Strengths & Limitations of McLuhan’s Ideas

Have you ever heard of Marshall McLuhan or his theory on technological determinism? 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. Marshall McLuhan is the philosopher and media theorists who coined the thought behind the theory that “the medium is the message.” Essentially, the theory emphasizes that the way we send and receive information is more important than the information itself.

Marshall McLuhan

3 Strengths of McLuhan’s Ideas

  • Marshall McLuhan in 1964 suggested that technologies of mass media make sure culture transmission in a social fabric which ultimately changes man’s social behavior. He states “We shape our tools and they in turn shape us.” This idea can be applicable to current day and how social media plays a role in our every day lives. Social media can be seen as a tool that we manipulate, but because of our manipulation, then manipulates us (the users).
  • McLuhan’s allusion to the eventual “cooling down” of media was a spot-on prediction. The “hotcold” metaphor outlines that hot levels of audience engagement are those that can’t add to an experience and are passive. And cold levels are those consumers who are able to influence or even actively participate with the media. This, again, can be seen today through the implementation of social media.
  • Mass media and technology are ever changing, and McLuhan’s theory can be applicable throughout various time periods because of the generalized statements.

3 Limitations of McLuhan’s Ideas

  • 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.
Humans choose the media.
  • This approach fails to provide means of understanding the structure of the work of the structures themselves. It can be seen a theory that generalizes the mass media.
  • 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.
Global Village

I find that McLuhan’s observations are incredibly useful, especially considering the time period in which he defined this theory. McLuhan established an idea that the world would be interconnected and led by the power of mass media. Social media would then come to use decades later, and would make his theory of interconnectedness a reality.

Graduate student at the University of Florida