Understanding Media


Understanding Media:
The Extensions of Man
Critical Edition

by Marshall McLuhan (1964)

Edited by W. Terrence Gordon (2003)

In this, the book that catapulted him to the world stage of philosophic frontiers, McLuhan looks to the likes of W.B. Yeats, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Bucky Fuller to support his Joyceian view of social evolution, but mostly, he relies upon William Blake:

Blake’s counterstrategy for his age was to meet mechanism with organic myth. […] Had he encountered the electric age, Blake would not have met its challenge with a mere repetition of electric form. For myth is the instant vision of a complex process that ordinarily extends over a long period. Myth is contraction or implosion of any process, and the instant speed of electricity confers the mythic dimension on ordinary industrial and social action today. We live mythically but continue to think fragmentarily and on single planes. (42)

This mythic, or tribal, life conferred upon us by the instantaneity of the electric age, places man back into the pre-civilized village, a “global village” that has now literally been implemented via the Internet and the Web. Consider:

The village had institutionalized all human functions in forms of low intensity. In this mild form everyone could play many roles. Participation was high, and organization was low. (136)

If that’s not an apt description of Web 2.0, I don’t know what is. And McLuhan is clearly thinking ahead to the advent of cyberspace:

Since nearly all our technologies and entertainment since Gutenberg have been not cool, but hot; and not deep, but fragmentary; not producer-oriented, but consumer-oriented, there is scarcely a single area of established relationships, from home and church to school and market, that has not been profoundly disturbed in its pattern and texture. (417)

This is the very revolution in which we are immersed today; so deeply immersed, in fact, that we cannot see it. Fortunately, in spite of the fact that he died in the same year that the PC was born, Marshall McLuhan saw it for us. 616 pages.


Introduction to the Critical Edition, W. Terrence Gordon

Part I

Introduction to the First Edition

Introduction to the Second Edition

  1. The Medium is the Message
  2. Media Hot and Cold
  3. Reversal of the Overheated Medium
  4. The Gadget Lover: Narcissus as Narcosis
  5. Hybrid Energy: Les Liaisons Dangereuses
  6. Media as Translators
  7. Challenge and Collapse: The Nemesis of Creativity

Part II

  1. The Spoken Word: Flower of Evil?
  2. The Written Word: An Eye for an Ear
  3. Roads and Paper Routes
  4. Number: Profile of the Crowd
  5. Clothing: Our Extended Skin
  6. Housing: New Look and New Outlook
  7. Money: The Poor Man’s Credit Card
  8. Clocks: The Scent of Time
  9. The Print: How to Dig It
  10. Comics: MAD Vestibule to TV
  11. The Printed Word: Architect of Nationalism
  12. Wheel, Bicycle, and Airplane
  13. The Photograph: The Brothel-without-Walls
  14. Press: Government by News Leak
  15. Motorcar: The Mechanical Bride
  16. Ads: Keeping Upset with the Joneses
  17. Games: The Extensions of Man
  18. Telegraph: The Social Hormone
  19. The Typewriter: Into the Age of the Iron Whim
  20. The Telephone: Sounding Brass or Tinkling Symbol?
  21. The Phonograph: The Toy that Shrank the National Chest
  22. Movies: The Reel World
  23. Radio: The Tribal Drum
  24. Television: The Timid Giant
  25. Weapons: War of the Icons
  26. Automation: Learning a Living


Report on Project in Understanding Media


  • The Ryerson Media Experiment
  • Project in Understanding New Media
  • Transforming Report on Project in Understanding Media into Understanding Media

Critical Reception of Understanding Media


Works Cited

Publications of Marshall McLuhan

Subject Index

Name Index

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