McLuhan, Marshall. 1964. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. The MIT Press.

More often than not, when consuming media material, people have always taken the media themselves as invisible, focusing only on the content that is disseminated through the media they are using. Furthermore, much of the early analysis on media have tended to assume them as perfect information filters. This makes their analyses incomplete, and possibly confusing when compared to each other. However, in writing Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, McLuhan (1964) has noticed this and has attempted to render media as visible. By doing so, they have paved the way for a more integral and more comprehensive analysis of mass media and society, something that remains relevant up to today, even with the numerous technological changes the world has experienced since it was written.

In more than 300 pages, McLuhan (1964) devoted extensive chapters on discussing the different social consequences behind media, as well as broadening the notion of media as extensions of man. Chapters 1 and 2 introduced the book by blurring the distinction between the form and content of media, as well as differentiating between ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ media and their respective effects on people. Chapter 3 and 4 elaborated on how historical changes may affect our perceptions toward media, possibly reversing our notions as time passes. Chapters 5 and 6 focuses on the impacts of these media, whether in separate or in combination, towards people, arguing that these are generally unnoticed. Chapter 7 elaborates on the introduction of new media on society.

Throughout the book, McLuhan (1964) elaborated on media’s social consequences by looking at a comprehensive list of media technologies as cases, even discussing certain technologies that are not often considered as mass media. Chapters 8, 9, 16 to 18 discuss the spoken word, the written word, the print, comics, and the printed word, respectively. Chapters 10 to 15 discuss roads, number, clothing, housing, money, and clocks, asserting these technologies as media. Chapters 20 to 21 and 23 discuss the photograph, the press, and advertisements. Chapters 25 to 31 discuss telegraph, the typewriter, the telephone, the phonograph, movies, radio, and television. Finally, the other chapters discuss the wheel (Chapter 19), the motorcar (Chapter 22), games (Chapter 24), weapons (Chapter 32) and automation (Chapter 33).

McLuhan’s (1964) work is laudable for its integral analysis of mass media and society, combining our understanding of different forms of media regardless of their historical contexts and technological features. By defining media as extensions of people, we not only infer how media came to be developed throughout history, but also how they have changed people’s activities in society. In one way or another, technologies behind media were developed in order to make lives more efficient. In turn, this allowed people to make time for other endeavors that ultimately changed how society worked on a daily basis. This framework is very basic and yet, it explains many complex things that both conventional and unconventional media could be understood in this notion.

However, it is possible that McLuhan’s (1964) notion of media could be considered as conceptual overstretching: How could the work differentiate media from technology in general? Understanding technology as an extension of man seems more apt than media, and McLuhan’s (1964) list would be more appropriate under the concept of technology instead. For example, technologies such as clocks, weapons, cars, roads, wheels, games, weapons, and more, albeit having information in themselves that can be expressed to different users, are not mainly used for communication. While they are extensions of man, it is more justifiable to be classify them as technology and not as media. Throughout the book, McLuhan (1964) failed to differentiate this, blurring their assertions and arguments in the process.

Nonetheless, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man has considered almost every aspect of human activity when understanding the influence of media on people’s lives. Some chapters were devoted extensively to understand changes in people’s perceptions with respect to the media they consume, when looking at similar content. Other chapters discussed political changes in society when certain media were introduced and integrated in campaigns and propagandistic activities. Furthermore, chapters were also integral in understanding economic behavior of different consumers by changing media landscapes and evolving use of media forms. In the book, McLuhan (1964) has made use of insights from different political, economic, and psychological phenomena throughout history, and this has made the work relevant beyond discussions of media, up to now.

However, McLuhan’s (1964) work seems to lack due diligence for referencing and discussing other social science work. While McLuhan (1964) recognized that most of what they have written are novel, at the very least, they could have looked at what other social sciences discussed so far and elaborated on why they are incorrect, incomplete, or uninformed. Yet, they wrote at length on different social phenomena, and when finally discussing other social science insights, they barely referenced specific works as proof. The book’s absence in properly referencing earlier work shows how far it falls from the standards of social science rigor. Frankly, the book might be novel because it just failed to reference work that have already discussed what the book asserts.

McLuhan’s (1964) Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man serves as a foundational work for contemporary discussions of the relationship between media and society. Social scientists can see how contemporary insights can be linked to what McLuhan (1964) has written many decades ago, no matter what social science specialization. Media practitioners can utilize McLuhan’s (1964) insights to not only best fit the ‘content’ they are producing through different media, but also assess the future trajectories of media and their effects on human perceptions and behaviors. Furthermore, the public can gain a deeper appreciation to media’s relevance throughout history. In sum, the book makes us realize that as extensions of man, understanding media is as fundamental as understanding ourselves.

Student of politics. UPD POLSC ’21. Researches at the Philippine Institute for Development Studies.