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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 3. Five Communication Ages: Adding the Mimetic and the Interactive Digital Ages


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3.1  Updating McLuhan’s Three Communication Ages

In the last chapter we reviewed the basic assumptions or axioms of McLuhan’s approach to media studies or media ecology, which will also form the basis of our analysis in Parts II and III of this book as we update McLuhan’s understanding of media. One of the assumptions that both Innis and McLuhan adopted, however, needs to be updated, namely, that there are only three basic communications eras: the oral, the literate, and the electric (A.14).

Innis performed his analyses before the advent of computing, and McLuhan completed his work before the introduction of the personal computer and the Internet. As a consequence, McLuhan and Innis never quite made a distinction between electric mass media and digital interactive media, i.e., “new media,” which, we will show, are quite different classes of media. They also developed their ideas before linguists and cognitive scientists such as Merlin Donald (1991) had added to our understanding of the origin of speech, and in particular the patterns of pre-verbal hominid mimetic communication. The purpose of this chapter is to update and extend the three periods (oral, literate, and electric) that Innis and McLuhan used to analyze human communication ← 31 | 32 → by adding two additional periods, namely, the pre-verbal or mimetic period and the digital interactive period. With these two additions we suggest that there exists...

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