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McLuhan in Reverse

His General Theory of Media (GToM)


Robert K. Logan

McLuhan in Reverse proposes two new and startling theses about Marshall McLuhan’s body of work. The first argues that despite McLuhan’s claim that he did not work from a theory, his body of work in fact constitutes a theory that Robert K. Logan calls his General Theory of Media (GToM). The second thesis is that McLuhan’s GToM is characterized by a number of reversals, including his reversals of figure and ground, cause and effect, percepts and concepts; and the medium and its content as described in his famous one-liner "the medium is the message." 

While McLuhan’s famous Laws of Media are part of his GToM, Logan has identified nine other elements of the GToM. They are his use of probes; figure/ground analysis; the idea that the medium is the message; the subliminal nature of ground or environment revealed only by the creation of an anti-environment; the reversal of cause and effect; the importance of percept over concept and hence a focus on the human sensorium and media as extensions of man; the division of communication into the oral, written, and electric ages along with the notions of acoustic and visual space; the notion of the global village; and finally, media as environments and hence media ecology.

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Chapter Three Applying McLuhan’s General Theory of Media to the Flowering of the Digital Age


McLuhan made use of reversals in the formulation of his General Theory of Media (GToM) as was documented in Chapters One and Two. It was suggested that McLuhan’s focus on reversals can be traced back to his encounter with electric technology and the transition from written to electric communication. McLuhan himself pointed out that this transition from mechanical forms to electric ones was characterized by many reversals from the explosion of the mechanical era to the implosion of the electric one.

Just as the transition from written to electric communication created many reversals, the same is happening with the transition we are living through now, namely, the transition from electric-based to digital-based communication. McLuhan did not witness this transition because of his incapacitating stroke in 1979 and his passing in 1980. The principal digital media that existed at this time were main frame and mini computers. The personal computer (PC) revolution was just getting under way at the end of McLuhan’s career and he had little or no direct contact with these developments. Although mainframe and minicomputers had significant impacts on social, economic and political systems they had considerably less impact than that of personal computers, the Internet, the Web, smartphones, and AI, the media that are at the heart of the digital revolution almost all of ←87 | 88→which emerged after McLuhan’s passing. The reason that the main frame and mini computers did not have the same impact as personal computers is that mainframes and minis were...

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