This week the focus was on Marshall McLuhan. The wonderful film about his life, “McLuhan’s Wake”, was central to the focus. There are many outlets to discovering Marshall McLuhan and his work but it was not until the pursuit of my PhD in media psychology that I was introduced. The 4 laws of media resonated as a discussion topic.
McLuhan is a visionary, a man of great insight and critical thought. McLuhan’s work has affected how psychology is applied to media. Media psychology has a ground level or foundation in which it is built and McLuhan challenged society to change its frame of reference when discussing the future of technology.
Marshall McLuhan’s “4 laws of media” were introduced as an insight of the advertising industry and open the doors for the idea of a Global Village. Enhance, retrieve, reverse and obsolesce are described as the 4 laws of media. McLuhan created a tetrad to help examine the interlocking of these laws.
Humans are consumed with technology, especially new media technology that must be examined in ways that demonstrate what the benefits are and the understanding of what new possibilities that can result from new media. What is being enhanced? When the cell phone was introduced to society it allowed people to communicate more and basically made the home phone obsolete. Some people actually replace their home phone with the cell phone. But, the Internet technology required a phone line. Factors like, privacy, natural disasters and Internet and cable television gave reason for phone lines to return to its original use as a landline. The “reverse” law examines the idea of when pushed to the limit; can the new media reverse the original characteristics? This law applies to the cell phone and landline technology. Cell phone consumption has reversed the need of home phones. The “retrieve” law applies to the ability of the new media to reintroduce the benefits of media that was once lost, making the once obsolete essential again. Here again, the phone line is retrieved. Finally the “obsolesce” law refers to media, which is no longer essential because of the introduction of new media. These laws have proven to be consistently in motion whether individuals are aware of it or not.
Over time there has been many examples of the laws in action. During our history we played music on records that then became 8 track tapes that lead to cassette tapes and then to the CD format. Today we have the ability to stream and download music from computers and smart phones. One media technology replacing another actually created a better music listening experience. Also today we see that as media progresses individuals have choices that they did not have previously.
Many people appreciate albums and have a record player that allows them to digitize that record (album). The creation of Hip Hop music allowed for albums to stay around long enough to still be prevalent in social use. Technology continues to work its way back to where it came from. This has been described as the “now, again” aesthetic. What used to be in the past or obsolete is “now” again.
There are many examples of “laws of media” and once an individual has the opportunity to absorb this information, possibly, a foundation for media literacy is defined. The challenge is to look for laws of media at work in individuals’ own life and media experience. The “laws of media” is a revelation. McLuhan continued with other theories that helped to explain, almost scientifically, the world today. With respect to readers, McLuhan is right and has given society more reason than ever to use history as way to carving a future.