Marshall McLuhan

Fifty years ago Marshall McLuhan famously coined the phrase “The Medium is the Message.” What he meant was that the medium on which you receive content significantly influences your perception of the message. This is a point that is often missed in commentary about the rise of the e-book. A tablet is a fundamentally different medium than a paper book and requires a different approach.

First, a little context. The popular electronic reader, the Kindle, was introduced less than six years ago. Yet adult e-book sales are already outpacing adult hardcover sales.

When writers first exchanged pen and paper for word processing systems we didn't realize how firmly it put us on the path toward self-production and self-publishing. The jury's still out on whether the creative process was altered for better or worse. Marshall McLuhan, an early media pundit, recognized back in 1962 how "the divorce of poetry and music was first reflected by the printed page."

In contrast, today's tools marry writing and publishing, bringing artists ever closer to the end product with click-of-a-button e-book creation capabilities built into the writing tools.

It doesn't seem so long ago—and that's because it wasn't—that referring to "the cutting edge of ebook technology" was redundant. Ebook technology itself was the cutting edge: File-based delivery of tomes was the driving force behind all of the messy disruption in so many publishing houses in the last 10 years.

It's been more than a decade since the first mass of commercial Web sites were launched and far longer since people began predicting the extinction of print. In March 1999, Princeton University history professor Robert Darnton wrote an article in the New York Review of Books that read: Marshall McLuhan's future has not happened. The Web, yes; global immersion in television, certainly; media and messages everywhere, of course. But the electronic age did not drive the printed word into extinction, as McLuhan prophesied in 1962. McLuhan, an English professor, media analyst and book author, predicted the demise of the printed word 43 years

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