Limitations & Strengths of McLuhan’s Ideas

Technological determinism is a reductionist theory that aims to provide a causative link between technology and a society’s nature. It tries to explain as to whom or what could have a controlling power in human affairs. The theory questions the degree to which human thought or action is influenced by technological factors. One of the best examples of technological determinism in media theory is Marshall McLuhan’s theory “the medium is the message” also known as Medium Theory. Essentially, the theory emphasizes the way in which we absorb information from media, and how it isn’t the information that affects us but the way we absorb it.

Photo by Rob Price on Thought Hub

3 Limitations of Marshall McLuhan’s Theory

A critique of technological determinism is that technology never forces itself on members of the society. Man creates technology and chooses to use them. The choice of using technology and experiencing its effects therefore lies in the hand of a human being.

Human chooses the media | Photo by Communication Theory

McLuhan prophesied the global village, but he had nothing at all to say about ownership, control or regulation of that village. He proclaimed that the medium is the message, but he had no interest in the content of that message.

McLuhan neglected the soft factors, but only focused on the seeable hard factors, which flawed his theory over medium.

3 Strengths of Marshall McLuhan’s Theory

Mass media and technology are ever changing, and McLuhan’s theory can be applicable throughout various time periods because of the generalized statements.

McLuhan in 1984 suggested that technologies of mass media make sure culture transmission in a social fabric which ultimately changes man’s behavior. He states, “We shape our tools and they in turn shape us.” This can be shown currently through social media as a tool that we manipulate, but because of our manipulation, then manipulates us (the users).

Media manipulating the user | Photo by Abhishek Banerjee on OpIndia

McLuhan’s allusion to the eventual “cooling down” of media was spot on. A hot medium is one that outlines a single definition of a situation and a large amount of data, which requires little effort on the part of the audience to assimilate the information. This, again, can be seen today through social media platforms, such as TikTok and Instagram.

Are McLuhan’s ideas useful or misleading?

I find that McLuhan’s observations are incredibly useful, especially considering the time period in which he defined this theory. Initially the usage of media was very limited due to lack of knowledge and information but now, people can read and have access to any kind of information which they desire from the wide array of media. It has helped in the development as well as the democratization among people. Additionally, new media has enables people to access and to share information around the world and has reduced the gap in communication.

So while McLuhan’s theory may hold true to today’s new technologies, how will his theory apply to future technologies?

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