Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message”

Marshall Mcluhan’s “The Medium is the Message” is an important communications theory that has informed our creative process for decades now. It’s central claim revolves around the idea of the form that a message is in is the most important part of the message rather than it’s actual written message. Well some may argue that the medium isn’t the most important part of a message, the medium does still largely influence our interpretation of messages, the spread of a message, and a messages lifespan. 

A really good example of this may be the phonograph record that NASA enclosed on the Voyager when it launched in 1977. The phonograph record is a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk that contains a variety of media that in theory would demonstrate the diversity of life on our planet if it were to meet extraterrestrial life. This however is a large assumption made by humanity, of all mediums to send a message to advanced alien life, we sent two records. 

This instance of attempted communication proves Marshall Mcluhan’s “The Medium is the Message” to be right. If an alien lifeform does receive this message they must be able to understand the medium that was intercepted before being able to receive the message. What happens if they can’t understand or figure out how to use the records? Well then they don’t receive the message. where as if NASA had opted for another mode of communication it may be easier for aliens to receive the transmitted message. Well there are other variables that went into this decision and why NASA chose phonograph records, It serves as a prime example of how Marshall Mcluhan’s theory works. 

Bringing the theory back down to Earth where we understand a lot more about communication between two separate parties. We can see how messages and their meanings change between mediums. Another example may include receiving a collaged letter in the mail that reads “You stole my parking spot, I’m gonna kill you!” versus receiving a message in your work group chat from a coworker that reads “You stole my parking spot, I’m gonna kill you!” The collaged anonymous letter being perceived as a threat or dangerous, whereas the message in the work group chat may be perceived much differently. 

Just as the medium informes the reader of a message it is important that we are just as informed on how we use the mediums we design with to send messages. Doing so will enable us to make more informed decisions during the creative process so that we don’t send an unintended message or the wrong message. One thing we must also be critically aware of is the context surrounding a message/ medium, this has become more important today as the internet has created such a blended perception of context. Marshall’s theory is mostly right in regards to the power of the medium, but fails to address the possibility of the context it’s delivered in or that surrounds a message.  


Image of the two records sent on the Voyager, as showcased in Smithosonian Magazine