McLuhan, Marshall. (1962) The Gutenberg Galaxy


The Elizabethans were caught between a social system focused on community (oral) and a new one focused on the individual (typographic and mechanical).  The electronic age is reversing that pattern so that we are now reverting to communal modes of social exchange:

” we reverse their pattern by confronting an electric technology which would seem to render individualism obsolete and the corporate interdependence mandatory.”

The mechanical revolution was not just the introduction of print and mechanics.  It also required a revolution in thought, belief, values and attitudes.  This book traces “the ways in which the forms of experience and of mental outlook and expression have been modified, first by the phonetic alphabet and then by printing.”  Thought processes and mental outlook are shaped by the alphabet, literacy and printing (similar to Ong).  Just as the introduction of money in the ancient times required society to restructure in order to accommodate it, printing requires our society to be structured a certain way.

Media as “The Extensions of Man”

Man has developed tools (“extensions”) for every task that used to be accomplished with the body – ex. Guns as weapons, clothes as temperature regulation, furniture as posture.  Media is the extension of man’s voice.

The Gutenberg Galaxy

The alphabet “alters the ration among our senses and changes mental processes.” “When technology extends one out our senses, a new translation of culture occurs as swiftly as the new technology is interiorized.”  This is the premise to his later assertion that “the medium IS the message.” For example, Ancient Greece was a tribal society, “the product of speech, drum and ear technologies.”  The alphabet detribalized and opened ancient Greece.  However, this is now being reversed by the retribalizing effects of the electronic age:

“The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.”

In other words, information is no longer restricted by time and space.  Instant electronic communication recreates the world as a single village.

In closed, tribal societies, slavery and class division are considered “natural.”  When this society opens up, tension and insecurity develop,  This strain is “the price we have to pay for being human.”


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