McLuhan Essay - Daniel Hall

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What changes do you expect in the information society in the next ten years? Write a essay what you expect to happen, and why - using a critical review of McLuhan's theories (i.e. basing it on his thinking, or basing it on a cirtique on his thinking).


It is possible to analyse the future developments of information within society over the next 10 years using the McLuhan framework, whether you agree or disagree with his theory. When using the McLuhan framework to base the analysis, it is necessary to take a ‘step back’ from the real world. You must do this because it is necessary to appreciate the whole picture. By this I mean it is necessary to analyse the world not on a Newtonian fragmented basis but rather on a basis that sees the world and the fabric of society as being interdependent and interconnected throughout. What happens in Los Angeles affects what happens in New York. What happens in nature affects technology. Everything and anything in this world is somehow related. According to McLuhan, it is only when you have an understanding of how the world works within this connectedness that it is possible to predict how the world will develop in the future. Support for the application of this argument indicates is that it is no coincidence that it was McLuhan that predicted the internet or “Information Superhighway” decades before it permeated into everyday life. If his theories can predict the creation of the internet, then his theories can predict the development of the internet, the demise of the internet and the extinction of the internet. As this paper is focussed only on the next ten years, I will argue that it is impossible to apply the McLuhan theory to the internet because the period of 10 years is too short to experience the full McLuhan theoretical circle of “Enhance-Obsolete-Retrieve-Reverse”. The next 10 years of the internet will predominately be concerned with the “enhance” aspect of McLuhan’s theory, with the possibility of, by 2015, witnessing the first signs of “Obsoletion”. I would predict that the stages of “Retrieval and Reversion” will only happen within the next 50-100 years – which incidentally seems like the same time spent doing an MBA at RSM.

McLuhan’s Theory:

To narrow the scope of this essay into a manageable form for the purposes of this assignment (i.e. 1-2 pages) I will restrict my definition of “information society” solely to mean the internet. Furthermore, for the reasons stated above, I will only focus on the “Enhancement” that the internet will provide society over a 10 year period (i.e. a relatively short period for the internet). So what has the internet enhanced?

The internet has primarily enhanced information. The ability to collect, collate, analyse or disseminate information has never been so advanced. A simple example illustrates the point. As an undergraduate student at University, I would often be given ‘meaningless’ essays to write. In order for me to write these ‘meaningless’ essays it was necessary for me to get my photo taken to be placed on a library card, fill out mountains of paperwork declaring my personal details, pay a fee to join the library, get the library card issued, visit the library on the day of the essay, look in an antiquated card filing system to discover the reference of the book I was after, understand the layout of the library so that I could connect the book reference with its location in the library, try to locate the correct floor of the library and then the correct section of that floor and then the isle of the section and then the shelf of the isle and then the correct section on the shelf… find that some basta@**d has beaten me to it!

With the internet, I type the book reference into a search engine, press ENTER and up pops the article that I am looking for. Then it is a simple procedure of “SELECT ALL / COPY / PASTE DOCUMENT” change the title of the author & article and, hey presto, I have one essay ready to hand in, meaning that as a student I then get more time to spend in the pub with my mates doing what students do best (this scenario assumes that I have not had my university education terminated due to blatent plagarism). The important point here is that the internet has facilitated the ease to research the essay and therefore enhanced both the quality of the essay, due to the wider spectrum of papers to research, and enhanced my life as I spend less time doing the meaningless ‘administrative’ actions prior to doing the necessary research I had to do as an undergraduate.

Another development that the internet has created is the possibility of people to be more connected with the world. This is whether we are more connected as people with other people or with world events, technology, commerce, financial markets etc etc. In short we are more connected with “everything”. This enhanced connection is interesting in a McLuhan context because it is precisely his theory that propagates that the world is not fragmented or compartmentalised, as modern society so often interprets it to be, but is actually connected, in totality, at some level. This phenomenon would support McLuhan’s theory. However, it is questionable that the internet supports McLuhan’s theories at other levels. One of the main arguments of McLuhan is that media is the message. I.e., it is the internet that IS the message. But how do we define the “media” of the internet necessary to decipher what the message is. Is the media the broadband cable or telephone line? Is it the monitor of the computer? Is it the web-site? Is it the contents of a page of the web-site? Without a clear definition of the “media” it is difficult to see how McLuhan’s theory can be applied because each type of media, according to McLuhan’s theory, will create a distinct type of message. Without a strict definition, the message of the internet media becomes blurred – and therefore loses its meaning. Furthermore, it could be argued that, especially for the internet, it is not the media that is the message but the CONTENT of the media that is the message. It is precisely the content of web-sites, and not the form of the media, that is the internet's strongest asset and reason for being. The content of any subject within the world is reduced and consolidated onto a web-site. Where a web-page itself is a distilled and pure piece of informational content. Reflecting on my own personal experience of using the internet, I can tell you now that there is a world of difference between the content of my favourite web-sites, such as and websites I do not enjoy such as The media is the same in both cases but the content very different. Perhaps if McLuhan had been around long enough to appreciate then he may have at least re-thought his theory. Without content the internet is nothing.Eser Torun's comment!The media of the internet only helps faciliate the content.


I have assumed that the period of 10 years constitutes a short period in terms of the medium of the internet. The reason I have assumed this is because other ‘recent’ technological developments such as the television or the radio have existed for about 100 years and still continue to be developed. Likewise the ‘life’ of the internet is still in its infancy and it is anticipated that this, likewise, will also be around for 100+ years. However, I accept that as time passes and society develops, then technological developments themselves become more advanced and are developed quicker. This means that the ‘shelf-life’ of all innovations becomes shorter. What were once major innovations in the 20th Century, such as the television, will have a much longer life than major innovations of the 21st Century. This means that the McLuhan cycle from enhancement to obsoletion becomes that much shorter.

The Future?:

So where are we heading with all these informational media technological developments? Perhaps the ultimate answer lies with McLuhan. According to his Tribal Man Theory, the more time passes and technology develops, the more basic the existence of man-kind will eventually become. Who knows, by the year 2587 man-kind may be so ‘super-developed’ that we will all get together in our ‘caves’ and try to invent a way of keeping warm at night by “rubbing our sticks together” - now there's a thought!

Daniel Hall -- 05:58, 1 Dec 2004 (MST)