Mass Media

Medium Theory

the medium affects perception

(also known as channel theory, or media formalism)

History and Orientation

McLuhan (1964) challenged conventional definitions when he claimed that the medium is the message. With this claim, he stressed how channels differ, not only in terms of their content, but also in regard to how they awaken and alter thoughts and senses. He distinguished media by the cognitive processes each required. McLuhan popularized the idea that channels are a dominant force that must be understood to know how the media influence society and culture.

Core Assumptions and Statements

Core: Medium theory focuses on the medium characteristics itself (like in media richness theory) rather than on what it conveys or how information is received. In medium theory, a medium is not simply a newspaper, the Internet, a digital camera and so forth. Rather, it is the symbolic environment of any communicative act. Media, apart from whatever content is transmitted, impact individuals and society. McLuhan’s thesis is that people adapt to their environment through a certain balance or ratio of the senses, and the primary medium of the age brings out a particular sense ratio, thereby affecting perception.

Statement: Some of the metaphors used by McLuhan are: The medium is the message! The medium is the massage. We live in a mess-age. The content of a new medium is an old medium.

Conceptual Model

Not applicable.

Favorite Methods

Medium theory is an analytical theory with few empirical model building. Some of the methods used are: analysis of media characteristics and historical analysis of human perception.

Scope and Application

Medium theory examines physical, psychological and social variables as the senses that are required to attend to the medium; whether the communication is bi-directional or uni-directional, how quickly messages can be disseminated, whether learning to encode and decode in the medium is difficult or simple, how many people can attend to the same message at the same moment, and so forth. Medium theorists argue that such variables influence the medium's use and its social, political, and psychological impact.


To be added.


Key publications

  • Innis, H. (1964). The Bias of Communication. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Innis, H. (1972). Empire and Communications. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media: The extentions of men. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • McLuhan, M., & Fiore, Q. (1967). The medium is the massage. An inventory of effects. New York: Bantam Books.
  • McLuhan, M. & & Fiore, Q. (1968). War and peace in the global village. New York: Bantam Books.
  • McLuhan, M. (1978). The brain and the media: The ‘Western’ hemisphere. Journal of communication, vol. 28(4), 54-60.
  • Meyrowitz, Joshua. (1985), No Sense of Place, The impact of electronic media on social behavior. New York: Oxford University Press.

See also: Media Richness Theory
See also Mass Media, Media, Culture and Society