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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 Five General System Thinking and Marshall McLuhan’s General Theory of Media


The hardest part of scholarship is asking a pertinent question and the easier part is answering that question. I want to thank Philip Morais for asking the question “What is the most important thing that Marshall McLuhan contributed?” This chapter is my attempt to answer that question. When Phillip asked me this question during a phone conversation on the evening of January 10, 2020 my off the cuff answer was “the most important thing that Marshall McLuhan contributed was the application of general systems thinking to the study of communications and the impact of technology.” I should mention that before Philip called me I had already written the first four chapters of this book and what is now Chapter Six. But as a result of Philip’s question I realized that my book was incomplete and as a result I answered his question as best I could. And the answer is that the most important thing that Marshall McLuhan contributed to our understanding of media and technology and their effects is his application of general systems thinking to media studies and what came to be known as media ecology.

In Chapter One, I mentioned the influence on McLuhan of seven systems thinkers: Gregory Bateson, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Kenneth Boulding, Buckminster Fuller, Harold Innis, I. A. Richards, Claude Shannon and Norbert Wiener. The books of these eight systems thinkers were on McLuhan’s reading ←123 | 124→lists for the courses he taught. Donald Theall (2001, 30, 188) in his book The...

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