Whitfield vs. McLuhan in ‘The Message is bigger than the Medium’

Marshall McLuhan once said ‘the medium is the message’. Now I didn’t know McLuhan personally, if I did I’d ask him what the hell he meant by that… but I don’t so I’ve just got to rely on the internet to gather some third party responses and opinions and try and get my head around it. One particularly useful source was on the Smashing Magazine website, published by a gentleman by the name of Jason Gross; a freelance web designer. Now if you’re reading this it’s highly likely you’re studying BCM112 and considering I found this source of the first page of Google when searching McLuhan’s famous quote you may already be familiar with it. If not and you’re interested in having a look at the post here’s the link: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2011/07/04/the-medium-is-the-message/

So as I was saying, Gross’ post was pretty helpful, but it’s not what he has to say that I found most interesting… it was the comments. A user going by the alias ‘CC’ replied to the article saying “the medium is the message” is tantamount to saying, “the cup is the tea”, or “the CD is the music”.’ Now this made me laugh because for the last week I’ve been reciting the quote in my head wondering how on earth the medium could possible be the message when the medium is often stationary and stable, like an ‘app’ (you know that thing you download of the itunes store on your smart phone) for example. The app is what it is, it isn’t changing. But the message, or meaning that the medium is conveying could be interpreted in a number of different ways. When discussed and analysed the audience’s opinion may change, the message can change… but the medium cannot. Therefore how can the medium be the message?


CC’s comparison works well for me, the cup is not the tea, the cup is already there, just sitting there waiting to be filled, you could put anything in the cup, it doesn’t have to be tea. Maybe I want to put some vodka into the cup or some breakfast juice. I guess it depends on the time of day, but if I was given the cup right now I wouldn’t be putting tea into it. But that’s the whole point of the problem with McLuhan’s theory, the medium is there, it’s always there but the message isn’t always the same. It can’t be. It would have to be a very basic medium for there to only be one message.


Maybe I’m not quite understanding McLuhan’s quote, but that’s okay, as more and more students studying the BCM112 subject with me post their own ideas on the topic I should be able to take in an even wider array of opinion on the matter, which will hopefully expand my view and help me see what he is saying.


I’ve seen snippets of opinions that comment that McLuhan’s ideas in general are not specific to 2015, I can’t help at this point but agree. I am however, very open to that idea changing. If any of my classmates have read through my waffling and have a better understanding than myself, please feel free to share your great knowledge in the comments, it would be much appreciated!


10 thoughts on “Whitfield vs. McLuhan in ‘The Message is bigger than the Medium’”

  1. Love this! i am equally as confused about “the medium is the message” i feel it’s a pretty tough concept to grasp, however after a lot of research i think i am starting to get it! i love the references you make for example the “cup is the tea”! I suggest to keep reading other students blogs because they can really help to put a better/easier understanding on it! also if you haven’t already watch this BBC video, it makes it a bit easier to grasp! Good luck 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I REALLY enjoyed this post. I’m so glad you put your own spin on it, one that was quite different to mine, and really made me think in a different way. I guess the only way i can try to justify the theory in relation to the tea issue (haha) is that I think the medium still in a way can give us a message about the type of thing that will come from it. For e.g. you wouldn’t put any random object in a cup, you would most likely put a liquid to drink. So I guess the message of the medium – the cup – is that it will be used to drink liquid’s, it’s still giving a hint or a message as to what will eventuate from its use. I guess thats why McLuhan was saying, on a larger scale of course, if we understand the message of the medium we could predict what things were going to eventuate from it. I don’t know if that makes sense, haha but its the only way it works in my head so far! Great post though, really really enjoyed it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a really good way to look at it Hollie, that although you may be able to put different kinds of drinks it the cup… it has to be a liquid, I didn’t catch that myself.
      You’ve brought a bit of insight to me that I hadn’t previously seen so thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This was a great read! I loved your example with the use of objects such as the cup and the CD, as it created a broader understanding of “the medium is the message” for me, as they weren’t media based examples. The message is very dependent on what the individual believes and desires (i.e. what is inside the cup). I am still confused myself with what “medium is the message” actually means and your blog post put it in a completely different perspective and helped me get my head around it. You attacked the topic at a completely different angle to what I did in my post, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The tea in a cup metaphor is great, definitely puts my initial confusion on the whole topic nicely. The inclusion of the article was a nice touch, providing an outside source to what you are discussing.
    From reading everyone’s posts on the ‘Medium is the Message’, i think I’ve grasped a better understanding on the topic. I see the medium having an impact on what we interpret and the message we receive.
    In relation to the ‘cup theory’, perhaps if we had two teacups of different sizes, one with the capacity to hold 1 litre of tea and the other 100ml, would they give different messages? Maybe the giant tea cup would imply that the tea (or the message) is intended for a group of people rather than one person, or that it is to be consumed over a longer period of time. Whereas the smaller cup may imply a quick tea for one person at home. Although both are tea cups and have the same type of tea in them, the message they exert can be seen as different.

    Still, the topic still confuses me, so not sure if my little analogy there has just muddled things up further haha! but nicely done, you write well x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your analogy didn’t muddle up things at all… it actually gave me another perspective. These comments are great because I’m starting to get ideas and viewpoints that I wasn’t able to see myself.
      I love that you’ve taken the cup and said ‘this is for the individual’, whereas something larger would be for more people and therefore the message would change. Even if the small cup and the large cup are holding the same thing, because the medium (the cup) is different, the message will be different.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the topic.


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