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Understanding New Media

Extending Marshall McLuhan – Second Edition


Robert K. Logan

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.
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Chapter 11. Number


← 128 | 129 →

· 11 ·


Content and extension: The content of numbers is mental enumeration. Numbers literally extend the fingers (or digits), which were themselves used as extensions of the mental process of enumeration.

Cascade: The cascade is from mental enumeration to the fingers (or digits) to spoken numbers to notated numbers. There has been a further cascade from one-to-one tallies with notches or scratches to accounting tokens representing concrete numbers to abstract numbers notated with Roman numerals to abstract numbers notated with alphabetic letters to abstract numbers notated with Arabic numerals to fractions to irrational numbers to imaginary numbers to the binary code of computing.

LOM: Number enhances quantification and organization, obsolesces quality, retrieves plenty, and reverses into inflation and infinity. ← 129 | 130 →

11.1  The First Digital Revolution

Computing and the digital “new media” are based on the binary number scheme whereby all numbers can be expressed in terms of 1s and 0s. Let us examine how the notions of digital numbers and zero arose. The etymology of numbers in many different languages reveals that counting began with our fingers or digits. In some languages five is a hand, 10 is two hands, and nine is two hands less one finger. In English we acknowledge the connection between numbers and our fingers, or digits, by referring to numbers as “digits.” The first notation of numbers occurred with concrete numbers in the form of tallies such as...

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