Happy Birthday

marshall mcluhan
Associated Press

Happy Birthday, Marshall McLuhan, Canadian Philosopher

July 21, 2009
by findingDulcinea Staff
As a prolific lecturer, author and communication theorist, Marshall McLuhan explored the implications of technology on society, encouraging people to reconsider their relationship with it. His incredible foresight earned him nicknames such as 'Dr. Spock of Pop Culture' and 'apprentice of the media.'

Early Days

Marshall McLuhan was born in Edmonton, Canada, on July 21, 1911. His father was an insurance salesman and his mother was an elocution teacher, according to his biography on the Caslon Analytics Web site.

NNDB reports that Marshall wasn't a good student and was admitted to the seventh grade "only after considerable efforts of his mother on his behalf." McLuhan attended the University of Manitoba and completed an honors program in English and philosophy. According to NNDB, in 1935, he completed an M.A. and went on to earn a Ph.D. in Literature at Cambridge University.

As the Web site Pegasos explains, the 1930s were an important era for McLuhan’s personal growth. In 1937, he converted to Catholicism. Many scholars link his faith to his outlook on technological and social change.

Notable Accomplishments

According to Wired magazine, McLuhan was teaching at the University of Wisconsin and "found himself unable to communicate with his hipster students." As a result, "he began to study advertising in order to better speak their pop-culture language." This led McLuhan to look at media in a new way, at a time when media studies departments didn't exist.

McLuhan went on to teach at the University of Toronto where he would establish the Centre for Culture and Technology, a "think tank studying the psychological and social consequences of technologies and media," according to NNDB. McLuhan wrote several books, including, “Understanding Media.” This book was "McLuhan's big hit," according to Kate Moody writing for the Center for Media Literacy. "There, perhaps for the first time, he introduced his basic theme that media—speech, print, photography, telegraphy, telephone, film, radio, television—all function as extensions of the human organism to increase power and speed," Moody wrote.

According to Dr. Eric McLuhan on the Official Site of Marshall McLuhan, the title of one of Marshall's most famous works, originally "The Medium is the Message," was returned from its first printing with a typo in the title, resulting in "The Medium is the Massage." Marshall McLuhan was happy with the mistake, however, exclaiming, "Leave it alone! It's great, and right on target!" Eric McLuhan explains that the last word of the title can be read in four possible ways: "Message," "Mess Age," "Massage" and "Mass Age."

The Rest of the Story

Many communications scholars believe that McLuhan’s theories are more relevant today than they were when he was alive, because the lines between the human community and the technologies we rely on are now blurred. According to Regent University, "What McLuhan did not live to see, but perhaps foresaw, was the merging of text and electronic mass media in this new media called the Internet."

Throughout his life, McLuhan suffered from frequent blackouts, and in his midlife, a large tumor was discovered on his brain. He underwent surgery in 1967, and although he recovered, the effects of the operation changed his life. He grew to be “hypersensitive,” and discovered that “several years of reading got rubbed out,” NNDB reports. In 1979, he suffered a stroke that forced him to retire from teaching. McLuhan died in Toronto on Dec. 31, 1980.

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