Communications Prophet Both Hot and Cool


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Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message” and with great prescience predicted that electronic communication would reform society. His theory that the perception of reality is dependent upon the way information reaches us has become the cornerstone of modern research into the ways media shape our understanding and behaviour.

A portrait of Marshall McLuhan, looking into a mirror, c. 1967 (photo by John Reeves, courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-165118).

The zenith of McLuhan’s career came in 1965, which saw the rise of McLuhan-mania. McLuhan was interviewed by the CBC and the BBC, appearing on television in a parody of his own theories. He was described as the most important thinker since Newton. Drawing both praise and disdain, he fascinated people in either case.

McLuhan declared that he was “opposed to all innovation, all change,” but was “determined to understand what’s happening.” By the time of his death in 1980, the fervour over his theories had died down and he was viewed askance by some scholars for his preference to talk rather than write and publish. Today, he has been reclaimed as a prophet of the digital age, and a new generation of scholars, who call themselves McLuhanatics, has embraced his theories.

The Coach House was McLuhan’s operational home and the site of his legendary Monday night seminars. Formerly the Centre for Culture and Technology, it is now the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology within the Faculty of Information. The program has established the Coach House Institute to continue the McLuhan research tradition, including the famous Monday night seminars.

By Laura Neilson Bonikowsky

Visit The Canadian Encyclopedia for more on Marshall McLuhan's legacy.

Marshall McLuhan at the Coach House on the University of Toronto campus, c. 1950s (courtesy Robert Lansdale Photography, University of Toronto Archives). View the image gallery