Marshall McLuhan's 4 laws of Media

In all probability Marshal McLuhan’s most famous sentence is: “the medium is the message,” referring to the fact that what media you use influences the way you communicate.

But McLuhan’s 4 laws of media are probably much less well known. I recently ran across them, and was struck by how meaningful they are.

McLuhan said that when you introduce new media, 4 things inevitably happen: the new media enhance, reverse, retrieve, and obsolesce.

  1. Enhance
    The new media enhances, makes possible, or accelerates some things. Example:

  2. Reverse
    When pushed to the limits, the new media will reverse it’s original characteristics.

  3. Retrieve
    The new media brings back some features of earlier media.

  4. Obsolesce
    The new media obsolesces some old media.

There are some great examples of this exact process happening. Sometimes it also applies for technologies that are not, precisely, media.

For example, a car makes it possible for you to travel faster. Too many of them reverses that effect as you get trapped in traffic jams. The car retrieves the era of knighthood or even cowboy culture … have horse will travel … and obsolesced the horse and buggy.