Phenomenology 2010

Volume 5, Issue Part 2, 2010

Selected Essays from North America Part 2

Chris Nagel
Pages 195-207

Exposure, Absorption, Subjection—Being-in-Media

In the Introduction to Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media, he argues for the relevance of the book’s subtitle, “The Extensions of Man.” Specifically, McLuhan claims that media—that is, electronic media—are extensions of the human nervous system, permitting a range of contexts, contacts, and experiences. To clarify what this means, I develop a phenomenological interpretation of media as existential, lived situation, drawing from McLuhan’s own account while critically analyzing it, and bringing into play the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty. Our being-in-media may be as decisive for us as McLuhan seems to have thought, but may also be far better characterized by exposure, absorption, or subjection than by McLuhan’s optimism.