Marshal McLuhan introduces his piece by writing of how today we’ve managed to extend ourselves in a global embrace, but cannot understand the extensions of ourselves (bodies, nervous systems) without realizing that all these extensions work together in their affect of the psychological and social contexts. He says that people act and react simultaneously in modern day society, which was contrary to how things once were (mechanical age had slower actions and, in turn, slower reactions), but despite this instantaneous reaction, we still think as if we’re in older, pre-electric times. This mindset causes us to still think in fragmented time and space, which is not necessary in the electric age.
McLuhan gives an example of how this fragmentation worked well for a surgeon who was able to detach his emotions by not knowing the patient and, thus, able to perform the surgery with ease. However, he shows that with the electric age, detachment is impossible as we are extended technologically through mankind by all of our actions and reactions, so one should not have the mindset of being fragmented in time and space.
With the technological extension of ourselves, we have the ability to reach our message worldwide. McLuhan gives examples of how human awareness has been heightened by the phenomena of electric speed, where minority groups such as African Americans can no longer be forced into limited societal interaction and, instead, involved in our lives do to this electric age and fast speed of such a medium.
In examing the medium as the message, McLuhan has reexamined imposed patterns of perception and has decided to interpret technologies as if he knew nothing about them. He says it’s not always important what a media produces, but the fact that it produces is always important because this is the message. He gives the example of how automation itself provided (or communicated) roles, but whether it produced “cornflakes or Cadillacs” had no affect on the message itself. He also gives the example of how an electric light is information in itself. So, whether it was used to light up a room to make a logo visible or to make a person visible, it performs the same message of lighting a room. The outcome of the lit room (visible logo, visible person) are contents of the media and are just more forms of media. In other words, the content of a medium is only a possibility because the medium itself is a message that delivers this content to be a medium.
After examining the thoughts and theories of economists, authors, and other politcal and historical figures, McLuhan has ultimately concluded that “program and content analysis offer no clues to the magic of these media or to their subliminal charge.” (Pg. 19, Par. 3). Again, he reiterates his belief that media is the message and the content resulting from it cannot provide the message of the media.
McLuhan also writes of how media is separated into hot and cold. Hot media is any media that stimulates the senses in high def and is imbibed with data that requires minimal audience participation. He gives the example of a photograph as hot media. Cold media is of low def, provides very little visual information, and requires high participation/completion by the audience. McLuhan gives the example of a cartoon or even hieroglyphics as opposed to the alphabet (hot medium as it leads to typography, speech, etc.). Lastly, he writes of how the succession of hot media to cold media may sometimes cause negative consequences. McLuhan provides the example of Australian natives and the stone axe being a symbol of status and masculinity, but once this scarce, hand-made cold medium had been succeeded by the manufactured and readily available sharp steel axes provided by missionaries to women and children, men began to feel their dignity affected.