Tag Archive: McLuhan

Lister – New Media Reading p.77-80

In these pages of the reading, Lister presents the views of two theologists, Marshall McLuhan and Raymond Williams. McLuhan believes that changes in media technologies caused large cultural shifts (“Revolutionary”). Williams on the other hand, believes that a particular technology has no guarantee of cultural or social significance. (“business as usual”). These varying views spark a debate on the role of new media in society. Thus McLuhan believing in the idea of technological determinism (technology shapes us) and Williams believing that we as a society determine wether a technolgy is useful or not (we shape technology).

Lister writes about how Williams apparently won the debate, though McLuhan has relevant ideas that relate to the cyberspace and an electronic culture. Lister states how Williams’ views are purely humanist, and McLuhan’s views technology as extensions of the human body.


In this section, Lister  suggests both two different  positions of theologists, Marshall McLuhan and Raymond Williams. According to the reading, while McLuhan was wholly concerned with identifying the major cultural effects that he saw enw technological forms (in history and in his present) bringing about, Williams sought to show that there is nothing in a particular technology which guarantees the cultural or social outcomes it will have (Williams 1983: 130). Long story short, McLuhan believe technological determinism exists, while Williams does not. Williams’s arguments against McLuhan became touchstones for  media studies’ rejection of any kind of technological determinism (Lister 78).

According to Lister, McLuhan only knew computers in the form of the mainframe computers of his day, yet they formed part of his bigger concept of the ‘electric environment’. By the 1990s, McLuhan has found influential followers because he thought about technology in new and different ways, so his ideas had come to seem not only potent but extraordinarily prescient.

While Williams’ ideas about technology within the humanist frame has won in the debate, McLuhan’s ideas about technology is now being respected more.

McLuhan and Williams have two very different perceptions of technology and its influences.  Williams believes in the idea of social shaping of technology.  This is the idea that society influences technology.  He sees technologies being improved to better human experience as well as the need for a specific technology to accomplish certain tasks.  McLuhan takes on a more technological deterministic point of view in which the newly developed technology will change the behavior of mankind.

The two also differ in the outcomes.  McLuhan believes that all of the outcomes are determinate while Williams argues that depending on the social environment one technology could be used in multiple ways that are unpredictable.

Lastly, in the reading Williams talks about technology as a medium.  He uses the example of photography.  The actual process of creating a picture with the use of chemicals, he refers to a technological process where as the depiction of the picture and its representation is the actual medium according to Williams.  In this section he describes two aspects of a medium, the first as a reification of a social process and the second as material.  He describes a medium as a reification of a social process as not being a set of given characteristics but rather the experience.  While most people believe that an artist’s medium is the tools he uses to create a work of art, Williams argues that it is once again part of a bigger picture that betters mankind.

Lister 77-80

In this section Lister begins to talk about two different theologists, Marshall McLuhan and Raymond Williams, who both did their research in the 1960’s and 70’s.  Lister mentions that while both of these theologists had ideas about technological determinism before the “computer age” as we know it, both of these people’s ideas still have meaning in the modern day.  McLuhan believed that society could be shaped and controlled by new advancements in technology and the new types of media that come with it.  Williams, while also talking about new media, believed that new technologies had no effect on shaping society; it was humans and society that shaped the technology itself.  As Williams says “media can only take effect through already present social processes and structures and will therefore reproduce existing patterns of use and basically sustain existing power relations. (Lister 78).   Long story short, McLuhan believe technological determinism exists, Williams does not.

Lister explains that McLuhan’s number of followers is growing due to the fact that his ideas preach thinking of technology and media in new and different ways, as opposed to Williams “daily business”, not-much-change attitude when it comes to technology.  Williams was one of the founding fathers of British media and cultural studies, which have become some of the staples of modern day media studies.  Lister mentions that anytime he may mention that technology is controlled by society and humans, and is not in part to technological determinism in any way, he is crediting Williams.  While he believes Williams had won the debate back in the day, it was McLuhan whose ideas are now being applauded and respected.  Williams defined technology in a humanist perspective, that we are the cause for what we learn, what we do, and what new technologies and media we may think up.