To What Extend Does Marshall McLuhan’s Concept of ‘Cool Media’ Apply to Contemporary Television
Herbert Marshall McLuhan was a famous Canadian philosopher, academic and founder member of modern media studies. He came into the limelight when he published the book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man in the 1960s. Famous for the phrase “the medium is the message,” McLuhan asserted that each medium of communication whether visual or audio is simply an extension of the aspects affecting an individual and the society at large. These media include newspapers, television, light bulbs, cars, speech, language and radio. They affect our perception and understanding of the world we live in (McLuhan, 1964). McLuhan also categorizes these media as either hot or cool based on the degree of participation that it demanded from the individual. Hot media is one which engages the human senses in an exclusive way and in high resolution such as the radio and film. Cool media involves viewer interaction and is of a lower resolution such as television and telephone.
McLuhan always insisted on the concept of the media being a form of extension of a man’s senses. He says that this media always gave the real content of how events occurred in its bid of acting as the messenger. He says that the media in its own self as a medium can change the perception that an individual has towards life in his everyday encounters. This is so because it gives a clear picture of what goes on around the individual on a daily basis. Because this media is the medium of conveying information to man, the message that it bears is determined by those who control it. An example is when Hitler used the media to convey messages of fascism. Castro on the other hand used it to pass the message of democracy to his people. Whether the medium used is the radio or the television, the goal at the end of it all is to get mass support.
McLuhan used his knowledge about the media to classify them into two different categories. Basing his criteria on the participation and information levels, he categorized into either hot or cold. He termed any form of media that had got a low participation level but had a very high content when it came to information as hot (Scannell, 2007). These were mediums of media like the radio or the lectures. The other form of media that had got a low content in the information conveyed but a engaged a higher participation was said to be cold or cool. Examples of these forms of mediums as explained by McLuhan included the seminars and also the television broadcasts. Using his classifications or categorizations, it was now able for one to predict whether a certain method of conveying information would have been effective or not.
In emphasizing the effectiveness of the form of media used, McLuhan cites an example from two iconic presidents of the United States. He refers to President Kennedy and President Nixon.
These two presidents have overtime been known for the way they portrayed impressionable persona on the television. Kennedy was known to be a calm and cool individual who gave himself a low-definition in the eyes of the supporters. Nixon on the other hand tended to be more aggressive and very hot spoken. This gave him the persona of a high definition man. Because of his ‘hotness’ and aggressiveness, Nixon was not able to convey the message he had for his supporters in an orderly composed manner. This in the end cost him the presidency. Kennedy on the other hand was the people’s favorite because of his composed nature. He was able to communicate with them effectively (McLuhan, 1964).
McLuhan used the example of these two individuals to further and clearly explain the concept of being hot or cold. In the current world, the radio stations have been known to be more interactive with the audience than the television stations. The radio is much cooler than the television simply because it does allow a lot of participation and numerous numbers of listeners can call in to have their view about a certain subject heard. The television gives almost everything at the same time to the viewer especially when hosting live-talk shows or reading the news. This is the reason why it is considered as being hot. Up to today it is still very clear that the television demands the full concentration of the viewers mind and body in order to get what is being conveyed. It makes one use his entire nervous system to concentrate on what is being broadcasted whereas the radio is known to only engage the aural system of any individual.
In describing how technology has affected the way that man thinks nowadays, McLuhan has used three examples to portray this. These three innovations are the phonetic language, the movable type of communication and the telegraph (Silverstone, 1999). According to the arguments by McLuhan, it can be seen that every mechanical invention that there is out there always has the printing press to thank for its achievement. The three factors mentioned by McLuhan were seen to have been responsible for the evolution of man from being a tribal man to a ‘Gutenberg man’. This was the start of the revolution of the world. The printing press became a medium between the common man and the rich man and they could now share the same knowledge.
McLuhan takes another critic look into the present day forms of media when he talks about the tribal man. He dwells on the subject of how the tribal man existed peacefully with his environment and his kinship (Meyrowitz, 2002). He uses his description of how the tribal man used to survive in the community relying on his colleagues for information compared to the complex life lived by many people nowadays in isolation. Most of the people in the modern world rely on the different forms of media as a path of communication between them and their colleagues. They rely in the secondary information given by the media for their knowledge of what is going on around them. This is by far a worse trend according to McLuhan considering how the tribal man used to get first hand information by communicating and discussing with his colleagues.
It is thus not a surprising thing the way that McLuhan predicted how life was going to be in the digital world. He did this back then when there was not even a single sign of development of the internet in the world. The most important part of his prediction was how he saw the evolution and rise of the connected man also referred to as the integral man. In his descriptions, McLuhan spoke of the integral man as being in a fully connected world where he has everything bound to everything and nothing is beyond his reach. As McLuhan describes, there would be no boundary to what the integral man is capable of achieving. Everything is possible when taking into consideration the networking that will be available and the media can once again act as an important point of linking the whole world together. The computers in this age will have the capability of reading their owners minds and on their own broadcast what the person is thinking. McLuhan saw this as being the next step in the advancement of the communication industry (Winston, 1998). This will be a world where the emotions and expressions will be given a bigger consideration other than the normal analysis and consciousness. The world was going to be transformed into no longer a world of scientists, but now a world of artists.
McLuhan was considered to be a very visionary person who had a keen eye and was very observant. For him to understand the world that he lived in, he distanced from it and set himself aside so he could view it and critically analyze it. After a period of time, he came to understand how it works and based on his findings predicted the path and shape that the world would take. He charted down the path that he felt man would definitely follow over the next couple of years to come.
The writings of McLuhan were sometimes too complicated even for him to understand them. He admitted to this saying that his thoughts were too complicated for him to follow and understand them all. However, this has always had a positive impact on his readers as they sought to find out what it was that he was trying to put forth in his writings. Even though his writings were not the easiest to digest or understand instantly, the words in his writings bore a very heavy message on the ways that the world should adopt in order to realize change and a better sense of direction in how things are run. This according to him would make the world to be not only more connected, but to also share genuine information on what is happening around them as well as how to change anything that is not beneficial and hence make the world a better place.