or sensory awareness but yesterday’s technological environment do not provide a clear direction of how communication process is to be undertaken (Biagi,76).

McLuhan continues to explain how the element of the environment is important in communication. The technological environment that people live is a product of the minds of people during that period of time. When different environments from different periods of time collide in a given piece of communication, the unique features of each element will be clearly established. All these environments in the artwork differently in sharpening perception and attracting human attention. For example, poems and paintings work differently in training such skills as judgment. When an artist chooses to use any of these arts, they are aware of how each will affect human sensibilities and therefore are aware of the impact of their artistic work in passing their communication to the intended audience. The artist manipulates the features of their work to create the enabling environment to aid understanding of the message they intend to pass across. Poetry provides a clear example of how such usage of sensibilities in communication affects society in general. Poetry effectively appeals to the senses of the users and clearly indicates how media is capable of transforming the culture of its users and eventually, the users themselves ((Biagi, 71)

One other important aspect of communication pointed out in McLuhan’s theory of communication is on how technologies of communication relate to each other. The theory postulates that communication technologies do not act independently but affect each other. All the technologies mimic the way the human body and faculties work. Using the example of how the human body organs need each other for effective performance, McLuhan explains that communication technologies all need each other to create an effective environment that aid in communication. Looking at how the current communication technologies affect each other by newer technologies building on the environment that had been established by the already existing technologies, it is clear to understand McLuhan’s point. For example, when a new medium of communication is introduced to the society, the already existing media will be affected and similarly the already existing media will affect the new medium in one way or the other. For example, today, the World Wide Web combines features of already existing communication media such as TV, newspapers, radio, in many ways that it functions. Such combination of various features of traditional media in the World Wide Web in communication has affected the way people now use such traditional media. For example there is no point of watching TV highlights and then waiting for the publication of the full story in the newspapers. All one has to do is go to the World Wide Web to access all the information that they would want about the given topic in any format they would want (Shad, 31). In this aspect, the older media define how the new media, the computer, works and the new media has affected the use of the older media. Newer media technologies are aiming at combining several aspects of the existing media so that the new media becomes ‘meta media’. A good example of this is the case of the WWW and how it has evolved over time. McLuhan foresaw the creation of a powerful media of communication capable combining all the elements of media that existed in the sixties. The new media was capable of reaching far away audience and creating a worldwide audience base. McLuhan did not live to see his prophecy come to reality. He adds that for effective understanding of message from a given media, the media should be used in the context of the environment of that given time.

In critiquing the existing communication theories, McLuhan points out that there is no elaborate theory of communication that exists in the western world. He explained that there is no theory of communication in the western world because of the existing visual bias. According to him communication is about change such that when there is communication there is a change in the recipient of the message. The common perception of communication theory is the communication channel that merely acts as a vehicle for transporting message (McLuhan Eric, 42). McLuhan argues that there is no change on the recipient when the “sender, message, channel and recipient” is taken to be a theory of communication. Communication theory ought to be how the public or the recipients of a communication react to any form of communication and not on the way that the message is to be transported to the users. It is this knowledge of the communication theory that individuals choose the type of the media that they are going to use to communicate a specific message to a given public. Their knowledge of how the message is going to be received by the public or how it is going to affect the recipient shapes their choice of media. Although he did provide a communication theory, he simply pointed out that communication should be about change and whenever there is no change then there is no communication.

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In conclusion, McLuhan had a very interesting view on the way that communication occurs in society. He had a visionary mind of how communication can change in time and how media and the technologies of communication will change in time and will eventually change the society and the environment that they operate. Although he did not clearly point out, McLuhan showed how the media can change how we perceive space and time. He foresaw the creation of the internet and the constant change and evolution of communication media. It is through his theories that we understand how communication or exchange of information between people affects relationships and aids in interaction between individuals in the society. His clear understanding of how communication occurs and the change and transformation in media technologies changed the way that people understand communication. Given that communication media technologies are still changing and evolving, it is perhaps his clear understanding of the way such changes occur that he is found to be very relevant to communication studies in the society today. His theories in communication will be guide forever for anyone who wishes to effectively understand all about communication.

References

Biagi, Shirly. Media/Impact: An Introduction to Mass Media. New York: Cengage Learning, 2006. Print.

McLuhan Eric. Marshall McLuhan’s Theory of communication.The Yegg. Global media Journal- Canadian edition , 2008 1(1), 25-43

Shad, Leslie Regan. Mediascapes: New Patterns in Canadian Communication. Ontario: Nelson Education Limited, 2009

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