The Listening Post

Of mediums and messages

We look at the legacy of cultural icon Marshall McLuhan 50 years after his prophetic insights into the future of media.

This past year, whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed to the world how our lives online are now available to any agency with the technology and the temptation to tap into them. This revelation has come decades after one thinker theorised about the way that technology would penetrate our daily existence in ways that few could have predicted.

You may have never heard of Marshall McLuhan, but you have probably heard his most widely quoted dictum: “The medium is the message.”

McLuhan was writing about the effects of the mass media on contemporary life and he was talking mostly about television. But his ideas had something of the prophetic – because in the tumult of today’s digital revolution, a lot of what McLuhan said has even more relevance now than it did then.

In this edition of the Listening Post, we look at how to read today’s media landscape, with the help of McLuhan, speaking to us 50 years ago.

McLuhan started out his professional career as a Canadian professor of literature but is referred to today as one of the greatest media theorists of all time.

After the release of his best-selling book Understanding Media in the 1960s, he became a regular speaker on media discourse, credited for coining terms including the ‘Global Village’.

His central argument – that the technologies we use to take in information, i.e., the media, become extensions of who we are and exert a powerful influence over us –  make his work just as relevant today as it was 50 years ago, and with the growth of social networking sites, McLuhan’s predictions on the changing media landscape have proved accurate.

To discuss the cultural icon and his legacy, we talk with Charles Miller of the BBC College of Journalism; Adel Iskander, a media scholar at Georgetown University; Jaeno Kang, a media sociologist from SOAS, and Toby Miller, a media scholar at London’s City University.

Thanks to the advent of the internet and other new technologies, the 21st century has been heralded as a bright and promising digital era, but that notion has attracted a number of critics, most notably, writer and researcher, Evgeny Morozov.

Morozov has warned not to buy into the popular theory that the internet is helping to democratise authoritarian regimes. He argues, instead, that it is being used as a tool to control, supress and spy on citizens.

As the author of two books on the subject, The Net Delusion and To Save Everything, Click Here, Morozov’s work is seen as a powerful alternative to the mainstream discourse on the digital age.

In the second half of the show, Evgeny Morozov sits down with Listening Post host, Richard Gizbert, to discuss the work of Marshall McLuhan and the digital era in which we live.


Listening Post can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Saturday: 0830, 1930; Sunday: 1430; Monday: 0430.

Click here for more Listening Post.