As discussed last week, Marshall McLuhan was a very insightful man. His theories on media (though they were renewed from someone whose theories had heavily influenced him, Teilhard de Chardin), have been- and continue to be- very influential on media enthusiasts and scholars. That being said, a call for a “scientific basis” (“McLuhan’s Laws of Media,” n.d.) was consistent. This post will briefly explain the tetrad and give an (attempted) example of its use.
The tetrad is McLuhan’s response to the call for his theory to be formalized (“McLuhan’s Laws of Media,” n.d.). Though the theory itself is not empirically derived, the results of analyses using the tetrad are (“Media : McLuhan/LawsOfMedia,” 2008). The tetrad describes the way media-which had been created by people- affects people and, in turn, communities of all sizes. It relates ways in which the media changes behaviors, reverses behaviors, renews behaviors, and eliminates behaviors.
A fun exercise (I think it’s fun…) is to attempt a tetrad of your favorite media. By media, of course, I don’t mean necessarily electronic. I mean a tool that is used to enhance our ability to communicate (much like McLuhan’s definition of technology). So a pencil, a phone, a typewriter, etc. In this case, I’m going to consider the eReader (I personally use a Nook, but there is a hack that allows the Kindle app on the Nook, so I read both on one eReader).
Enhances: An eReader accelerates and improves our access to books. It also enhances our ability to publish by allowing online, do-it-yourself publishing.
Reverses: An eReader, meant to make reading more convenient (e.g., libraries on a single device, no holding pages open, etc.), has made it so easy that you can access your content from a variety of devices. However, the ability to do so means choosing which device you want to material on, synchronizing bookmarks and highlights, and so on. In the end, having one book to keep track of is easier.
Retrieves: eReaders bring us back to reading books. Where we had moved on to digital entertainment and audio books, eReaders allow people access to a variety of classic, new, self-published literature which motivates them to re-discover reading. The effect is reminiscent of the introduction of the Gutenberg press.
Obsolesces: The eReader makes the use of paper printing unnecessary. Not that its use has been done away with, but with the eReader, paper itself is no longer needed for printed literature.
The tetrad impacts media psychologists by giving us something to gauge existing media changes with, as well as a way to make educated guesses about emerging media. By understanding the uses for, and implications of, media and technologies, we can look to the past to see the future with regards to effects, developments, uses, and more. The more we contemplate how the media and technologies around us affect us, the more we understand about ourselves.
McLuhan’s Laws of Media. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.horton.ednet.ns.ca/staff/scottbennett/media/index.html
Media : McLuhan/LawsOfMedia. (2008). Retrieved from http://deoxy.org/media/McLuhan/LawsOfMedia
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