Media Theory Throughout the Years

By: Patrick O’Shea

Word Count: 578

Medium theory is centered on the specific characteristics of media and how it impacts the individual and society. For example, how are the various types of communicating different physically, psychologically, and socially from human interaction? Media is a concept that affects whole social environments; it’s not just a way to communicate with one another.


Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan were the two men among the first generation of medium theorists. One of Innis’ main ideas was that social and political power is connected to the idea of communication impacting society. The printing press allowed the public to be in possession of the Bible, instead of the Church solely having possession of holy scribes. McLuhan focuses on how new forms of media change the the perception of whole societies. Additionally, McLuhan argued that media has an affect on the human body as well. In his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, McLuhan writes “It is the persistent theme of this book that all technologies are extensions of our physical and nervous system to increase power and speed” (90). McLuhan summarized the history of medium theory into three major periods: oral, writing/printing, and electronic.

Oral societies depended on the memory of the people in order to uphold ideas. It was an era where the culture and people were closely knit together. Oral societies were shut out from stretching their ideas. It was extremely complicated to remember expressions, novel ideas, and complex arguments in cultures that have little options to write them and down. However, because of their compact community, they gained social and sensory experience. The oral world develops the senses of hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch.

The next era is that of the printing press. The introduction of the printing press and other printed materials separates society. The poor and illiterate remained in the oral society, while the high middle class and the upper class broke off from the community by going to libraries and other institutions to write down their ideas. People no longer share similar experiences because the oral community is unable to understand the things written down.


The electronic media era recalls a characteristic of oral society but in a different manner. Electronic media brought about action, awareness, and response like an oral society. However, it differs in that it allows us to spread information to massive amounts of people. It allowed society to communicate across all areas of the world.

Web 2.0 can be explained as “a way to interactively share information and collaborate using the World Wide Wibe” (Manno). It changes the way we interact on the Internet. Our whole society is becoming a part of the Internet. We no longer just use it as a tool. Social media allows us to receive the opinions of people all across the world on a certain subject. It’s easy access through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others that allows doing it. The amount of communicating done through Web 2.0 is so necessary in today’s competitive business world. Web 2.0 provides businesses with an efficient way of gaining consumers attention through the Internet. Students need it for the sake of their personal network to get them a job. Web 2.0 can have a negative affect on society as well. The upcoming generation that has been subject to Web 2.0 may lose social skills that businesses will be looking for. Sometimes a face-to-face relationship is more important than simply sending them an email.


Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man- Marshall McLuhan


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