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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 Six Cataloguing McLuhan Reversals


This chapter is a catalogue of McLuhan reversals based on his writings and his observations of the oral, written and electric ages of communication. In addition, it also contains a projection of what his reversals might have been if he had survived into the digital age, which sadly he did not. The purpose of this chapter is to collect all of McLuhan’s reversals and McLuhan-like reversals in one place to support the hypothesis that thinking in terms of reversals was an integral part of McLuhan’s approach to understanding media and their impacts and is also a useful tool for understanding the digital technologies that he never had a chance to experience.

McLuhan’s reversals have been divided into 3 categories based on his writings and a 4th category has been added, namely McLuhan-like reversals for the digital age:

1.reversals that were part of McLuhan’s methodology as used in his General Theory of Media;

2.reversals that are associated with the transition from the age of oral communication to the age of written communication and mechanical forms;

3.reversals that are associated with the transition from the age of written communication and mechanical forms to electric forms of communication; and

4.←139 | 140→reversals that are associated with the transition from the age of electric forms of communication to digital age of communication formulated in the spirit of McLuhan reversals

figure reverses into ground or environment;

percept reverses into concept;...

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