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  • Writer's pictureArturo Leal

McLuhan's Shovel: Media changes the world

Marshall McLuhan is a Canadian philosopher that is best known for his thoughts on media and how people communicate. McLuhan believed that the different forms of media we use to communicate with are extensions of ourselves. We use these tools to increase our ability to reach new audiences and how we can present our message to those people. These tools also change how we relate to the world because he believed how the message was sent and received is more important than what the message is. On the surface, this makes sense because as communication methods advance so does our society and how we interact.



Once upon a time, we passed along information at the campfire telling stories and about our life experiences. That story was only passed along by someone who knew the story to tell you in person. Communication was dependent on physical proximity. This changed when print came into the picture. This opened up options to communicate, educate, and legal agreements. Your audience expanded when your story at the campfire could be written down and mailed to a friend. The printing press standardized education with the ability to create textbooks and legal agreements were more than just a handshake with a document to enforce it. Radio and television further expanded communication allowing people to connect on a large scale creating what McLuhan called the global village.



I think McLuhan was right about how the message is sent and received plays a big part in the development of society. With social media, television, smartphones, and the internet people are flooded with information and have a need to absorb as much as possible. Right now, as I am writing this, I am watching a movie and answering messages on my phone. Because we have so much information coming in, we want it to be short and to the point. This is apparent with platforms like TikTok and Twitter with limitations on video length and character count. A medium that has had a major impact on us is television. We layout our homes based on where we want our TV. Some people go as far as having a TV in their bathroom, so they don’t miss a moment. That may sound crazy but think about the waiting room at a doctor’s office. You look for a TV first, then a magazine and a conversation is always the last option.



McLuhan believed that the medium is more important than the message and I agree but you can not discount the impact the message can have on the medium. The ability to share your thoughts at any moment with anyone within our social circle opens doors to conversations we don’t want to have. Just because I am Facebook friends with someone from work doesn’t mean I want to know their every thought about politics. I get tired of seeing everyone’s opinion every time a politician opens their mouth. I am all for the public to be well informed, but people like to post their thoughts based on the title of an article they did not read. This is driving people away from social platforms. News stations present biased information because their viewers lean right or left. I don’t have cable because I am tired of the messages being delivered. I don’t have a TV because I don’t have a need for it. Methods of communication are only around until they are phased out. Print is dying and I believe it is only around because it is too expensive to phase it out in education. The cost of providing every child with a laptop or tablet is enough to keep print alive. Is this a sign of evolution in communication? What happens when people are overloaded with the fast pace and want to step away from it? If these forms of communication are tools like a shovel, is it too big to use? Are we getting tired of digging?

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