What Marshall McLuhan’s ‘Global Village’ Tells Us About Education Technology in 2014

imgresThe Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century (1989) published posthumously, is one of Marshall McLuhan’s best works. It’s quite remarkable how this book published over twenty years ago, provides the reader with a contemplative perspective on the role of technology in 2014. While reading, I found myself thinking about educational technology quite differently—thinking more about the effects, nuances, and implications technology has beyond education. Effects on relationships, learning (and teaching) in the context of our culture and long-term implications for society in general. The book is about far more than education, it delves into technology and its influence on communication patterns, family structures, and entertainment. The book prompts reflection and forward thinking at the same time.

McLuhan was a Canadian philosopher and educator of communication theory, and considered a public intellectual of his time. His work on media theory is still studied today. The Global Village was a culmination of his years of work on media, a collaborative effort between McLuhan and long-time friend and colleague Bruce Powers. It summarizes McLuhan’s lifelong exploration and analysis of media, culture and man’s relationship with technology.

McLuhan designed the tetrad as a pedagogical tool to of examine the effects on society of any technology/medium by dividing its effects into four categories and displaying them simultaneously.

McLuhan and Powers introduce a framework for analyzing media via a tetrad. A tetrad is any set of four things; McLuhan uses the tetrad as a pedagogical tool for examining an artifact or concept (not necessarily a communication medium) through a metaphoric lens, which according to McLuhan translates to “two grounds and two figures in dynamic and analogical relationship to each other”. You can see how the idea can stretch one’s cognitive processes. The framework began to make more sense to me when reviewing the tetradic glossary at the end of the book which examines twenty or more ideas and artifacts through the tetrad framework, including periodic tables, a clock, cable television, and the telephone.  McLuhan designed four questions to explore a medium under analysis using the tetrad framework:

  1. What does the medium enhance?
  2. What does the medium make obsolete?
  3. What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
  4. What does the medium flip into when pushed to extremes?

Wouldn’t it be challenging in a media and communications class, or even in an education theory class to have students apply the tetrad structure to current technological tools and applications? How might the iPhone be viewed? Or Twitter? Though provoking to say the least.

The more I read of McLuhan’s work, and about McLuhan himself, the more I believe this man was a genius. He predicts not only events, but how media tools and advancements in technology affect society as a whole—that no one could have imagined or even considered in the 70’s and 80’s. Yet McLuhan could almost see into the future, see how our society is shaped and influenced good and bad by technology.

Worthwhile [short] Clips to Watch on McLuhan’s Views on Technology

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 12.36.00 PM
‘Technology is not just a happenstance…’ video clip via marshallmcluhanspeaks.com

Further Reading:

7 thoughts on “What Marshall McLuhan’s ‘Global Village’ Tells Us About Education Technology in 2014

  1. Thank you so much for this post and for the idea of using the tetrad in an educational/didactical context. I watched almost al of the video clips and am inspired by McLuhans view on the effects of technology and media and his brilliance. I do have to admit that I’ve been largly ignorant to this facette of McLuhans work up to now. Thank you for sharing your thougts on this – if I “get” McLuhan I’d say he’d be pleased because you used the right hemisphere of your brain 😉


    1. Hi Gaby,

      So glad you enjoyed the post and found McLuhan so thought-provoking! I agree he is quite brilliant, and I always am challenged when reading his works. Mind bending to say the least.

      Thanks for reading and sharing.


  2. Wow, this is so interesting thank you Debbie. I noted in watching the clip titled ‘Global Village’, McLuhan speaks about the ‘unfriendly’ nature of a global village, and I am thinking about Twitter and other social media forums that people around the world use to badger each other, i.e. ‘internet trolls’, etc. It seems he was before his time and very insightful. Are there people today, or do you yourself have any views on what we might see in the next 50 years of internet and technology being used together, especially in the learning realm?


    1. Hi Karen, So glad you enjoyed the post, and McLuhan’s clips.

      I agree with you how McLuhan is most insightful, if not prophetic in his description of the unfriendly nature of the global village. How accurate when you consider what happens on social media, the bullying, taunting, threats etc.

      I do wonder what will happen to education in 50 years from now. I have visions what I think education could look like, yet am skeptical, especially for K-12 that it will be able to change and adapt as needed with the Internet as a medium. There is a response to this very idea by one reader on Google+ that is interesting. https://plus.google.com/104284330737205651366/posts/emLnDJr8Ub4

      Thanks for reading and sharing Karen!


  3. Thanks so much for this, Debbie! McLuhan has had a huge influence on me, ever since I first learned about his work back in the 1980s. I really enjoyed reading this, and I will go share it at G+ right now!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s