That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? The theory by Marshall McLuhan is actually quite simple and is likely something you’ve heard before. Technological determinism is the idea of how media technologies affect patterns of human thinking and human beings’ ways of relating to the world around them (Rosenberry & Vicker, pg. 134). You may have heard this theory being described as “the global village” or “the medium is the message.”
Technological determination is defined as a theory that assumes that a society’s technology determines the development of its social structure and cultural values. We live in a time where media is consumed daily and is more accessible than ever before. We carry tiny computers in our pockets that have abundant information on a variety of different topics. Now we can even pay bills, do banking online, and share our most intimate moments with our family and friends with a tap of a finger. This theory explains some of the behaviors we exhibit simply based on the technology we use to gain information — we perceive the world around us not only based on the media we consume but how we consume it. “A society dominated by electronic media will differ from a print-dominated one because people relate to the world around them according to which senses they use to learn about it,” (Rosenberry & Vicker, pg.135).
Three focal points of McLuhan’s ideas are the media being the extension of man, how media relates to culture, and how technology grants people the ability to view the world around us. McLuhan describes the media as an extension of the human body. “…a person can dig a hole with his hands or dig it with a shovel; the tool of the shovel extends the capacity of the hands and creates conditions under which the hole can be dug faster and more efficiently,” (Rosenberry & Vicker, pg. 136). Essentially, media gives us the opportunity to listen and experience things without having to be there when they occur.
“The media is the message” is a phrase I’m sure most people of heard of; that phrase comes from McLuhan himself. This point in the theory explores how society is changed based on how messages are communicated. For example, someone chooses to watch television rather than read a magazine. This theory questions how this affects the way people perceive society.
The last focal point of this theory I will be discussing is McLuhan describing electronic media as a “global village.” With the technological advances we have today, we can be connected with people and events all over the world. Technology has bridged that connection and has made it easier to communicate with people.
While all of these focal points are accurate, especially for someone in a time where traditional media was king, there are some limitations that I think could not have been foreseen. For example, misinformation, social media and its effects on mental health, and online bullying. While technology has made things more accessible and easier to communicate with, it has its drawbacks that we have begun to see grow rapidly. Misinformation spreads wildly on several platforms that indicate a certain bias, social media has affected younger generations in that they should look/live a certain way, and online bullying has drastic effects on those affiliated.
McLuhan has some incredibly inciteful ideas about communication and technology — and I think they are very accurate. Technology has made communication easier in a lot of different ways; it’s become more accessible, information is found with the tap of a finger, and media like social media has created communities of people from all around the world.
Rosenberry, J., & Vicker, L. A. (2017). Applied mass communication theory: A guide for media practitioners. Routledge.