Marshall McLuhan was a visionary thinker who was able to be far ahead of his time. His ideas of media theory were not only relevant to his era (1960’s), but can still be applied today. One of his most famous ideas mentions that the message that is given can be received more or less depending on the medium that it is processed through. When you start to think about this idea deeply you can definitely see that it is true. For example, if someone told you a story about how the White House just got attacked by terrorist, it might be hard to believe. However, if the way you received the message changed and you heard about that story on a credible news channel or through your local newspaper, then the message might hold more credibility, thus being absorbed. This topic is holding much more weight today, because we are constantly being bombarded by information. To be able to stand out and allow people to notice what you are trying to say, it will be important to focus on how the message is delivered so that it can be plausible by being heard above others. This is incredibly paramount when thinking about graphic design, because sometimes it is not just enough to create a poster or graphic to put on a wall. Instead you might need to create a video to make the information more digestible.
Various types of media are much more participatory and accessible than others. This leads to another one of McLuhan’s theories, which has to do with a scale in which media is digested. His second theory is also known as “hot and cold media”. Hot media is something that takes little to no participation from the user and is the most immersive. A great example would be movies, where you just need to sit down and show up. Cold media on the other hand would be something like reading. With reading you have to put in effort by participating to get information out of the book. The basic principal of McLuhan’s theory is that the more participation that is required to digest information, the “hotter” it is. This is still very relevant today, but as technology grows and changes, their label on this scale will also change. Television in McLuhan’s time period was more participatory and was considered cool media. However, today this is not the case. Television is a lot like movies where you don’t need to be using your brain much to watch. This also depends on the type of program you are watching. A documentary takes more thought than reality TV and so on. Speech for example is one of the most participatory media (cool), because it takes language and background of understanding to be able to communicate back and forth. You also have to continue to think about what you will say next by responding. However, McLuhan’s black and white scale is not always going to hold up. There can always be outliers, but the overall idea can still be relevant today. The point to all of this hot and cold stuff is that the more immersive a media is helps a message become easier to get across.
As the human race moves forward in social and technological evolution we will need to keep these theories in mind. Of course the scale of hot and cool media will change, but how information is digested will be a constant question. This will be important for us as designers to focus on as we need to make sure that our message is received to its full capability.