Join getAbstract to access the summary!

Understanding Media

Join getAbstract to access the summary!

Understanding Media

The Extensions of Man

MIT Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

The next time you hear some twenty-something Internet guru spouting off about how technology is changing society, tell him that Marshall McLuhan said it better in 1964.

auto-generated audio
auto-generated audio

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


Reading Understanding Media brings to mind the old line that Shakespeare’s plays are nothing but a bunch of clichés. McLuhan’s 1964 look at the impact of technology and communications on society is laced with phrases that have become fixtures of modern language, like ’Global Village’, ’Age of Information’ and ’The medium is the message’. The book seeks to tie together big themes like art, culture, and social and economic history. While often successful at drawing these sweeping connections, McLuhan in certain chapters wanders into what sound like self-indulgent lectures. His analysis of television as a "cool" or low-resolution medium is dated. Phrases like "dig it" and too-numerous references to "the bomb," Mad magazine and skin-divers clearly belong to the early 1960s. But this book is valuable for its prophetic analyses. McLuhan’s prediction of an emerging information-based economy and a global integration facilitated by the Internet and digital technologies is stunningly accurate. recommends Understanding Media to executives working in media, telecommunications and technology, all of whom should have at least a passing knowledge of this classic.


Technology Evolution

We are constantly being shaped by our technology. Advancements in technology in the form of media have enhanced our ability to communicate and in many cases have fundamentally changed our institutions, society, and even ourselves. Technology is nothing more than the specialization and amplification of Man’s nature, while words and media are metaphors that translate experience into understandable form. Technologies increase power and speed, and increases in power and speed have a destabilizing effect on established roads of communication. Electric speeds destroy established roads, and create power centers everywhere on the planet. Whereas historical Roman paper routes served to align marginal, tribal cultures to the Roman power center, our electronic roads do the opposite. They re-tribalize Western, linear-thinking Man and create a "global village." New speed in communication results in restructured social arrangements.

Fast access to information and printed words ended the tribalism and parochialism of the Middle Ages. The printed book contributed to a static, standardized interpretation of the world. Printing made education accessible and encouraged...

About the Author

Marshall McLuhan was born in Alberta, Canada, and received a Ph.D. in English Literature from Cambridge University. He taught at the University of Wisconsin, the University of St. Louis, and the University of Toronto. In addition to Understanding Media, he wrote The Mechanical Bride and The Gutenberg Galaxy.

Comment on this summary

More on this topic