In his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Marshall McLuhan describes media as “extensions of the body” (7). While I agree with this assertion, I believe in a definition of media that takes Mcluhan’s theory a few steps further. While media act as extensions of our physical body, they also act as extensions of our emotions and thoughts, therefore allowing us as humans to more effectively interact with one another.
This definition I have proposed is similar to the ideas McLuhan states in his book. By picturing different media as extensions of the body, McLuhan is demonstrating the way a medium can allow for a message to be transmitted between a set of individuals. A telephone, for example, is a medium because it allows for an instant conversation with the person who is on the other line. The telephone is an extension of the body in this sense because it acts as a way to transmit your voice to others across long distances, which would not be possible without the device. While media can be extensions of physical functions such as speech or sight, I believe that the way certain media can act as extensions of our ideas and creativity is truly powerful.
One of the earliest forms of media that humans used as an extension of thoughts is typographic media, or the written word. By utilizing handwriting and printed type, people were able to craft ordinary words and thoughts into mesmerizing stories and scholarly articles. The alphabet or characters of a language by themselves are seemingly plain, but when they are written down into one’s individual thoughts or ideas, they can become much more powerful and meaningful. Prior to the availability of print, people used oral speech to convey thoughts, ideas, and stories. With the technological advancement of print, however, these thoughts could be transcribed and spread amongst a wider audience. This demonstrates how technological advances can play a role in the effectiveness of new types of media.
As new technologies are developed and types of media are enhanced, there are both positive changes and negative changes. One certain positive change is the wide array of ways a person can extend their thoughts and ideas to others. An example of this would be Film. Before the technology of cinema and cameras, people would use oral speech as a way to convey messages and evoke feelings. Now, though, a film director can make you feel happy or sad through the film they create, as opposed to someone merely telling you which way to feel. The combination of pictures and speech in the film appeal to multiple bodily senses and allow the audience member to receive the director’s message in a deeper and more connected way.
An example of the negative impact of technology might be the emergence of social media. By using Facebook or Myspace, for example, you are able to contact almost anyone in the world without ever leaving your computer. This is certainly a medium, as McLuhan describes media as anything that “amplifies or accelerates existing processes” (8). While social media accelerate our communication, the physicality of meeting and talking to someone face to face is no longer there when sending a Facebook message. It seems to me that as technology allows new forms of media to emerge, the need for accelerated interaction trumps the interpersonal meetings that older forms of media, like oral speech, were founded upon.
When defining media, it is obvious that there are many different opinions on how to characterize this broad topic. I feel that the definition used by McLuhan that identifies media as extensions of the body is one of the most concise. Technological advances also have helped play a role in defining media, as there are now many different types of media in our day to day life. As technology continues to advance, one wonders whether or not new types of media will help or hinder the way we transfer messages and communicate with one another.