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Mucluhan’s Four Laws

Marshall McLuhan’s 4 laws help to understand the effects of media and technology on society.

Published January 04, 2012 · 1 min read time

We found that everything man[kind] makes and does, every procedure, every style, every artefact, every poem, song, painting, gimmick, gadget, theory, technology – every product of human effort – manifested the same four dimensions. —Marshall McLuhan 1911—1980

marshall mcluhan July 21, 1911 – December 31, 1980 – Marshall McLuhan, the patron saint for Wired Magazine, a communication theorist, and one of the founders of the study of media ecology, wrote extensively on the influence of media and its effect on society.

The 4 Laws of Media

Marshall McLuhan created a concept for understanding the effects of media and technology on society. Use these questions to explore the forces that your products or technologies may have on your customers or society in general.

What human trait or experience does the new medium enhance?

  • What is the intended function of the new medium or technology?
  • What does it improve or make more efficient?
  • Does it extend part of the human body or one or more of the senses?
  • Does it extend some aspect of the human mind (such as memory)?
  • Does it amplify some human capability or augment some form of human action?
  • Does it extend the individual, the group, or society?

What pre-existing technology, method, system, or medium does the new medium obsolesce?

  • What older technology does the new medium replace?
  • What does it render unnecessary?
  • What procedures does it “short-circuit” or by-pass?
  • What happens to the old medium that is rendered “obsolescent”: does it disappear entirely, become an art object, or find a new niche?

What technology, method, system, or medium that was previously obsolesced or abandoned does the new medium retrieve?

  • What archaic elements are made relevant again?
  • What previously marginalized or repressed ideas, practices, artifacts, or cultural aspects are brought forth and revived?

When fully utilized or pushed to its extreme, what will the new media or technology reverse into?

  • What effects will the new medium create which are OPPOSITE to what was initially intended?
  • What are the contradictions inherent in this new technology?
  • What is the “ecological/environmental” impact of the medium on its contemporary media environment?
John Dilworth

This article was written by John Dilworth. John lives in Ogden, Utah with his wife and two children. He aspires to see and do all that is beautiful. Is currently Sr. Director of User Experience at Ancestry.com