H. Marshall McLuhan has been variously described as a Canadian Nkrumah who has joined the assault on reason, a very creative man who hits very large nails not quite on the head, and the most important thinker since Newton, Darwin, Freud, and Einstein.

The phenomenal growth of communications tools and techniques has inspired much comment, particularly since the launching of communications satellites. Earlier discussion tended to be quantitative. Some writers, however, foresaw the hidden qualitative implications of new media. McLuhan is the foremost of these.

Born in 1911 of Baptist parents in Manitoba, McLuhan was converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s while studying at Trinity College, Cambridge. Some accounts trace the impetus for the conversion to his reading of G. K. Chesterton’s What’s Wrong with the World.

McLuhan has concerned himself chiefly with three areas: first, the typographic revolution which had its start in the fifteenth century when Gutenberg invented printing with movable type; second, the electronic revolution and its implications; and third, reduction of the world of electronic circuitry to the terms of “the medium is the message.”

McLuhan’s book The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) continues many emphases found in his 1951 work, The Mechanical Bride. He argues that the invention of printing eventually changed not only man’s way of acquiring knowledge but his whole thinking process and way of life. Before then, man is said to have lived in an ear-oriented world. With the advent of Gutenberg, the ear was replaced by the eye as primary receiver of communication. The wide dissemination of printed matter produced “the typographic man,” McLuhan says, and ushered in a “linear-mechanical era” of five centuries’ duration. ...

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