The Medium Is the Massage
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Cover of the first UK edition, published by Penguin Books (1967)
|Subject||History of communication, Communications|
The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects is a book co-created by media analyst Marshall McLuhan and graphic designer Quentin Fiore, and coordinated by Jerome Agel. It was published by Bantam books in 1967 and became a bestseller with a cult following.
The book is 160 pages in length and composed in an experimental, collage style with text superimposed on visual elements and vice versa. Some pages are printed backwards and are meant to be read in a mirror (see Mirror writing). Some are intentionally left blank. Most contain photographs and images both modern and historic, juxtaposed in startling ways.
Origin of the title
The title is a play on McLuhan's oft-quoted saying "The medium is the message". The book was initiated by Quentin Fiore. McLuhan adopted the term "massage" to denote the effect each medium has on the human sensorium, taking inventory of the "effects" of numerous media in terms of how they "massage" the sensorium.
According to McLuhan biographer W. Terrence Gordon, "by the time it appeared in 1967, McLuhan no doubt recognized that his original saying had become a cliché and welcomed the opportunity to throw it back on the compost heap of language to recycle and revitalize it. But the new title is more than McLuhan indulging his insatiable taste for puns, more than a clever fusion of self-mockery and self-rescue — the subtitle is 'An Inventory of Effects,' underscoring the lesson compressed into the original saying." (Gordon, p. 175.)
However, the FAQ section on the website maintained by McLuhan's estate says that this interpretation is incomplete and makes its own leap of logic as to why McLuhan left it as is:
"Why is the title of the book The Medium is the Massage and not The Medium is the Message? Actually, the title was a mistake. When the book came back from the typesetter's, it had on the cover 'Massage' as it still does. The title was supposed to have read The Medium is the Message but the typesetter had made an error. When McLuhan saw the typo he exclaimed, 'Leave it alone! It's great, and right on target!' Thus, there are now four possible readings for the last word of the title, all of them accurate: Message and Mess Age, Massage and Mass Age."
Marshall McLuhan argues that technologies — from clothing to the wheel to the book, and beyond — are the messages themselves, not the content of the communication. In essence, The Medium is the Massage is a graphical and creative representation of his "medium is the message" thesis seen in Understanding Media.
By playing on words and utilizing the term "massage," McLuhan is suggesting that modern audiences have found current media to be soothing, enjoyable, and relaxing; however, the pleasure we find in new media is deceiving, as the changes between society and technology are incongruent and are perpetuating an Age of Anxiety.
All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. (p. 26)
The Medium is the Massage demonstrates how modern media are extensions of human senses; they ground us in physicality, but expand our ability to perceive our world to an extent that would be impossible without the media. These extensions of perception contribute to McLuhan’s theory of the Global Village, which would bring humanity full circle to an industrial analogue of tribal mentality.
Finally, McLuhan described key points of change in how people have viewed the world and how those views have been affected and altered by the adoption of new media. "The technique of invention was the discovery of the nineteenth [century]", brought on by the adoption of fixed points of view and perspective by typography, while "[t]he technique of the suspended judgment is the discovery of the twentieth century", brought on by the bard abilities of radio, movies and television.
Fiore, at the time a prominent graphic designer and communications consultant, set about composing the visual illustration of these effects which were compiled by Jerome Agel. Near the beginning of the book, Fiore adopted a pattern in which an image demonstrating a media effect was presented with a textual synopsis on the facing page. The reader experiences a repeated shifting of analytic registers—from "reading" typographic print to "scanning" photographic facsimiles—reinforcing McLuhan's overarching argument in this book: namely, that each medium produces a different "massage" or "effect" on the human sensorium.
An audio recording based on the book was made by Columbia Records in the late 1960s, produced by John Simon but otherwise keeping the same credits as the book. The recording consists of a pastiche of statements made by McLuhan interrupted by other speakers, including people speaking in various phonations and falsettos, discordant sounds and 1960s incidental music in what could be considered a deliberate attempt to translate the disconnected images seen on TV into an audio format, resulting in the prevention of a connected stream of conscious thought. Various audio recording techniques and statements are used to illustrate the relationship between spoken, literary speech and the characteristics of electronic audio media. McLuhan biographer Philip Marchand called the recording "the 1967 equivalent of a McLuhan video."
- McLuhan & Fiore, 1967
- Understanding Media, p. 68.
- The Medium Is the Massage, Marshall McLuhan, Quentin Fiore. John Simon, producer. Conceived and co-ordinated by Jerome Agel. Columbia Stereo CS 9501, Mono CL 2701, ca. 1968
- Marchand (1998), p.187.