SMW Toronto: Updating Marshall McLuhan for Social Media – Is The Social Medium The Message?

This past Wednesday, as I stepped off the street on a stinging, cold February Toronto night and into the modern-décor, members-only Spoke Club, I found myself among the surprisingly mixed company anticipating Robert K. Logan's presentation on "Smartphones, Cocktails and 100 Years of McLuhan".

This past Wednesday, as I stepped off the street on a stinging, cold February Toronto night and into the modern-décor, members-only Spoke Club, I found myself among the surprisingly mixed company anticipating Robert K. Logan’s presentation on “Smartphones, Cocktails and 100 Years of McLuhan”. In the classy atmosphere, one could be excused for straightening their back, taking a deep breath and bracing themselves for a night of formal introductions and fun, yet ultimately showy discussions. Fortunately, the occasion of the night was part of Toronto’s Social Media Week, and the crowd was eager for meaty conversation, putting their analytic efforts into discussions of how Facebook fits into McLuhan’s theory of the “global village”.

Specifically, the event was celebrating the release of Dr. Robert K. Logan’s new book, “Understanding New Media: Extending Marshall McLuhan”, a revised view of McLuhan’s theories in light of contemporary social media. Dr. Logan, or “Bob” as he introduced himself, is a longtime professor of Physics at the University of Toronto whose path crossed with McLuhan for several projects, including “The Alphabet Effect“, a fascinating analysis of the effect of the alphabet on our ways of structuring thought and reason.

In Logan’s new book, he is updating McLuhan’s seminal media theory work, “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man” to make sense of our social “mediums” like email, Facebook and Twitter. McLuhan’s original work focused on explaining the role of all ‘mediums’ as they pertain to our communications with one another. Specifically, the medium defines the messages that we’re able to express, and that theory led to his famous and often quoted concept of “the medium is the message”. McLuhan’s go-to example was always to explain that the medium of a light bulb allowed man to live in what were once dark spaces, and that medium had a profound effect on the communications we’ve had ever since.

It was clear from the very start that Bob had internalized much of McLuhan’s work, and that what he was trying to do with the book was bring it up to speed by classifying several of McLuhan’s theories with respect to modern day media. Ideas like our “remix culture” are addressed in the new literature, and Robert went on to tease the book by explaining his categorization of the fourteen “messages of new media”. The ideas are listed below the photo gallery from the event, as is a link to the book itself. Of course, while jumping from topic to topic about the book, Robert K. Logan would drop gems like the controversial idea that technology and science evolved the way it did in the West due to the presence of monotheism and a strict code of law. Needless to say, the event had the audience somewhat spellbound, although I’m not entirely sure if everyone in attendance was following all the way along. I know I had my lapses.

Here’s the list of the “fourteen messages of new media”, which Logan explained during his dialogue, and a link to buy the book. Logan also explained the McLuhan Legacy Network, check it out if you’re interested in helping restore the McLuhan legacy in Canada and around the world. I hope you do!

Two-way communication, Ease of Access to and Dissemination of Information, Continuous Learning, Alignment and Integration, The Creation of Community, Portability, Convergence, Interoperatability, Aggregation of Content, Variety, Choice and the Long Tail, Reintegration of the Consumer and the Producer, Cooperation, Remix Culture and The Transition from Products to Services.