Does Technology Really Influence Everything?

Analyzing Marshall McLuhan’s Technological Determinism

Ali Cozzolino-Smith
4 min readMar 4, 2022

“In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message.” (McLuhan, 1964)

Understanding philosophy has never come easy for me. I don't know why, but it is hard to grasp these theories and hypotheses. Let’s break down Marshall McLuhan’s Technological Determinism together, so it is easier to digest.

Who is Marshall McLuhan?

Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan was an educator and communication theorist. He became famous during the 1960s for his studies of the effect of mass media on thought and behavior. His ideas were considered revolutionary, but he was often misunderstood by people at this time. He emphasized connectedness and organized the technological determinism theory into several paradigms, tribal paradigm, print paradigm, liner-print paradigm, and electronic paradigm.

It's mentioned in Applied Mass Communication Theory that McLuhan’s focal point was that a society dominated by electronic media will differ from a print-dominated one. People relate and experience the world around them based on the senses they need to use to learn. Society is structured around the dominant medium of communication at the time.

For example, the tribal paradigm, the dominant communication style was oral transmission. This came out of time before printing and the written word. People either learn from their experiences or talk to others about their experiences.

What is Technological Determinism?

Technological determinism is the theory that technology determines cultural values, social structure, and history. Social progress follows an inevitable course driven by technological innovation.

The following YouTube video discusses technological determinism and applies several examples. One example involves the invention of the iPhone. The iPhone is a fairly new invention. I remember a time before the iPhone, the coolest device you could own was a Blackberry or a phone with a retractable keyboard. There is social capital that comes with having the newest and latest iPhone. Even though the changes from year to year are often very minuscule. As a society, we have preconceived thought on a person based on the type of phone they have. Android users, for example, often get a lot of hate. Basically, technology comes into our lives, and it changes how we communicate with and think about people. I think that having a small computer in our back pocket changes the way we communicate with others. Instead of asking a question of someone, we just Google instead.

3 Strengths

  • McLuhan’s theory will be applicable in the future. Technology is forever changing. Technology determines the communication of society at that era. As he looked at how styles of communication shifted throughout history, from oral to print, and to electronics now.McLuhan’s theory can be applied to social media. Smartphones and social media shaped how society communicates now.
  • While other research in communication speakers about radio and television as tools. However, McLuhan took it a step further and included numbers, games, and money as tools in communication. For example, money allows people to travel and spread information.
  • There are many possibilities. New technological advances are happening every day. In terms of technological advances in communication, the Metaverse will be a new way for people to interact with people.

3 Weaknesses

  • McLuhan’s Technological Determinism contradicts another popular theory, social construction of technology. Which theorizes that society itself shapes technological innovation.
  • While the theory was popular in the 1960s, had a resurgence in the 1990s, and still is throughout pop culture. However, it is no longer favored in academia.
  • Some may say technology determining societal shifts and cultural changes is a weakness. We shouldn’t depend upon our technology. When we depend too much on technology, it could hurt us in the long run. I’ve always heard that robots would be the downfall of society.
NBC News

Marshall McLuhan’s Technological Determinism establishes the connectedness between society and technology through mass media. McLuhan’s theory came way before social media. However, the central idea that technology shapes society can be applied to this new form of communication.

Here’s a question for all of you! What comes next? Society in the electronic paradigm, currently. Is that the end of our technological progression? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!