Marshall McLuhan spent a lot of time thinking about communication. More specifically, what was communicated, and more importantly, how it was communicated. His claim that “the medium is the message” delves deeper into how the mode of content delivery is just as, if not more, important than the content, itself. Furthermore, McLuhan classifies each form of media as either “hot” or “cold”, referring to how engaged with the media the audience needs to be. While McLuhan’s theory held up at the time he wrote it, time and technology have had a great effect on the classifications of current medias.
McLuhan’s concept of “hot” and “cold” medias doesn’t seem to be very intuitive at first read. He claims that medias that are more engaging with a single sense, such as radio or film, are hot. Medias that demand more engagement and effort from the audience, such as television or phone calls, are considered cold. This concept has become more and more outdated with time, as technology advances and people become increasingly connected with each other.
What were once one-way, fragmentary experiences, are now more tribal ones–a prominent example being cinema. While movie-watching used to be an experience meant for a smaller group of people all in the same theater at the same time, it has since become a global one. People can watch the same movie from different countries, all at the same time and in the same virtual room. Now a more tribal experience with the expansion of technology, movies become a colder media.
Furthermore, technological advancements have resulted in better quality television, which continues to straddle the line between hot and cold. Being more high quality, television becomes similar to cinema, leading to both medias being very easy to understand (hotter), or both demanding the same level of audience interaction (colder).
All medias, whether hot or cold, have an effect on human discourse. As technology evolves and the internet expands, every form of media seems to inch a bit closer to the cold side of the spectrum. We have evolved into a global village, connecting every mode of communication back to the internet. The web has created smaller spaces for virtually anybody with access to form connections over similar interests. Somebody can watch a movie (a hot media, according to McLuhan) and can exchange reviews and thoughts with somebody on the other side of the world right after. Film thereby becomes a colder and more tribal media.
Years after McLuhan’s theory, technological advancements have forced nearly all medias to become colder. The internet has created new ways for people to connect through anything. Radio shows are recorded and posted online, where a listener can stream whenever, wherever, at high quality, and then leave a comment below. Another listener can respond, creating more accessible discourse, and more interaction when it comes to the radio. While it was simple to classify medias as hot or cold at the time of McLuhan, media and content delivery have come a long way, especially with the internet’s ability to connect everybody and everything at all times. In 2021, a completely hot form of media seems hard to come by.