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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 Four Understanding Humans: The Extensions of Digital Media


Technologies are merely extensions of ourselves – McLuhan (1967a, 261)

All media are extensions of some human faculty — psychic or physical – McLuhan & Fiore (1967)

Digital industrialism turns human data into the new commodity - Rushkoff (2016, 44)

This is Google’s model of giving away everything in return for looking at their ads and sharing all our data - Rushkoff (ibid., 37)

The idea that our tools are extensions of our body is an idea that dates back to the latter half of the nineteenth century. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1875) in 1870 wrote: “All the tools and engines on earth are only extensions of man’s limbs and senses.” And Henry Ward Beecher in 1887 wrote, “A tool is but the extension of a man’s hand and a machine is but a complex tool.” This idea was then picked up by C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards (1923, 98) in their book, The Meaning of Meaning, where they wrote: “But language, though often spoken of as a medium of communication is best regarded as an instrument; and all instruments are extensions or refinements of our sense organs.” Lewis Mumford (1934, 321) also dealt with this theme in Technics and Civilization:

←115 | 116→The tools and utensils used during the greater part of man’s history were, in the main, extensions of his own organism; they did not seem to have-what is more important they did not seem to have-an independent existence. But...

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