Marshall McLuhan, an expert on the implications of the media, developed a theory in which technology becomes an extension of the human body. In “The Playboy Interview:Marshall McLuhan” by Playboy Magazine, McLuhan states that, “all media, from the phonetic alphabet to the computer, are extensions of man that cause deep and lasting changes in him and transform his environment.” This means that any technology we use in our everyday lives is expanding a particular part of our body, and throwing off the equilibrium of our senses. For example, clothing is an extension of the skin, the alphabet is an extension of the eye, and computer keyboards are an extension of the hands.
With this theory clearly articulated, it is obvious that such extensions take place in my everyday routines as well as yours. I agree with McLuhan’s theory on extensions, as it is apparent that media is capable of encompassing both our body parts and our senses. For instance, when we watch television, our sense of touch is altered. Basically, we are propelled out of the reality of sitting on the couch, to the reality that exists within the television screen. Furthermore, human beings are forced to actively participate in the watching of a television show. Viewers are required to use their minds to put the indistinct components of a television image together, thus involving the viewer entirely. This is described by McLuhan as a very cool medium, as it requires concentrated participation and low definition to be watched.
If watching the television requires so much participation from the viewer, how is it possible that humans can take on other activities while watching a television show? Some people are able to carry on a conversation while remembering the specific details of a show, while others need to have complete focus. Again, I still agree with McLuhan’s theory on extensions, in that a sense is broadened when interacting with the media. However, the act of extending our body may not be a negative concept. If one is able to watch television, wear clothes, and write at the same time, they are completely immersed in the world around them. This shows a human’s true association with their surroundings, and it displays a certain degree of intelligence. The media helps humans unite with their environment and become more immersed in the world. Through active participation with the media, our senses are expanded, which proves the brain’s ability to compute more than one piece of information at a time, making us more intelligent individuals. This may even help us to realize our environment without having to learn a new one, which McLuhan says is a downfall of the human lifestyle.
Scott McCloud’s expertise on comic books can also be considered with this theory. He believes that the human mind plays a significant role in understanding the content and format of a comic book. With a concept called “closure,” humans actively make sense of the world around them. When McCloud states, “In film, closure takes place continuously… In fact, as our minds, aided by the persistence of vision, transform a series of still pictures into a story of continuous motion” (McCloud 65), one can see the correlation between this theory and McLuhan’s, along with the idea that the mind and the senses are always involved and extended to comprehend the media. Viewing the media entails more than just a blank stare. It requires involvement of the mind and the senses in order to be understood.
When listening to music, I am extending my ears. When I watch television, I am altering my sense of touch. I am interacting with my two favourite mediums more than I realize, as I am inviting them into my mind and body. Such a partnership is invisible, but it is in fact there. Technology has the power to bring us into an entirely different world. Whether it is an extension of one part of the body, the engrossing of one of the senses, or a compilation of both, technology can invade our everyday lives with both positive and negative effects.
(This is Blog #5: Theory/Praxis)
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994.
“The Playboy Interview: Marshall McLuhan.” Playboy Magazine. March 1960. Web. 2 Oct. 2009. <http://heim.ifi.uio.no/~gisle/links/mcluhan/pb.html>.