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Do We Live In a Global Village?

September 9, 2010

For most of his career, H. Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) was a professor of English Literature at the University of Toronto. On a larger scale, McLuhan conducted groundbreaking work in the study of communication, mass media and technology by pioneering studies in popular, oral and print cultures, cultural studies, media ecology and media theory during the 1950s and 1960s. McLuhan is best known for his books Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964) and The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (1967). The latter became his best seller. McLuhan gained notoriety and became an authority figure on communication and technology through these books coining the expressions “the medium is the message” and “global village.”

With the phrase “the medium is the message,” McLuhan suggests that the medium containing a message plays a specific role in how the message is perceived. The implication is that different mediums have different effects on society depending on how the medium is characterized. “In terms of the electronic age, this phrase means that a totally new environment has been created” (Understanding Media, p. vii) because “it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action” (Understanding Media, p. 9). In other words, as the medium changes so does our environment. In 1967, the word massage was used jokingly as part of McLuhan’s book title.

The concept “global village” was first introduced and popularized by McLuhan in The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962) in which he implies mass communication will unify the globe by creating the same mindset in all of us. In this book, McLuhan analyzes the effects the printing press had on European culture.

Today, some consider the term “global village” to have been prophetic as it can easily be used to describe the Internet and the World Wide Web. Additionally, McLuhan categorized media as being “hot” or “cool” depending on the level of participation required by the viewer.

McLuhan earned BA and MA degrees at the University of Manitoba. Subsequently, he earned a second set at Cambridge, as well as a Ph.D. in 1943. McLuhan was originally from Canada.

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