McLuhan: Media as Art Forms

“The use of the term ‘mass media’ has been unfortunate. All media, especially languages, are mass media so far at least as their range in space and time is concerned. If by ‘mass media’ is meant a mechanized mode of a previous communication channel, then printing is the first of the mass media. Press, telegraph, wireless, gramophone, movie, radio, TV, are mutations of the mechanization of writing, speech, gesture. Insofar as mechanization introduces the ‘mass’ dimension, it may refer to a collective effort in the use of the medium, to larger audiences or to instantaneity of reception. Again, all of these factors may create difficulty of ‘feedback’ or lack of rapport between ‘speaker’ and audience. There has been very little discussion of any of these questions, thanks to the gratuitous assumption that communication is a matter of transmission of information, message or idea. This assumption blinds people to the aspect of communication as participation in a common situation. And it leads to ignoring the form of communication as the basic art situation which is more significant than the information or idea ‘transmitted’.”

McLuhan, Marshall. 1954. ‘Notes on the Media as Art Forms’. Explorations. Studies in Culture and Communication 2 (August): 6–13, 6. Edited by Edmund S. Carpenter.

(This is still one of my favourite McLuhan quotes. I makes a blast, and resets our intuitions. Mass mediation is just an effect of mechanization taking command – now go insert ‘cooperation’ instead of 1950s ‘communication‘!)