[Raymond Williams, *Television: Technology and cultural form*, Chapter  
3, "The Forms of Television," p. 129-132]

C. The Technology as a Cause

Sociological and psychological studies of the effects of television,  
which in their limited terms have usually been serious and careful,  
were significantly overtaken, during the 1960s, by a fully developed  
theory of the technology -- the medium -- as determining . . . The  
work of McLuhan was a particular culmination of an aesthetic theory  
which became, negatively, a social theory: a development and  
elaboration of formalism [by which he probably means a "search" for a  
long-abandoned "formal causality"] which can be seen in many fields,  
from literary criticism and linguistics to psychology and  
anthropology, but which acquired it most significant popular influence  
in an isolating theory of "the media."

Here, characteristically -- and as explicit ratification of particular  
uses [mistakenly imagining that McLuhan "endorsed" anything he wrote  
about] -- there is an apparent sophistication in just the critical  
area of cause and effect which we have been discussing.  It is an  
apparently sophisticated technological determinism which has the  
significant effect of indicating a social and cultural determinism: a  
determinism, that is to say, which ratifies the society and culture we  
have now [completely missing the fact that McLuhan's popularity was a  
result of a "counter-culture" that adopted him as its "guru"].  For if  
the medium -- whether print or television -- is the cause, all other  
causes, all that men ordinarily see as history, are at once reduced to  
effects.  Similarly, what are elsewhere seen as effects [here implying  
"efficient causality"] and as such subject to social, cultural,  
psychological and moral questioning, are excluded as irrelevant by  
comparison with the direct physiological and therefore "psychic"  
effects of the media as such.  The initial formulation -- "the medium  
is the message" [title of Chapter 1 in "Understanding Media" (1964)]  
-- was a simple formulation.  The subsequent formulation -- "the  
medium is the massage" [title of the 1967 book, not actually written  
by McLuhan and from which his estate collects no royalites] -- is a  
direct and functioning ideology . . .

If specific media are essentially psychic adjustments, coming not from  
relations between ourselves but between a generalized human organism  
and its general physical environment [aka, a "proto-psychology"], then  
of course intention, in any general or particular case, is irrelevant,  
and with intention goes content, whether apparent or real.  All media  
operations are in effect desocialized; they are simply physical events  
in an abstracted sensorium, and are distinguishable only by their  
variable sense-ratios.  But it is then interesting that from this  
wholly unhistorical and asocial base McLuhan projects certain images  
of society: "retribalization" by the "electronic age"; the "global  
village."  As descriptions of any observable social state or tendency,  
in the period in which electronic media have been dominant, these are  
so ludicrous as to raise a further question.

The physical fact of instant transmission [beginning in the 19th  
century, with telegraph], as a technical possibility, has been  
uncritically raised to a social fact, without any pause to notice that  
virtually all such transmission is at once selected and controlled by  
existing social authorities.  McLuhan, of course, would apparently do  
away with all such controls; the only controls he envisages are a kind  
of allocation and rationing of particular media for particular psychic  
effects, which he believes would dissolve or control any social  
problem that arises [never something McLuhan ever seriously proposed]  
. . . The effect of the medium is the same, whoever controls or uses  
it, and we can forget ordinary political and cultural argument and let  
the technology run itself . . . The particular rhetoric of McLuhan's  
theory of communications is unlikely to last long.  But it is  
significant mainly as an example of an ideological representation of  
technology as a cause, and in this sense it will have successors . . .  
What is to be seen, by contrast, is the radically different position  
in which technology, including communication technology, and  
specifically television, is at once an intention and an effect of a  
particular social order.

[Raymond Williams (1921-88) was a Welsh Marxist theorist and academic,  
who was an influential figure in the New Left (i.e. the version of the  
"left" developed in the 1960s, under the influence of television, as  
opposed to the "Old Left" which developed under earlier radio  
conditions.) He is often credited with "laying the foundations of  
'cultural studies'", as reflected in his 1958 "Culture and Society."   
In the late-1930s, he attended Trinity Hall college, Cambridge, where  
he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain.  At little earlier,  
Marshall McLuhan, 10 years his senior, also attended Trinity Hall,  
from which he was awarded his "The Classical Trivium" PHD in 1943 --  
in which "grammar" (or formal cause) is juxtaposed to "dialectics" (or  
efficient cause), beginning with the Pre-Socratics through Elizabethan  


Mark Stahlman
Jersey City Heights

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