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Active vs Passive — Slight Return

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This is a follow up to my previous post on active and passive content.

I’d arrived at that conclusion on types of content independently and I was trying to figure out the effects of the propagation of the two types of content.

I chanced upon a guy last month called Marshall McLuhan, who coined the phrase : “The medium is the message” and also wrote a book called Understanding Media.

I’ve since read Part 1 of the book and it answered several of the questions I had and helped me move the needle.

So, I thought I’d follow up.

Hot and Cool

While I had arrived at the terms Active and Passive for types of content in 2018, this genius coined the terms Hot and Cool for types of media in 1964!

A hot medium is one that extends one single sense in “high definition”

Hot media are low in participation, and cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience.

In my case, Passive Content is analogous to Hot Media and Active Content is analogous to Cool Media.

While I termed it based on the participant, McLuhan had termed it based on the medium itself.


I’ll first put out a few quotes that I found fascinating.

Firstly because he wrote this 50 years ago and secondly how insightful they are leaving me with very little to do to be honest in terms of listing the impact of the types of content.

The effect of electric technology had at first been anxiety. Now it appears to create boredom. We have been through the three stages of alarm, resistance, and exhaustion that occur in every disease or stress of life, whether individual or collective We are certainly coming within conceivable range of a world automatically controlled to the point where we could say, “Six hours less radio in Indonesia next week or there will be a great falling off in literary attention.” Or, “We can ! program twenty more hours of TV in South Africa next week to cool down the tribal temperature raised by radio last week.” Whole cultures could now be programmed to keep their emotional climate stable in the same way that we have begun to know something about maintaining equilibrium in the commercial economies of the worldWhile Mcluhan extends to concept of media/medium to pretty much anything that is perceivable through any of our senses, his analysis of the impact is specific enough in my view to apply to any one or all the different types of media.

The hot radio medium used in cool or nonliterate cultures has a violent effect, quite unlike its effect, say in England or America, where radio is felt as entertainment. A cool or low literacy culture cannot accept hot media like movies or radio as entertainment. They are, at least, as radically upsetting for them as the cool TV medium has proved to be for our high literacy world.In the above quote, he uses the phrase Cool Culture, which defines in the quote, he thus uses the words Hot and Cool for a variety of things.

Another vantage point from which to test the difference between hot and cold media is the practical joke. The hot literary medium excludes the practical and participant aspect of the joke so completely that Constance Rourke, in her American Humor, con- siders it as no joke at all. To literary people, the practical joke with its total physical involvement is as distasteful as the pun that derails usIn a later chapter, talking about Challenges, he quotes,

Archimedes once said, “Give me a place to stand and I will move the world.” Today he would have pointed to our electric media and said, “I will stand on your eyes, your ears, your nerves, and your brain, and the world will move in any tempo or pattern I choose.” We have leased these “places to stand” to private corporations.He also touches upon Centralisation vs De-Centralisation,

The implosion of electric energy in our century cannot be met by explosion or expansion, but it can be met by decentralism and the flexibility of multiple small centres. For example, the rush of students into our universities is not explosion but implosion. And the needful strategy to encounter this force is not to enlarge the university but to create numerous groups of autonomous colleges in place of our centralised university plant that grew up on the lines of European government and nineteenth-century industry.I’m still working my way through the book, starting part 2 of the book this week.

I highly recommend the author and book to anyone looking to understand media/content of any form.

I’ll follow up with a part 2 once I’m done with part 2 summarising my views on the book and interpretation of impact of different type of media.

Thank you for reading