Those who try to understand our world or any aspect of it will never run out of content to support their theories. While new approaches or applications of varying theories are constantly being developed, there are a few theories that many use as the basis for their concepts. Marshall McLuhan’s Technological Determinism is one that has evolved over time as different mediums have progressed for how we communicate and receive information.
As humans developed, our communication was all oral, and the only way to know about an experience was by hearing or experiencing it. This was known as the Tribal Paradigm. As society grew, this was replaced by the Print Paradigm, where linear thinking creates a need for order and structure. Evolving further to the Electronic Paradigm, this extended ability to see and hear at distances which uses more senses and therefore is not a linear experience (2017, Rosenberry, J. & Vicker).
A key feature of McLuhan’s progressive theories is that society will differ when dominated by electronic media rather than print-based, in which sense they learn to use to relate to the world around them. The content of programs or shows does not matter in this theory as it is more about the fact that someone is choosing to watch television rather than reading a magazine. It is about the way the media is being consumed, and this affects the individual and, furthermore, our social systems.
This theory has provided a few strong points in understanding how and why we communicate the way we do. There is no doubt that we have seen society change and mold as technology has advanced. From making appointments to do-it-yourself videos, understanding the why has helped us communicate better and become more efficient. Additionally, McLuhan points out that technology can be a bridge between cultures, a “global village,” as he calls it, and we have seen that happen. People are able to share their traditions and practices more, making it easier for others to learn and understand those who are different from them. Finally, McLuhan discusses the idea that computers are an extension of humans, and we see this to be true and reinforced as we program them to do what we need. Like the human brain, it takes complex algorithms and systems to process the actions we need to complete a task. A computer just appears to do it quicker when we take for granted how much power we need for everyday life. How long does your battery take to recharge? Which battery do you think of when I ask, your computer or you?
However, there are a few limitations to McLuhan’s ideas and concepts. This reliance on technology that has been created has led to dependency for some. This fixation is one that people will not give up willingly as we have become accustomed to life with it, and in ways, it would be irresponsible not to use what has been created. Furthermore, McLuhan claims that there is a direct correlation and causation between communication and our consumption methods. However, there has not been a strong case of causation shown or proven in his findings. We have seen people break away from their different chosen media and not let them dictate their existence.
Lastly, the idea that it does not matter what is being consumed but instead how is a dangerous disconnect. Ignoring the idea that the type of content people consume is irrelevant is a critical part that we have seen influence society. Our sharing of information and trends is what creates fads and connections between people. There cannot be how without the what as the how influences the what. I mean, do you remember the early 2000’s trends? I am sure we all did not come up with that on our own. We let these low-rise jeans and sweatsuits control our lives.
Nonetheless, McLuhan’s theory established an important part of how we use and look at technology. With his passing in 1980, we did not get to see how he would expand his ideas as modern technology grew. It can be easy to question the theories when they may not be applied in the same way he would have intended. Our communication styles will always be changing and trying to meet our expectations. I am sure every workplace will struggle with communication, and if your place of work has it mastered, can I join the team? Or maybe comment and share your techniques because I am sure we could benefit and even connect them with McLuhan’s theory.
Rosenberry, J. & Vicker, L. A. (2017). Applied Mass Communication Theory: A Guide for Media Practitioners. Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group