Years ago, when I was at art school in New York, I bought a paperback by Marshal McLuhan.
It was called The Medium Is The Massage.
Years later, in London, I would hear people referring to it as The Medium Is The Message.
I wanted to correct them, but I wasn’t sure I should.
I knew what they were saying made more sense.
But it wasn’t what the book was called.
So, many years later, I went online and checked it out.
I’m glad I did.
It made me respect Marshal McLuhan more than I previously had.
Because it turns out we were both right.

Both titles are the title of the book.
What happened was that McLuhan’s original title for the book was The Medium Is The Message.
But the proof came back from the printers with a misprint.
The Medium is The Massage.
The printers offered to reprint it.
But, and here’s the bit that really makes me respect him, McLuhan said no.
He said it’s better like this, in fact it’s perfect, leave it.
And that’s what the book was called.
The Medium Is The Massage.
McLuhan liked the ambiguity, the confusion, the need to work it out.
He liked the fact that it made the reader think, instead of just being spoon fed.
The new title was provocative, rather than merely didactic.
This way it had four possible interpretations.
The Medium Is The Massage.
Everything we see, all the media we consume, merely lulls us into semi-consciousness.
It strokes us and soothes us and stops us thinking.
We have become merely passive consumers to be manipulated.
The Medium Is The Mass Age.
Mass media has made us incapable of thinking for ourselves.
Now we are merely part of the herd.
The more intrusive, the more ubiquitous, the more insidious mass media becomes, the more we are all just part of one inert lump.
The Medium Is The Message.
The medium is no longer just the delivery system.
The medium itself has become the content.
Simply being part of the media says more about you than whatever message you put in it.
Because the tsunami of mass media means we have no time to engage with each individual point of view.
The Medium Is The Mess Age:
The creation of mass media means we have to fill the constant demand of that mass media.
Which means the medium itself becomes insatiable.
The beast has to be fed.
Content has to be produced, to a format, to a cost, to a schedule.
Quantity is now far more important than quality.
Of course, each of these four interpretations could be a book in its own right.
Which is why McLuhan loved the misprint.
It caused his idea to explode into something bigger.
It caused people to think for themselves not just passively consume his thoughts.
And that’s what gave me new respect for McLuhan.
He wanted to provoke.
He didn’t just want to pontificate.
He wanted to force people to ask themselves the question.
Not just preach an answer.
And that’s what’s strange.
Lots of people took his book as the answer.
The Medium Is The Message.
“Okay, McLuhan is saying in that book that execution is everything.
McLuhan is saying right brain is all-important and left brain is now unimportant.
McLuhan is saying the emotional mind counts more than the rational mind.”
What McLuhan wanted the misprint to do was provoke debate.
Provoke thought.
But what McLuhan didn’t allow for is that people don’t want to think.
They want an easy answer.
They want a formula, so their minds can go on autopilot.

Which is why most people didn’t even notice the misprint.

  • Grilla Login

    A junior account guy was given the job of getting pencils printed with the name of a new agency start-up along their sides.

    A few days later, a box arrived from the printer with the pencils in. 

    The expectant looking partners of the new agency gathered around the box, chests puffed out, ready 2 see their new company immortalized in wood.

    The proud looking junior account guy opened the box + fished out a pencil.

    He went from white 2 red… then whatever comes after red.

    He frowned.

    He scratched his head.

    He scanned the room for sign of his mother.

    He passed the pencil over 2 a grown-up 4 inspection.

    The words etched in gold colored letters on the side read:

    ‘Helvetica 805 with tracking’

    A vote was taken. The unanimous decision was 2 stick with the original name of the agency.

    Wish I’d been there 2 see it, Dave.


  • Dave Trott

    Just you and me then Grilla.
    (Tumbleweed blows across blog.)

  • Christmas Clarke

    You missed it. The important word isn’t ‘message,’ massage’ or ‘mass age’ it is ‘medium.’ Medium means the middle, the boring, the unnoticed. Medium Cool, Haskell Wexler, now there’s the me(a)ssage.

    • Grilla Login

      Dave, Christmas seems 2 arrive earlier with each passing year.

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