Maybe the Medium isn’t the Message Anymore.


McLuhan describes hot mediums as ones that ask for little audience participation and only engage few senses. Examples of hot mediums as given by McLuhan are print media, like newspapers, and movies. By contrast, cool mediums give the viewer less information and allow their audience to fill in their own blanks. McLuhan called mediums such as comics and television cool. 

It’s difficult to apply McLuhan’s theory of “hot” and “cool” mediums to the internet, or to most modern media for that matter. Today, you can choose to engage with things as much or as little as you want to. There’s different levels of engagement depending on what exactly the media you are consuming is. Saying “the internet” is a hot or cool medium way oversimplifies what the internet actually is. “The internet” could be Twitter or Snapchat, which could be considered “hot” media, or it could be or Wikipedia, which require more attention and more reading comprehension, so they could be considered “cool” mediums. But even that doesn’t really hold up, as people use all of these platforms for different reasons. Some people rely on Twitter as a news source and place to organize and not just to add to other people’s posts with unfunny GIFs, so would that make Twitter a “hot medium” then? Or is one part of Twitter hot and another part of Twitter cool? I believe that McLuhan’s theory is appropriate for the popular mediums of his time, but maybe not past the 1980’s.

Let’s talk about a medium of communication and entertainment that no man who lived past 1980 would have even dreamed of- video games. Yes, there were video games in the 80’s, but not like today’s ultra 4k surround sound FPS video games. These days, video games are sometimes created to tell a story and communicate real world ideas to their audience. But, some are also just created to entertain. You will not walk out of a session of playing  Candy Crush or Stardew Valley with a new perspective on your own life or on current events and they engage multiple senses, like McLuhan’s definition of “hot” media. However, there are very difficult video games you can play, like platformers and puzzle games. These games, like the “hot” games, engage with multiple senses (touch, sound, sight), but in order to play them, the participants must use critical thinking, logic, and hand-eye coordination and there is little room to fill in their own blanks. These games are neither “hot” nor “cool”.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *