Book of the Week

Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage

An experimental 1967 collaboration between the originator of media analysis and a major designer has new meaning today.

“When this circuit learns your job, what are you going to do?”

“The wheel is an extension of the foot, the book is an extension of the eye, clothing an extension of the skin, electric circuitry an extension of the central nervous system.”

“The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act—the way we perceive the world.”

Media philosopher Marshall McLuhan (1939–80) sought to explain the effects of different electronic media, which he saw as having a larger influence on shaping culture than the information being communicated by that media. In The Medium is the Massage (Gingko Press, 2001, Penguin Books, 2008)—originally published in 1967 by Bantam—McLuhan collaborated with the groundbreaking graphic designer Quentin Fiore to distill the theorist’s provocative, complex ideas into a powerful image-driven experience for the general reader.

“This small paperback is the result of a typo at the printing house that McLuhan embraced and used to create a ‘reader’s digest’ version of his The Medium is the Message,” says Designers & Books contributor Carola Zwick, of the Berlin-based Studio 7.5. “It uses visual means to support his idea that human artifacts serve as extensions of the human body and brain.” Pentagram’s Abbott Miller, who also includes the book on his list for Designers & Books, calls The Medium is the Massage “an exceptional case study of a partnership between a public intellectual and a great designer.” Contributor and “visual literature” specialist Warren Lehrer comments: “The book visualized how technologies from the wheel to the telephone are extensions of our bodies and create a sense of comfort as well as anxiety. Some pages were printed backward and were meant to be read in a mirror; others were left completely blank.”

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