media notes #3: Media Hot and Cold by Marshall McLuhan

A “hot medium” extends one single sense in high definition. “High definition is the state of being well filled with data.” Speech is a cool medium because “so much has to be filled in by the listener.” “Hot media” “do not leave so much to be filled in.” “Hot media are, therefore, low in participation, and cool media are high in participation.”

The printed word broke up the old medieval social structure with its “individualistic patterns.” The “hotting-up of the medium of writing to repeatable print intensity led to nationalism and the religious wars of the sixteenth century.” Stone bound time, print unified spaces and the ages.

Intensity and high definition engender specialism and fragmentation. We can’t accept every shock to our sensibility fully and directly so a “cooling system” is necessary, particularly in periods of technological change.

Old hierarchies collapse in the face of hot mediums. On the other hand, media like radio send societies back in time as “nonspecialist electric technology retribalizes.” “The instant speed of electricity confers the mythic dimension on ordinary industrial social action today.”

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