Marshall McLuhan and The Extension of the Human Body

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Marshall McLuhan was a Canadian philosopher whose works had such a profound impact of the media world that he rose to fame as a ‘guru’ of media culture. In 1964 Marshall McLuhan wrote his classic book ‘Understanding Media’, in which he developed his view on how media technologies affected human behaviour. Marshall went on to construct arguments surrounding this subject, calling attention to how the experience of a new medium changes the relationships between our senses. He explored how technologies integrate themselves into society and observed how society accepted and behaved towards these new interventions.

In the first paragraph of Understanding Media, McLuhan introduces the notion of ‘extensions of a man’ as he writes: ‘Any extension, whether of skin, hand, or foot, affects the whole psychic and social complex.’ Understanding Media: The extensions of Man , 1964, McLuahan

For McLuhan, every technology, if designed correctly is an ‘extension of man’, and every new extension has a substantial impact on our behaviour. If McLuhan’s ideology is to be taken as true, then surely, these extensions of the human body, are also an extension of our physical surroundings?

McLuhan discussed how technologies should become an intuitive interface between the user and the task at hand. The natural process of a physical action to produce a tangible outcome has been transformed by the implementation of technology. Now this familiar two-step process has become three steps, in which our physical input is transformed into a digital analogy to once again result in the intended outcome. McLuhan’s argument was that for the technology to be truly successful, the user should see no evidence of this intermittent step. If the interface is apparent then the technology would no longer be an extension, but an addition to the human body.

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