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Communication, Media, and Technology Thesaurus


Updates: May 25, 2012 | June 26, 2012


This page is to include terminology, old and new, specific to the field(s) of communication, culture, and media technologies. The Legend at the beginning clarifies abbreviations (to be) used below.

The inaugural content is from the PDF resource file “Glossary of Marshall McLuhan Terms and Concepts (in progress)“, MPCT resource from 2007 to the spring of 2010.

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Legend

a.o. – among others
e.g. – [abbreviation, Lat exempli gratia, “for the sake of example”] for example
i.e. – [abbreviation, Lat id est, “that/it is”] that is
MM – preceding an entry, MM stands for the meaning of the term as used by Marshall McLuhan.
re – regarding; about

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ACOUSTIC SPACE

MM. This mode of perception, or environment, preceded the advent of visual space which was prompted by the media of the phonetic alphabet and especially printing. Its qualities derive from the sense of hearing which is “immediate and immersive”. While the alphabet is attributed a segregating tendency, electronic media (television, radio, internet) are considered as restoring the simultaneity of acoustic space.

ALPHABET

MM. (Phonetic): a writing system that shows how its units are pronounced. Compare “and” (phonetic) with “&” (non-phonetic). The study of the phonetic alphabet is crucial in identifying the profoundly different qualities and effects between it and other writing systems such as hieroglyphics and ideograms. (see also lineal structure)

ANTI-ENVIRONMENT

MM. In Mcluhan’s terms, “without an anti-environment all environments are invisible”. For example, a small child and an artist are hailed as having the requisite “immediacy of approach”—an artist provides us with anti-environments that enable us to see the environment.

AUTOAMPUTATION

MM. A concept borrowed from medical research into stress. It refers to the human body reacting to a source of irritation/danger by shutting down the affected area. This metaphoric concept is extended as an explanation for the development of human technology.

AUTOMATION

MM. The term is not to be understood in its commonest sense of complex industrial assembly by a succession of machines, but rather as the technique of converting a mechanical process to automatic operation by electronic control.

CENTER-MARGIN DYNAMICS

MM. The dynamics of any system that operates by one-way expansion from its center to its peripheral elements. Center-margin dynamics are associated with a host of technological extensions and social structures from the phonetic alphabet and the Roman Empire to assembly lines and the separation of the individual from the state.

CLOSURE

MM. Not in whatever sense(s) the term may have had as the buzzword of the mid-1990s, but in connection with autoamputation (see above), to refer to the human body’s attempt to regain equilibrium among its channels of sensory input, whenever this equilibrium is disturbed by new media.

COMMON SENSE

MM. A direct and literal translation of the Latin phrase sensus commu- nis, referring to the conscious elucidation of experience by systematically transferring or transposing it from one bodily sense to another or all others. Touch, the “meeting-place of the senses” is the “common sense”.

CONTENT

MM. In its various conventional senses of conceptual material conveyed, information, meaning, or messages, content distracts attention from the technology or medium conveying the content. Any medium is more powerful in itself than whatever content it might be used to convey, and it is in this sense that the medium is the message.

COOL MEDIUM

MM. One that necessitates the user’s participation. (see also medium)

COUNTER-IRRITANT

MM. When technologies produce stress and pressure through speedup or overload, new technologies develop to offset those effects. Counter-irritants can be benign (games) or as destructive as the original irritant (a drug habit).

DECENTRALIZATION

MM. In all spheres of human society: political power, urban structures, work environments, etc. It is the chief effect of electricity.

DETACHMENT

MM. Or the capacity to act without reacting, goes hand in hand with the fragmenting nature of the phonetic alphabet and is a powerful, primary effect of alphabetic literacy. (see also literacy)

DETRIBALIZATION

MM. This is the collapse of tribal structure and behavioural patterns as a consequence of the introduction of literacy and mechanical technologies to societies and cultures.

ENVIRONMENT

MM. Understood as total situation, may refer variously to physical surroundings or social contexts but more frequently to features of these that warrant examination for the effects created in them by new technologies. “Environment” is synonymous with “medium”.

EXPLOSION

MM. A key term for describing the fragmenting and specializing effect of mechanical technologies. (see also fragmentation, cf. implosion)

FIELD

MM. The inclusive or unified properties of a subject or of a method of analysis. The concept of the field occurs in linguistic studies (semantic field theory) and physics (unified field theory).

FRAGMENTATION

MM. The principal effect of mechanical technologies that operate on the repeatability principle (see below). It characterizes technologies from the phonetic alphabet and moveable type to specialist knowledge and the assembly line.

GLOBAL VILLAGE

MM. A metaphor for our planet reduced in all aspects of its functioning and social organization to the size of a village by the effect of electricity-based communication technologies starting with the telegraph in the 1830s.

HIGH DEFINITION

MM. Describes media that convey sharply defined forms and sharplyseparated forms—e.g. printed letters on a page, images fixed on film. Synonymous with “hot,” non-involving. (cf. low definition)

HOT MEDIUM

MM. One that inhibits the user’s involvement. (see also medium)

HYBRIDIZATION

MM. Compounding or interaction of media, which proves particularly revealing of their structural features and effects.

ICON

MM. In the broad sense of any inclusive form; related to the properties of whatever functions by inclusiveness. Iconic qualities are associated with the senses of smell and touch and with the interplay of the senses, as with television.

IMPLOSION

MM. The principal effect of electricity, which has permitted the most powerful technological extension of all, that of the central nervous system, with the effective elimination of space and time and the reversal of media effects associated with mechanical technology. (cf. explosion above)

INFORMATION

MM. Occasionally in the sense of facts or data, but more frequently in the sense of a medium and its property of being information or in relation to another medium in its operation.

LINEAL STRUCTURE

MM. A key feature of the phonetic alphabet and all its technological derivatives characterized by isolating and fragmenting parts of a whole and wedding that fragmentation to the repeatability principle, whether for scientific method, industrial production, or social organization.

LITERACY

MM. Generally, the ability to read. Specifically, the use of letters and the phonetic alphabet. (see also alphabet)

LOW DEFINITION

MM. Describes media that convey weakly defined forms—e.g. speech sounds, images on a television screen. Synonymous with “cool,” involving. (cf. high definition)

MEDIUM

MM. Not limited to the stereotypical medium of mass communication such as radio, a medium is any extension of the human body (wheel as extension of foot, computer as extension of central nervous system) or form of social organization and interaction (language, roads, money). Specifically, a medium is a side-effect of a technology, generally invisible; it consists of all the psychic and social adjustments that its users and their society undergo when they adopt the new form. It is the “message” sent by the new technology; so “the medium is the message.”

MESSAGE

MM. Exceptionally, in the sense of “content” (see above); usually in the sense of change in scale, pace or pattern of human action and interaction created by new media, thus the [new] medium is the message [of any innovation].

MOSAIC

MM. Integral form and integrating process, closely related to “field”. (see above)

MYTH

MM. Free of the negative connotation it can carry in contemporary usage (e.g. “urban myth”), refers to instant recognition or comprehension of a complex process. (cf. icon, organic, pattern).

NARCISSUS TRANCE

MM. An interpretation of the Greek myth of Narcissus as the inability to recognize technologies as extensions of the human being and the failure to detect the message, or new environment, created by new technologies. (see also numbing, somnambulism)

NUMBING

MM. See Narcissus trance, somnambulism.

OBSOLESCENCE

MM. The typical effect of a medium to render obsolete older media with the same, or similar, function.

ORGANIC

MM. A quality of interrelated wholes. (see also myth, structure)

PARTICIPATION

MM. Used not in reference to intellectual or reflective participation but to mean involvement and degree of involvement of the physical senses of the user of a medium. Hot media (see above) are low in participation or sensory involvement; cool media (see above) require high participation.

PATTERN

MM. Defined early in the text as unity of form and function.

REAR-VIEW MIRROR

MM. A metaphorical rendition of our tendency to consider new technologies in terms of the familiar. What is most revolutionary, or even valid/operable, about a new medium escapes us, and we fail to appreciate its potential and its consequences.

REPEATABILITY

MM. The principle of indefinitely repeating a process or reusing specialized, fragmented units of a mechanical, linear technology.

RETRIBALIZATION

MM. The recovery of ancient tribal structures and patterns in a society previously under the dominant influence of mechanical technology and newly under electric technology.

REVERSAL

MM. A typical effect produced when a technology is pushed to its extreme form and acquires its opposite characteristics.

ROLE(S)

MM. The form of social behavior in the work place, education, etc., imposed on Western society by electric technology, in contrast to individual goals under mechanical technology and literacy.

SENSE RATIOS

MM. The degree of balance among the physical senses in relation to the technologies that extend them and that dominate society.

SIMULTANEITY

MM. A principal cultural side effect of electric media. (see acoustic space)

SPECIALISM

MM. See fragmentation.

STRUCTURE

MM. An integrated whole or configuration, particularly of the type imposed by electric technology. (see also field, mosaic, myth)

SYMBOLISM

MM. Refers principally to the aesthetic manifestations of structural awareness. (cf. field, mosaic, myth, structure)

SYNESTHESIA

MM. Transfer of perceptions from one sense to another and/or integration of the senses, in the arts, for aesthetic or educational purposes.

TACTILITY

MM. Used not only in reference to the sense of touch but to describe the quality of medium requiring a high degree of involvement of one or more of the other senses.

TECHNOLOGY

MM. In the broad sense, the same as medium above.

TETRAD (“the McLuhan tetrad”, “McLuhan’s tetrad”)

MM. Also known as “the four laws” of media. This four-partite mandate maintains that every new medium: 1) extends a human property (the car wheel extends the foot, the Internet extends the mind, some would argue); 2) obsolesces the previous medium by turning it into a sport or a form of art (the automobile turns horses and carriages into sports); 3) retrieves a much older medium that was obsolesced before (the automobile brings back the shining armour of the chevalier); 4) flips or reverses its properties into the opposite effect when pushed to its limits (automobiles-when there are too many of them-create traffic jams, total paralysis)

TRANSLATION

MM. The process of transfering knowledge from one mode to another.

TRIBAL STRUCTURE

MM. Social interaction characterized by the intense mutual involvement of the members of the community and the opposite of the detached individualism and private identities characteristic of a literate culture under mechanical technology.

UNIFORMITY

MM. All manifestations of the homogeneous quality resulting from mechanical technologies and the repeatability principle. (see above)

VISUAL SPACE

MM. Pertaining to the phonetic alphabet medium; contrasted to the acoustic space (see above) of pre-literate societies, which is brought back by electric/electronic media: radio, television, Internet.


Updates: May 25, 2012 | June 26, 2012


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