Marshall McLuhan Figure and the Ground

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Figure and the Ground is another McLuhan model that is helpful in our analysis of creating a balanced environment. It is also useful in identifying the impact that the potential media may have upon the users. The model works from the premise that you cannot evaluate the full effects of a technology unless you evaluate its context. McLuhan proposes that without a thorough examination of both the figure (the technology) and the ground (where the product sits in the market and why) you cannot evaluate its credentials. McLuhan argued that we must study media in their historical context, particularly in relation to the technologies that preceded them. We must evaluate the bigger picture and work simultaneously between the macro and the micro not only in terms of technology but we can use this model for evaluation of the success of all environmental medias.

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Marshall McLuhan Tetrad of Media Effects

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We can use the Tetrad of Media Effects (McLuhan 1988) as a model for analysing the impacts of the implementation of a technology. There are parameters that the implementation has to adhere to in order to achieve a successful integration into the design or peoples behaviours. There are benefits and hindrances, advantages and disadvantages of all medium and this is what the tetrad analyses. It is especially useful to highlight the uses but potential dangers of the implementation of a technology that is too far removed from our intuitive actions or norms. The tetrad analyses what it enhances, which it obsolesces, what it pushes forward and what it pushes back. The laws of the tetrad exist simultaneously, not successively or in linear form. We are thus encouraged to think how outputs are in a constant state of flux in relation to each other, allowing an analysis of intermittent effects. A strong argument is needed to make sure this balanced approach is implemented no matter what the brief, what the space and what new technologies are inevitable to be introduced.

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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