McLuhan: Insightful, prophetic, complex, with just a hint of crazy

Reading McLuhan for the first time presented a bit of a challenge for me.  He abandons traditional Western linear thinking and reasoning, which he attributes to the phonetic alphabet, in favor of a free-wheeling style of prose that was at first hard to grasp.  I find it interesting that while he seemed to favor “cool” mediums over “hot” mediums, he chose the written word (molten lava hot) to get his message across; perhaps just another McLuhan paradox.   Do you think McLuhan would have used youtube or podcasts today to relay his thoughts? 

McLuhan explains the difference between “hot” and “cool” media well in the Playboy interview, “…a hot medium excludes and a cool medium includes; hot media are low in participation, or completion, by the audience and cool media are high in participation.”  While I understand how he’s using these terms, I don’t always agree with how he uses them.  For instance, he believes that television is cool medium and radio is a hot medium.  How can this be?  I can’t think of a less participatory medium than pre-DVR television.  Perhaps it is my trouble separating the medium from the content provided, but it also seems as if McLuhan has trouble with this at times.  In Understanding Media he states ,

“Similarly, a very much greater speed-up…may serve to restore a tribal pattern of intense involvement such as took place with the introduction of radio in Europe, and is now tending to happen as a result of TV in America” (p. 163). 

If the medium is truly the message, then how can radio inspire involvement in Europe but not in America?  Doesn’t this go against his largely deterministic viewpoint and suggest that it is at least in part how people use the medium? 

McLuhan’s reasoning that TV is a cool medium is that “The TV image is a mosaic mesh not only of horizontal lines but of millions of tiny dots, of which the viewer is physiologically able to pick up only 50 or 60 from which he shapes the image; thus he is constantly filling in the vague and blurry images…” (p. 246). 

Does this mean that with the prevalence of HD television sets and higher resolution TV stops being cool and is in fact heating up? 

How would McLuhan categorize other modern technologies?  The internet? The Ipod?

How is TV a “tactile” medium as opposed to a visual medium?


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