Sandstrom, Gregory. 2012. Laws of media – The four effects: A McLuhan contribution to social epistemology. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 1 (12): 1-6.
In 1988, Eric McLuhan published some of the final papers of his father’s pioneering work, weaving together his own thoughts on language, media and communication in the form of a systematic approach to media studies, technology and culture. As a book with a method-as-starting-point, the McLuhans’ left open the possibility for future scholars to continue their work on media effects, the so-called ‘laws of media.’ What was needed was to find a way for them to be further applied, to become compatible or to resonate with various scientific and research communities in the electronic-information era.
This article briefly presents the laws of media or ‘Four Effects.’ The purpose is to contribute to what people think and know (cf. epistemologically) about science and technology, as individuals and as members of various societies. The provocative McLuhan Media Model can be applied as a way of exploring the relationship between causes and effects, which is an interdisciplinary topic of great extension.
Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) was engaged in questioning and investigating the effects of print, electronic technology and various forms of ‘new media’ as they influence our lives. Together at the University of Toronto with Eric Havelock, Northrop Frye, Edmund Carpenter, Walter J. Ong and briefly with Harold Innis, from the early 1950’s to late 1970s, McLuhan and their ‘Toronto Communication School’ delivered profound, if not always mainstream or quickly comprehendible insights into the history of language and speech (e.g. orality vs. literacy) and their impact on science, technology and culture. McLuhan believed that the essential message of human-made media is found when we realize that media are ‘outterings’ or ‘utterings’ (cf. ‘extensions’) of ourselves, and that by learning about them we thus also learn about ourselves.
This description may raise initial concerns from some readers. For example, should such topics as media and communications even count as ‘scientific’ (usually ‘natural science’ is the common meaning in Anglo-Saxon discourse) let alone suggest the possibility that they constitute the topical basis for a ‘new science,’ as indicated in Laws of Media’s subtitle? Could an English professor ever possibly hope to solve long-standing theoretical and applied puzzles in or about science and human nature, through cross-disciplinary applications of literary theory to culture? To answer these concerns is yet another test for the McLuhan method, and may ultimately help to measure Marshall McLuhan’s legacy in the increasingly wired ‘global village’ and explain his lasting success and influence as a so-called sage and visionary of the electronic-information age.  Continue Reading…