Understanding New Media

Extending Marshall McLuhan – Second Edition

by Robert K. Logan (Author)
©2016 Textbook XVIII, 470 Pages
Series: Understanding Media Ecology, Volume 2


Marshall McLuhan made many predictions in his seminal 1964 publication, Understanding Media: Extensions of Man. Among them were his predictions that the Internet would become a «global village,» making us more interconnected than television; the closing of the gap between consumers and producers; the elimination of space and time as barriers to communication; and the melting of national borders. He is also famously remembered for coining the expression «the medium is the message.» These predictions form the genesis of this updated volume by Robert K. Logan, a friend and colleague who worked with McLuhan. In this second edition of Understanding New Media Logan expertly updates McLuhan’s Understanding Media to analyze the «new media» McLuhan foreshadowed and yet was never able to analyze or experience. The book is designed to reach a new generation of readers as well as appealing to scholars and students who are familiar with Understanding Media.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Abbreviations
  • Chapter 1. “New Media” and Marshall McLuhan: An Introduction
  • 1.1 Objectives of This Book
  • 1.2 The Methodology Employed and What the Reader Can Expect to Find in This Book
  • 1.3 What Are the “New Media?”
  • 1.4 The Changing Figure/Ground Relation With the “New Media”
  • 1.5 A “New Media” Taxonomy
  • 1.6 A Medium Is a Technology Is a Tool Is a Language Is a Medium Is a…
  • 1.7 Standing on the Shoulders of a Giant
  • 1.8 McLuhan on New Media
  • Part I. Methodological Considerations
  • Chapter 2. McLuhan’s Methodology: Media as Extensions of Man and Mankind
  • 2.1 There Was Method in His Madness
  • 2.2 A Summary of McLuhan’s Methodology
  • 2.3 Was McLuhan a Technological Determinist?
  • Chapter 3. Five Communication Ages: Adding the Mimetic and the Interactive Digital Ages
  • 3.1 Updating McLuhan’s Three Communication Ages
  • 3.2 McLuhan’s Three Communication Ages: Oral, Literate, and Electric
  • 3.3 The Origin and Evolution of Language
  • 3.4 Refining the Distinction Between Oral and Written Communication
  • 3.5 The Ecology of Media and Ecosystems as Media
  • Chapter 4. To What Extent Do the “New Media” Confirm or Contradict McLuhan’s Predictions
  • 4.1 New Patterns
  • 4.2 Laws of the Media and the Evolution of Technology
  • 4.3 The Revival of Literacy With “New Media” and the Reversal of the Negative Effects of the Mass Media
  • 4.4 New Media’s Intensification of Trends McLuhan Identified for Electric Media
  • 4.5 Faster Than the Speed of Light
  • Chapter 5. The 15 Messages of “New Media”: An Overview
  • 5.0 Differences Between the “New Media” and Mass Media
  • 5.1 Two-Way Communication
  • 5.2 Ease of Access to, and Dissemination of, Information
  • 5.3 Continuous Learning
  • 5.4 Alignment and Integration
  • 5.5 The Creation of Community
  • 5.6 Portability
  • 5.7 Convergence
  • 5.8 Interoperability
  • 5.9 Aggregation of Content
  • 5.10 Variety, Choice, and the Long Tail
  • 5.11 Reintegration of the Consumer and the Producer
  • 5.12 Social Collectivity and Cyber-Cooperation
  • 5.13 Remix Culture
  • 5.14 The Transition From Products to Services
  • 5.15 Instantaneous Feedback
  • 5.16 A Comparison of Media Old and New Vis-à-Vis the 15 Messages of the “New Media”
  • 5.17 User-Based Transformations of New Media
  • Chapter 6. The “Digital Economy”: An Expansion of the Knowledge Economy
  • 6.1 Introducing the “Digital Economy”
  • 6.2 It Is All About Access, Not Possession
  • 6.3 A Paradigm Shift From Information to Knowledge
  • 6.4 Knowledge Management and the Web
  • 6.5 Lifelong Learning: Job Security in the Internet Age
  • Chapter 7. Scaffolding and Cascading Technologies and Media: Understanding New Media as the Extensions of Earlier Media or the Extensions of Extensions
  • 7.1 Media as the Extensions of Man
  • 7.2 The Evolution of Media and Technologies: Extending the Extensions of Man
  • 7.3 Cascading Technologies and Media: Understanding New Media as the Extensions of Earlier Media or the Extensions of Extensions
  • 7.4 What Is the Actual Content of a Medium?
  • 7.5 Neo-Dualism and the Symbolosphere
  • 7.6 Bifurcation of the Symbolosphere Into the Mediasphere and the Human Mind
  • Part II. How the New Media Have Impacted the Media Analyzed in Understanding Media (UM)
  • Chapter 8. The Spoken Word
  • Chapter 9. The Written Word
  • 9.1 Impact of “New Media” on the Written Word
  • 9.2 Tertiary or Digital Orality
  • 9.3 The End of Writing?
  • 9.4 Interactive Text
  • Chapter 10. Roads and Paper Routes
  • Chapter 11. Number
  • 11.1 The First Digital Revolution
  • 11.2 The Invention of Zero
  • 11.3 From Digits to Digitization
  • Chapter 12. Clothing
  • Chapter 13. Housing
  • Chapter 14. Money
  • 14.1 Impact of “New Media” on Money
  • 14.2 The ATM
  • 14.3 Ecommerce
  • 14.4 Online Auctioning and Fixed-Price Sales
  • 14.5 Online Shopping Payments, Credit Cards, and e-Money
  • 14.6 The Sharing Economy, Also Known as the “Gig Economy”
  • Chapter 15. Clocks
  • Chapter 16. The Print
  • Chapter 17. Comics
  • Chapter 18. The Printed Word: Books and Libraries
  • 18.1 The Impact of the “New Media” on the Book and the Academic Journal
  • 18.2 Alternative Formats of Text
  • 18.3 e-Books
  • 18.4 Audio Books
  • 18.5 Ezines
  • 18.6 The Library—Digitizing and Searching the World’s Literature: The Impact of the “New Media” on the Library
  • 18.7 The Components of the Vast Online Library That Is the Internet
  • 18.8 The Flight of Books From Undergraduate Libraries
  • 18.9 Libraries and Their Integration With Various Digital Tools
  • Chapter 19. Wheel, Bicycle, and Airplane
  • Chapter 20. The Photograph
  • Chapter 21. Press (or Newspapers) and the News
  • 21.1 Impact of “New Media” on the News
  • 21.2 The “New” News Consumer
  • 21.3 The “New” News Producers
  • Chapter 22. Motorcar
  • Chapter 23. Ads
  • 23.1 Advertising on Mass Media
  • 23.2 Advertising on the Internet, the Web, and Other “New Media” Venues
  • 23.3 Online Viral Marketing and Native Advertising
  • Chapter 24. Games
  • 24.1 Electronic/Video Games
  • 24.2 Social Impacts of Games
  • 24.3 Gamification
  • Chapter 25. Telegraph
  • Chapter 26. The Typewriter
  • Chapter 27. The Telephone
  • 27.1 Impact of the New Media on the Telephone
  • 27.2 Teletype and Fax
  • 27.3 The Pager
  • 27.4 VoIP (Voice Over IP or the Internet)
  • 27.5 The Videophone
  • 27.6 Telecoms and Convergence
  • Chapter 28. The Phonograph and New Modes of Recorded Music
  • 28.1 Impact of “New Media” on the Phonograph, the Tape Recorder, and Recorded Music Through MP3 Players, Tablets, Smartphones, and Streaming
  • 28.2 The CD
  • 28.3 MP3 Players, Tablets, iTunes, Smartphones, and Music Streaming
  • 28.4 The Sony DRM Affair
  • Chapter 29. Movies and Digital Videos
  • 29.1 What Is a Movie? Digital Cinema and Internet-Based Videos
  • 29.2 Effects of Digital Technologies on the Movies
  • 29.3 iMovies
  • 29.4 Movies and the Web
  • 29.5 The YouTube Phenomenon
  • 29.6 Vimeo
  • 29.7 Vine
  • Chapter 30. Radio
  • 30.1 Impact of “New Media” on Radio
  • 30.2 Satellite Radio
  • 30.3 Online (Web) Radio
  • 30.4 Podcasting
  • Chapter 31. Television
  • 31.1 Videotape and Television Production
  • 31.2 The Remote Controller
  • 31.3 Television and Education
  • 31.4 Cable and Satellite Television
  • 31.5 Globalization Versus Fragmentation
  • 31.6 Online or Web Television
  • 31.7 Interactive Television?
  • 31.8 Digital Television and High-Definition TV
  • 31.9 DVR (Digital Video Recorder)—A Television Revolution in the Making: TiVo and ReplayTV
  • Chapter 32. Weapons
  • Chapter 33. Automation (Plus the Factory)
  • Part III. The Analysis of New Media Not Dealt With in Understanding Media
  • Chapter 34. Hybrid or Convergent Technologies
  • Chapter 35. The Multifunction Printer, Photocopier, Scanner, and Fax
  • 35.1 Impact of “New Media” on the Printer
  • 35.2 The Scanner and OCR Software
  • Chapter 36. Personal Computers
  • 36.1 Introduction
  • 36.2 Desktop, Notebook, and Ultraportable Computers
  • 36.3 Netbooks
  • 36.4 Chromebooks
  • 36.5 Tablets
  • 36.6 The Service and Disservice of Computers
  • Chapter 37. The Smartphone
  • 37.1 The Impact of “New Media” on the Telephone: The Emergence of the Cell Phone Followed by the Smartphone
  • 37.2 Smartphone Services
  • 37.3 Smartphone Morphology and Functionality
  • 37.4 The Mobile Workforce
  • 37.5 Unintended Impacts of the Smartphone
  • 37.6 The Social Impact of the Video Capability of Smartphones
  • Chapter 38. Computer Software
  • Chapter 39. The Internet
  • 39.1 A Medium of Media
  • 39.2 Roots: The History of Pre-Electronic Proto-Internets
  • 39.3 The Origins of the Internet
  • 39.4 Oral Structure of the Internet
  • 39.5 Discussion Groups on the Internet
  • 39.6 Netocracy: The Ultimate Participatory Democracy
  • 39.7 Electronic Crime and Punishment
  • 39.8 The Internet and Commerce
  • 39.9 Internet, Politics, and Social Movements
  • 39.10 Art and the Internet
  • 39.11 Internet Service Providers and Portals
  • 39.12 Cloud Computing
  • Chapter 40. E-Mail, Instant Messaging (IM), and Short Message Service (SMS)
  • 40.1 Introduction
  • 40.2 Instant Messaging (IM)
  • 40.3 Short Message Service (SMS)
  • 40.4 E-mail
  • 40.5 Gmail
  • Chapter 41. Bulletin Boards, Usenets, Listservs, and Chat
  • Chapter 42. The World Wide Web
  • 42.1 Emergence of the World Wide Web
  • 42.2 The Service and Disservice of the Web
  • 42.3 Web TV
  • 42.4 Web 2.0
  • 42.5 The Semantic Web
  • 42.6 Folksonomy
  • 42.7 Delicious
  • 42.8 The Emergence and Evolution of the World Wide Web and Individual Web Sites
  • Chapter 43. Social Media Including Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat
  • 43.1 Introduction
  • 43.2 The Most Popular Social Media
  • 43.3 Corporate and Business Social Networks
  • 43.4 Twitter
  • 43.5 The Five Most Popular Social Media Sites
  • 43.6 A Novel Use of Social Networking
  • 43.7 Are Social Media the Seventh Language?
  • Chapter 44. Blogs
  • 44.1 What Is a Blog?
  • 44.2 The Blog as News Medium
  • 44.3 Social and Psychological Impacts of Blogs
  • 44.4 Non-Textual Blogs
  • 44.5 The Blog Goes Mainstream
  • 44.6 The Blook
  • Chapter 45. Search Engines Plus Google and Libraries
  • 45.1 Search Engines
  • 45.2 The Dominance of Google
  • 45.3 Google’s Competitors
  • 45.4 Initiatives of Google Technologies Inc.
  • 45.5 About.com—the Human Internet
  • Chapter 46. Video Conferencing and Web-Based Collaboration Tools
  • 46.1 Video Conferencing
  • 46.2 Web-Based Collaboration Tools
  • 46.3 Collective Intelligence
  • Chapter 47. Virtual Reality (VR) and Simulations
  • 47.1 What Is VR?
  • 47.2 The Reality of Virtual Reality
  • 47.3 Games and Role Playing on 3D Virtual Reality Platforms
  • Chapter 48. Robots, Bots, and Agents
  • 48.1 Robots
  • 48.2 Bots and Software Agents
  • Chapter 49. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Expert Systems
  • 49.1 What Is AI?
  • 49.2 What Is Strong AI?
  • 49.3 A Personal Critique of Strong AI
  • 49.4 The Potential AI Exploitation of the World Wide Web
  • 49.5 The Technological Singularity
  • Chapter 50. “Smart Tags” and Dataspace
  • 50.1 Bar Codes and Smart Tags
  • 50.2 Dataspace
  • 50.3 The Dataspace Enabler: Accessing, Navigating, and Searching Dataspace
  • 50.4 The Future Convergence of Cyberspace and Dataspace and the “Smart Box”
  • 50.5 The “Smart Tagged” Book That Is Smart, Readable, and Searchable
  • 50.6 Is Dataspace the Eighth Language?
  • Chapter 51. Enabling Technologies Not Dealt With in Understanding Media
  • 51.0 Definitions
  • 51.1 Electronics
  • 51.2 The Mouse and the Graphical User Interface (GUI)
  • 51.3 Haptic and Olfactory Technology
  • 51.4 Hyperlinks, Hypertext, and Hypermedia
  • 51.5 Modems and ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line)
  • 51.6 Fiber Optics
  • 51.7 Communication Satellites
  • 51.8 Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and FireWire
  • 51.9 Open Source Technology
  • 51.10 Wikis and Wikipedia
  • 51.11 Ubiquitous Computing
  • 51.12 RSS (Really Simple Syndication)
  • 51.13 The Cloud or Cloud Computing
  • 51.14 Moore’s Law
  • Appendix. McLuhan’s Methodology: There Was Method in His Madness
  • A.1 The Equivalence of Media and Technologies
  • A.2 Technology as Extensions of the Body and Media as Extensions of the Psyche
  • A.3 Media as Living Vortices of Power
  • A.4 Media Create New Social Patterns and Restructure Perceptions
  • A.5 “The Medium Is the Message”
  • A.6 The Content of Any New Medium Is Another Older Medium
  • A.7 Hybrid Systems
  • A.8 The Subliminal Effects of Media
  • A.9 The Counterintuitive Effect of Media
  • A.10 The Flip: Humankind as an Extension of Its Technologies
  • A.11 Societies Imitate Their Technologies
  • A.12 The Global Village
  • A.13 The Rear-View Mirror: History as the Laboratory of Media Studies
  • A.14 Three Communication Ages
  • A.15 Break Boundaries
  • A.16 Acoustic Versus Visual Space
  • A.17 Writing, the Alphabet, and the Printing Press
  • A.18 Fragmentation in the Age of Literacy
  • A.19 New Information Patterns Emerge at the Speed of Light
  • A.20 Centralization Versus Decentralization
  • A.21 Integration and Multidisciplinarity Versus Specialization
  • A.22 Hardware Versus Software and Information
  • A.23 Hot and Cool/ Light On Versus Light Through
  • A.24 Media Studies as Civil Defense Against Media Fallout
  • A.25 Understanding Both the Service and Disservice of New Media
  • A.26 The Absence of a Moral Judgment
  • A.27 The Myth of Objectivity
  • A.28 The Oral Tradition and Probes
  • A.29 Art as Radar and an Early Warning System
  • A.30 Obsolesced Technologies Become Art Forms
  • A.31 Multidisciplinarity
  • A.32 “Media Analysis” Versus “Content Analysis”
  • A.33 The Study of Interface and Pattern Rather Than a “Point of View”
  • A.34 Figure/Ground Relationship
  • A.35 The Reversal of Cause and Effect
  • A.36 The User Is the Content
  • A.37 An Anti-Academic Bias
  • A.38 Laws of the Media
  • References
  • Series index

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“Much of what McLuhan had to say makes a good deal more sense today than it did in 1964 because he was way ahead of his time.”

—Okwor Nicholas (2005)

“I don’t necessarily agree with everything I say.”

—Marshall McLuhan (personal communication)

1.1  Objectives of This Book

One objective of this book is to develop an understanding of “new media” and their impact using the ideas and methodology of Marshall McLuhan, with whom I had the privilege of a 6-year collaboration. We will try to understand how the “new media” are changing our world. We will also examine how the “new media” are impacting the traditional or older media that McLuhan (1964) studied in Understanding Media: Extensions of Man, hereafter referred to simply as UM. In pursuing these objectives we hope to extend and update McLuhan’s lifelong analysis of media. One final objective is to give the reader a better understanding of McLuhan’s revolutionary body of work, which is often misunderstood and criticized because of a lack of understanding of exactly what McLuhan was trying to achieve through his work. ← 1 | 2 →

Philip Marchand, in an April 30, 2006, Toronto Star article, unaware of my project, nevertheless described my motivation for writing this book and the importance of McLuhan to understanding “new media”:

Slowly but surely, McLuhan’s star is rising. He’s still not very respectable academically, but those wanting to understand the new technologies, from the iPod to the Internet, are going back to read what the master had to say about television and computers and the process of technological change in general.

It is 9 years since Marchand wrote those words, and McLuhan’s star is still rising as more and more of his predictions come to pass with each new digital medium that emerges. And it is also the case that scholars continue to find inspiration in his writings.

A large number of excellent books, some biographical, have been written about McLuhan and his ideas from a number of different perspectives. The tack that we will take is to describe McLuhan’s work strictly from the perspective of how his ideas help us understand “new media” and their impact on society as well as their impact on and relationship to the older mass media. The older media play a dual role with respect to the “new media.” They formed the ground from which the “new media” emerged and they also provided the content of the “new media.” In carrying out this mission I will also try to correct a number of the distortions or misunderstandings of McLuhan’s work.

As the first of the two quotes with which I began this chapter indicates, McLuhan had great insights and taught us much about media and their impacts. He was truly way ahead of his time, but as he warned us, he did not always agree with everything he said. He was an explorer, and some lines of exploration were more fruitful than others. In his search for understanding he was not afraid to make a mistake or try out an idea to see where it would lead. What I believe the reader will find fascinating is how often he was correct and how seldom he led us astray.

1.2  The Methodology Employed and What the Reader Can Expect to Find in This Book

Part I (Chapters 2–7) introduces our study and develops some of the theoretical and methodological background to our study. Part II (chapters 8–33) deals with the traditional media that McLuhan treated in UM, and Part III (Chapters 34–51) focuses on the “new media” that emerged after his passing. I have ← 2 | 3 → tried to present the topics in this book in a logical manner, but because of the inherent non-linearity of the development of “new media” and their impacts, a logical ordering of topics is simply not feasible. The order in which topics are presented in Part II follows McLuhan’s original ordering in UM for Chapters 8 through 33. Because we describe the way the “new media” have changed the old media in Part II we must introduce aspects of the “new media” in Part II before we get to Part III. The reader is therefore advised to jump from one chapter or section to another, not necessarily in the order in which they are presented. In other words, try to treat the linear text the way you would a text with hyperlinks. I have tried to simulate hyperlinks by sprinkling throughout the text references in parentheses such as (y.x), which refer the reader to Chapter y, Section y.x. References to section x of the Appendix, on the other hand, will read as (A.x). I hope these references will prove useful, but I cannot guarantee that I have anticipated every reader’s needs. I therefore have taken extra care with the index to facilitate the process of cross-referencing. The development of the “new media” has not been a simple linear progression, hence the inherent complexity of this narrative, which, unlike my text, is without a beginning, middle, or end. Therefore, make sure you jump around sections and chapters as you read this book. Another tool the reader can use if they encounter an unfamiliar term is to make use of www.webopedia.com, which is an “online dictionary and search engine…for computer and Internet technology definitions.” Another good source is www.wikipedia.org, the online encyclopedia described in 51.10.

Because the topic of “new media” is so fluid I have made use of a great deal of Web-based resources rather than books. I have referenced these sources with their URLs. It is inevitable that some of these sites might be retired and the reader will have trouble finding the original source. In these circumstances I would suggest that you make use of the Way Back Machine (http://web.archive.org/), which has been archiving Web sites for a number of years. I was actually able to recover some Web pages I helped to create that were on a server that was retired long ago. I have used this material from Gutenberg.com in this book (6.3).

To carry out this project I have used UM as a template to analyze the impact and fallout of the “new media” as well as the way the older media that McLuhan studied have changed in response to the emergence of the “new media.” As was the case with UM, the six chapters comprising Part I are devoted to theoretical and methodological issues, which is how McLuhan began UM. Chapter 2 and Appendix describe the core methodology McLuhan ← 3 | 4 → used in his analysis of media and technology, which also forms, with some additions, the basic methodology employed in this update of McLuhan’s work. Chapter 2 also deals with the issue of technological determinism to show that McLuhan’s notion of cause and effect with media is not the simple-minded form often attributed to him by critics who have not read him carefully or thoroughly. Chapter 3 extends McLuhan’s notion of three communication ages of oral, literate, and electric communication to include two additional ages, namely the age of pre-oral mimetic communication and the age of digital interactive “new media.” In Chapter 4 we describe some of the new patterns that have emerged with the “new media.” In Chapter 5 we provide an overview of the impacts of “new media” and describe their 15 generic characteristics or messages. In Chapter 6 we describe the new “digital economy” that emerges with the “new media,” which incorporates many elements of the “knowledge economy” that characterized the economy at the close of the last century. The digital economy has many new features, however, that are just beginning to emerge in the twenty-first century. In Chapter 7 we analyze “new media” as extensions of older media and introduce the notions of scaffolding and cascading technologies as well as the symbolosphere and the mediasphere. The remaining chapters of this book, which comprise Parts II and III, are then devoted to individual media, as was the case in UM.

In Part II (Chapters 8– 33) we parallel the same chapters of UM using basically the same chapter titles and analyzing the same media that McLuhan treated. In these chapters we will study the ways each of these media have responded to the challenge of the “new media” and have changed as a result. As McLuhan pointed out, a figure changes as the ground in which it is situated changes. The “new media” have changed the ground in which the old media operate and hence have changed the nature of the impact of those older media. We describe how, in many instances, these traditional media became the content of certain “new media” or morphed into a form of “new media.”

Finnemann (2006) formulated the relationship of the old and new media in terms of “refunctionalization” and “digitization”:

The refunctionalization of the old media [implies] that they are used in new ways as is the case with the newspaper and the library. The digitization of old media, on the other hand, is the process whereby the old media have been digitized but they perform the same function as is the case with the digital camera and digital TV. Many old media have been both refunctionalized and digitized and as a result morphed into something new, as is the case with recorded music being digitized and formatted on ← 4 | 5 → a CDs or being downloaded to an iPod. Whether refunctionalized or digitized the old media have been transformed by the new media.

In a few cases, however, older traditional media have, for all intents and purposes, disappeared. For example, the typewriter is hardly used at all anymore but has been replaced by word processing on a computer, where the keyboard provides input and the display function has been taken over by the computer monitor and printer. But the typewriter keyboard has survived, ironically, in its clumsy QWERTY format. The telegraph, on the other hand, has disappeared altogether.

In Part III (Chapters 34–51) we treat the “new media” and tools that McLuhan never had a chance to describe by carefully describing their impact and their fallout. Each chapter is devoted to an individual medium that comprises the “new media,” with the exception of Chapter 34, which deals with the nature of hybrid and convergent technologies, and Chapter 51, which deals with the enabling technologies that are not media, per sè, but which are components of “new media” or make it possible for some “new media” to exist.

1.3  What Are the “New Media?”

The term “new media” will, in general, refer to those digital media that are interactive, incorporate two-way communication, and involve some form of computing, as opposed to “old media” such as the telephone, radio, and TV. These older media, which in their original incarnation did not require computer technology, now, in their present configuration, make use of computer technology, as do so many other technologies that are not necessarily communication media such as refrigerators and automobiles. Many “new media” emerged by combining an older medium with computer chips and a hard drive. We have surrounded the term “new media” with quotation marks to signify that they are digital interactive media. When we use the term new media without quotation marks we are generically denoting media that are new to the context under discussion. To better illustrate the difference in the terminology we can say that today all “new media” are new media. We can also say that in 1948 TV could be classified as part of the new media of its day but not as “new media” as we have defined the term above. On the other hand, TV integrated with a computer to form a digital video recorder such as the TiVo system (31.9) can be classified as an example of the “new media.” ← 5 | 6 →

Our definition of “new media” is similar to the definitions of other authors. Some describe “new media” as the ability to combine text, audio, digital video, interactive multimedia, virtual reality, the Web, e-mail, chat, a smartphone, computer applications, and any source of information accessible by a personal computer or tablet. Lev Manovich, for one, described new media as

new cultural forms which are native to computers or rely on computers for distribution: Web sites, human-computer interface, virtual worlds, VR, multimedia, computer games, computer animation, digital video, special effects in cinema and net films, interactive computer installations.

Bolter and Grusin (1999) defined new media in terms of remediation: “We call the representation of one medium in another remediation and we will argue that remediation is the defining characteristic of the new digital media” (p. 45). They then went on to say that “all mediation is remediation” (p. 55). If this is the case, how does one distinguish new media from old media? In fact, their idea originates with McLuhan, who observed that the first content of a new medium is some older medium (A.6).

A similar problem arose when Bolter and Grusin (1999) made the point that old and new media remediate or refashion each other mutually. “What is new about new media comes from the particular ways in which they refashion older media and the ways in which older media refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new media” (p. 15). Once again, this statement does not tell us which are the new media and which are the older media and amounts to defining new media in terms of chronology.

Their statement contains a truism, however, that applies to the relation of newer and older media through the ages. The written word refashioned the spoken word and the spoken word responded to the challenge of the new medium by adopting the new vocabulary that writing made possible. We shall return to this point below when we discuss the changing figure-ground relationships that new media engender in A.34.

An important distinction between “new” and “old” media as we will use the term is that the old media are, for the most part, mass media, which is not the case with the “new media,” with the possible exception of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Although the latter two media may be considered mass media because anyone with a computer and a Wi-Fi connection can access them, they are nevertheless “experienced on an intimate level, each user working alone with the screen and interface” (Wolf, 2003b, p. 11). Another point is that although millions of people access the Net and Web ← 6 | 7 → every day they are each accessing different material, given that there are billions of pages already extant on the Net. The Web and the Net also differ from mass media such as TV and radio because they incorporate two-way communication. It is therefore a safe bet to regard the old media as passive mass media and the “new media” as individually accessed interactive media. This is a bit of an over-generalization in that some old media, such as the spoken word in face-to-face or telephone conversation and the written word in correspondence, are highly interactive, but it is certainly the case that each of the “new media” are highly interactive and mass media are not.

The “new media” permit a great deal more participation of their users, who are no longer just passive recipients of information but are active producers of content and information (5.11). This is certainly the case with those who use e-mail (40.4), are participants in a Listserv or chat room (Chapter 41), create a Web site (Chapter 42), blog (Chapter 44), burn their own CDs (28.2), use Web collaboration tools (Chapter 46), podcast (30.4), offer products via eBay (14.3), or simply surf the Internet (Chapter 39) creating their own connections between existing sets of information.

The new media also provide an outlet for creativity, as pointed out by Jaron Lanier, a noted musician and a virtual reality pioneer.

The new media are different from the old media, of course, but one of the primary ways is not just in content, but in the solidification of our method of thinking. What we see with interactive media like the Web is not only the end result of the creative process, but the creative process itself, set down for all people to see and to share. This is extraordinarily exciting. (Brockman, 1996, Chapter 17)

The use of the term “new media” is, of course, relative. When McLuhan analyzed television and automation these were the new media of his time. At any given point in time there will always be new media, or perhaps more accurately, newer media. The term “new media” as it is used today refers to a class of media that are digital and interactive and hence differ from the electric mass media that McLuhan (1964) addressed in UM. In this chapter (and later in Chapters 4 and 5) we will address the question of the way in which the new media (or electric media) of McLuhan’s day, circa 1964, differed from the new media (or interactive digital media) of our time, namely 2015, more than 50 years after the publication date of UM. The new media that McLuhan studied were the electric media of mass communication and the mainframe computers, which he showed had a radically different impact compared to the mechanical media and technologies such as the printing press, the clock, ← 7 | 8 → the assembly line, and newspapers. Although the mainframe computers that McLuhan commented on were digital, they were not interactive in the way today’s personal computers are, nor were they readily accessible to a large audience, and hence we do not include them in our definition of the “new media.”

What’s new about today’s “new media” is that they are digital, they are linked and cross-linked with each other, and the information they mediate is very easily processed, stored, transformed, retrieved, hyper-linked, and, perhaps most radical of all, easily searched for and accessed. This is why I believe that McLuhan’s stunning analysis of the new media of his day, namely electric mass media, and their total transformation of education, work, and society deserves and requires updating.

In updating McLuhan’s UM, of course, we will analyze all the new media that have appeared since the publication of UM. Some of these new media are not usually categorized as “new media,” but still they must be included to make our update complete. Here we have in mind the tape recorder, the video camera, the fax, the photocopier, and personal computers, which were not treated in UM.

We have carefully defined the distinction between old and new media, but we have yet to define exactly what we mean by media. When we refer to media we will be talking about more than just the technologies of which the media are composed; we will also incorporate all of the activities, practices, and social arrangements associated with the media by both the producers and the consumers of the media. In the instance of the “new media” it is becoming more and more the case that the producer and the consumer are actually the same agent (5.11).


XVIII, 470
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (May)
global village digital revolution new media barriers
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XVIII, 470 pp.

Biographical notes

Robert K. Logan (Author)

Robert K. Logan (PhD, MIT, 1965) is Professor Emeritus of Physics and St. Michael’s College Fellow at the University of Toronto. He is the author of many books and articles including Understanding New Media: Extending Marshall McLuhan, (Peter Lang, 2010) and The Future of the Library: From Electric Media to Digital Media (Peter Lang, 2016).


Title: Understanding New Media
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491 pages