What Would Prof McLuhan say about COVID?

While nobody knows for certain, we can speculate a bit. Maybe it’s the fact that I am feeling philosophical about this whole Virus Thing, or the fact that I am alone in my apartment with an annotated copy of Marshall McLuhan’s “Understanding Media.”

Quick introduction for those who may not be Marshall McLuhan fans: The Canadian university professor was a voice of the 1960’s Media Theory. As new media technologies were being developed, McLuhan wanted to figure out how society would potentially interact with these new mediums. If you introduce something new into an environment, inherently it will alter some things.

Professor Marshall McLuhan and his  Famous Quote

To back up his thought processes, he developed his four laws (or effects) of media: 1.) Media will enhance; 2.) When pushed far enough media will reverse on its original intent; 3.) New media will hark back to a past idea (retrieval) and; 4) New media will make something else no longer necessary (obsolescence).

While these were originally created with the television and different forms of wave/wire communication in mind, they have since been applied to more abstract ideas. In McLuhan’s Wake Documentary, the tetrad was used to describe “Capitalism as a Behaviour.”

To think through the current State of Emergency, why not use McLuhan’s four laws:

Quarantine because of COVID19

Enhance Reverse
-Our health is enhanced when we stay safe and wash our hands.

-Our connections with quarantine-mates could be enhanced. (I know we all like to fight over who should do the dishes, but maybe let’s lay-off that for the time being, okay?)

-Our time is enhanced. Without a morning commute or other daily practices that take up time; there is open space in our schedules. Now it is up to each individual on how they will spend all that extra time.

-Society is staying in to avoid physical ailment, but not moving around as much can be argued as not very healthy either.

Also, mental health could be at stake. I am not saying that to be pessimistic, rather I want to make sure that we are all looking out for each other. Saying “call your loved ones” doesn’t typically fit in the Reverse square, but these are not typical times 😊

Retrieval Obsolescence
-It might be old-fashioned to think back to cavemen with all of our modern technologies that we now have in our non-stone homes, but I cannot think of a time before that (or after) that we were so far apart. -It may make the desire for in-person human contact less desirable. People may become comfortable in their FaceTime and Skype habits.

-Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming platforms are providing people with entertainment and distraction. When people can leave their homes again, will they choose to go to the movie theaters? The decline has already been seen in ticket sales. Is this the final push to make going-out to the cinema obsolete?

So, what would McLuhan conclude about all of this?
There are concerns galore to be aware of, but there are also opportunities. Awareness is the best way to combat any of the possible quarantine side-effects. We are a global village, constantly connected, and in this together.


Story by:  Megan Roshak

TYPO? Did you spot a typo or grammatical error in this story? Report it NOW to The Grammar Police so we can fix it before a potential employer – or one of our parents – sees it and busts us! Report it: HERE! Better yet, keep it to yourself – or at least six feet apart!

Leave a Reply