“The medium is the message,” and we now live in a “global village” — much of Marshall McLuhan’s significant contributions to communication theory has been reduced to these well-known aphorisms. And while these catchphrases do indeed capture certain aspects of his thought, a fuller understanding of his vision remains remarkably incomplete. In this study, Anthony M. Wachs engages in an unconventional — and controversially orthodox — reading of McLuhan’s work on media and technology. McLuhan proposed four laws to be used in evaluating any medium: What is enhanced or intensified? What is rendered obsolete? What is retrieved that was previously obsolesced? What happens when pressed to an extreme? In order to help the reader gain a better grasp of the problems of the “electric age,” Wachs details the connection between McLuhan’s views on technology, media, and communications, and the classical arts of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. He proposes that these laws have been understudied, misunderstood, and underutilized, and that, while they are indeed grounded in ancient modes of understanding that Bacon and Vico referred to as the “new science,” they are uniquely helpful in understanding our contemporary moment in time. The New Science of Communication offers an original contribution to scholarship on McLuhan and media ecology, as scholars interested in the interactions of media with human feeling, thought, and behavior have forced modern presuppositions onto their readings of McLuhan. Wachs, however, corrects this misreading by uniquely combining communication and media, and restoring classical and medieval communication theory as an alternative to modern rationalist theories. He argues that this restoration provides a way to think through the implications of living in our own electronic age in a more balanced way, reestablishing the importance of humanities-based education within the twenty-first century.
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ANTHONY M. WACHS is assistant professor and director of forensics in the Department of Languages, Literature, and Communication Studies at Northern State University. He is the associate editor of Discourse: Journal of the Speech Communication Association of South Dakota, which received the Central States Communication Association’s Outstanding Journal Award for 2014.
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