Commonly Asked Questions about Marshall McLuhan, #1 from marshallmcluhan.com:
Why is the title of the book “The medium is the massage” and not “The medium is the message”?
And the answer:
Actually, the title was a mistake. When the book came back from the typesetter’s, it had on the cover “Massage” as it still does. The title was supposed to have read “The Medium is the Message” but the typesetter had made an error. When Marshall saw the typo he exclaimed, “Leave it alone! It’s great, and right on target!”
The Medium is the Massage is a small pocket paperback published in 1967, where graphic designer Quentin Fiore distilled the ideas of media theorist Marshall McLuhan for a broad audience. The front cover (site of the fruitful typo) looks like this:
McLuhan, an academic, was already well-known but his ideas were not simple or necessarily easily digestible. The book describes itself as:
... a look-around to see what’s happening. It is a collide-oscope of interfaced situations.
The small paperback quickly became a best seller with a devoted cult audience. It was the first in a series of books designed by Fiore and coordinated by Jerome Agel which included titles authored by Buckminster Fuller and Carl Sagan.
The book starts like so:
The medium, or process, of our time—electric technology—is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing us to reconsider and re- evaluate practically every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted. Everything is changing—you, your family, your neighborhood, your education, your job, your government, your relation to "the others." And they're changing dramatically.
And continues ...
Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication. The alphabet, for instance, is a technology that is absorbed by the very young child in a completely unconscious manner, by osmosis so to speak. Words and the meaning of words predispose the child to think and act automatically in certain ways. The alphabet and print technology fostered and encouraged a fragmenting process, a process of specialism and of detachment. Electric technology fosters and encourages unification and involvement. It is impossible to understand social and cultural changes without a knowledge of the work- ings of media.