Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Friday, December 21, 2007

Understanding New Media: Marshall McLuhan Tetrad Questions - My Answers

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Reflecting upon the true nature of the new set of media we have created around us is probably one of the most important activities anyone involved in media communication should engage with from time to time.

Photo credit: (c) Yousuf Karsh - edited by Robin Good

I must be thankful for taking me again onto this intellectual recreation journey to Teemu Arina, a young Finnish entrepreneur, scholar and media analyst that just escapes any attempt to professional categorization. As he recently passed through Rome while headed to one of the many conferences he is invited to speak at, he found a little time to meet with me and chat over the cultural and media technology topics that fascinate us both.

The questions he poses me, possibly inspired by the presence of a newly found media friend, Adrian Guzman, a fellow in the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, are as challenging as any of Teemu's (Adrian provides some interesting short insight at the end of the clip, on the importance of media awareness for children as well as about his perception of our developing electrical extensions to our bodies.)

The tetrad questions that Teemu launches in this short clip are Marshall McLuhan's own intellectual mean for analyzing and discussing the effects of media and technology on society.

"The main thrust of the tetrad is to create a "comprehensive awareness" of both the artifact and its surroundings. Creation of tetrads requires the user to strive for a mental balance between acoustic and visual space, requiring the cognitive power of both left and right hemispheres of the brain."

(Source: Anthony Hempell - The Tetrad Concept)

These are four challenging questions indeed, and when someone turns suddenly on a video camera at you and fires them with no other intro, you can really see how in shape your intellectual apparatus and your media sense-making really is. The goal not being having a right answer, but moving through the exercise of articulating a meaningful one.

Here McLuhan's original tetrad questions:

1) What does it extend?

2) What does it make obsolete? Amputate? Remove?

3) What new opportunities does it create?

4) When it overextends, what does it reverse to?


Mc Luhan Tetrad Questions on Media Effects

Duration: 7':42"

English transcript

Teemu Arina: OK, so what does it extend?

Robin Good: The opportunity to connect. Here we are in the age of homo-contextus, which is very close to my homo-connectus, ... and so, it always means that we are getting very close to being able to exchange and find like-minded people with much greater ease and speed than was ever possible before.

So that is a big jump. So let's leave it at that.

Teemu Arina: Yeah. So, what does it make obsolete? What does it amputate? What does it remove?

Robin Good: It makes obsolete the top-down straight mass-media communication.

It makes it crumble on itself because it shows all of its weakness. Because the moment that you can see next to traditional top-down one-way communication, the fact that people can talk back, can have a conversation with the companies through other media, all of that facade of marketing yourself with some glamorous slogans that don't reflect who you are in fact, are slowly all crumbling down.

So, that is what it amputates.

Teemu Arina: Well, what new opportunities it creates then?

Robin Good: It creates opportunity for everyone to be a media person; for everyone to become part of this planetary conversation, planetary research, planetary desire to be not just a number anymore, not to be dependent exclusively on authorities that dictate to what and when you have to do whatever you do, first in school, then in work, then for your nation.

You can now participate, have more opportunities to do the things you like or write about them or contact people that are interested in those. Associate with them, meet them, try to change things, it has become something more tangible.

Teemu Arina: Yeah. So, the last question is: Well, if it is over extended, if people are too much into this new medium, if they are too engaged and they leave a lot of other say activities in life aside, what does it reverse to? Is there any threat to this?

Robin Good: When you push me down that road, I do not see very much that aspect of things which is the one peddled by the media. But you see the overextension in the traditional media and owners of telecommunication infrastructure taking again control of the Internet and reversing that overextension in basically a top-down structure, like we have been having until now. And so, losing the great opportunity we have. That is the overextension that I fear, that I will be scared about.

Teemu on: What Role For Our Kids In The Future?

Teemu Arina: Wow, the new generation...

Future artists.

I hope they will live a very much more fuller and extended life that we did.. so have more opportunities and capabilities.

Robin Good: So Teemu, if you had to move now to 2020 and you could see an imaginary world, what role would children play in that world in your vision?

Teemu Arina: That is a hard question.

Robin Good: Go ahead.

Teemu: We have the baby boomers, and I am actually quite concerned about the younger generation because they have to carry all that infrastructure we are talking about here, all the infrastructure that has been created and all the older generations forward.

And I think it's impossible without this new technology.

We really have to get into this and help our children to understand how these things can be used for solving real problems, real questions, not just the surface.

But go really deep into these questions and figure out how they can really cope with it, get in the next wave, sort of thing.

That is my take.

Robin: So, if you were to again see yourself in 2020, how would you see children? If you could paint this future, would children play the same role they play today; if not what role would they play?

Teemu: Well, that is a hard question too. That is a really tough question...
So, what kind of different role would they play?

Robin: Yes, Teemu... it's ok, you can make some mistakes.

Teemu: Yes.

I hope the past will be present in their current and future, so that they don't forget about all the serious mistakes we did.

And if something repeats itself, after generation, after generation, it is that we do the same mistakes, many of the same mistakes.

So I hope this new generation will use this technology to understand the past as well as the future to really really connect the two.


Adrian Guzman on: Kids and Media Awareness + Electrical Future

Teemu: Adrian, what do you want for your children in the future... related to this new technology, what kind of life should they live.

Adrian Guzman: I would really like that they be more aware... and thinking of my daughter or any other children, they need to be really concerned that this media are them; I mean it is their own second nature in a certain sense.

Yeah... they could be aware of that.

Teemu: So that they are the medium... or they are message as well?

Adrian: Yes, definitely. It is cult too. I mean our generic cult is blending with locals with the computer cult, so we are blending with the electric medium.

I do really think that they can and they should be more aware.

Teemu: What does 'E' mean for you, does it mean?

Adrian: Electricity and electrical, both of them. Electrical learning, electrical lives, electrical diversity, it is important.

Teemu: Yes. So the minimum requirement for using this new technology is to have electricity in the first place, right?

Adrian: Yes, but we have electricity in our own body already, so that is an important thing to consider too.

Teemu: True, true. So the new mediums based on electricity can become an extension of the electricity in your body...

Adrian: Yeah, definitely. I truly believe that, and starting from our synapses too.
That's good.

Originally recorded by Teemu Arina - Edited, transcribed and prepared for publication by Robin Good for Master New Media and first published as "Understanding New Media: Marshall McLuhan Tetrad Questions - My Answers"

Robin Good -
Readers' Comments    
2007-12-27 08:59:09

eric swan

I bought my daughter a Wii for xmas. This is the extension of the vast amounts of money I spent as a pre-teen on pinball. I think I'm doing the right thing. My daughter is already so much more adept at understanding technology. The machines she plays with now extend her persona over the network. She is a global citizen.

posted by Robin Good on Friday, December 21 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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