Understanding Media, Reversal of the Overheated Medium

In Understanding Media, McLuhan describes the shift in western society from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy as a template for the next shift from an industrial economy to an information economy.

Another characteristic reversal after passing a road break boundary is that the country ceases to be the center of all work, and the city ceases to be the center of leisure. In fact, improved roads and transport have reversed the ancient pattern and made cities the centers of work and the country the place of leisure and of recreation.1

Marshall McLuhan Understanding Media

He goes on to describe how farmers lived and worked on the land in the countryside. The rise of industrialization lead to a shift in the focus of labor activities to the factory and centers of production around the factory — the city or urban area. The invention of the train helped to leverage the growth of the cities by facilitating transportation between centers of production for both resources and labor. Similarly, the rise of the automobile and interstate highway systems directly resulted in the development of suburban areas.

McLuhan utilizes the agrarian-to-industrial economic shift as a template by which we will see the next shift; from an industrial economy to an information economy.

The (in his words) “electronic economy” or information economy (in contemporary parlance) will be a new economic/societal shift in which the information infrastructure (fiber optics, cheap hardware, ubiquitous internet access) will afford another shift from the centers of industrial production back to the countryside — ie: working remotely from your country home.

McLuhan, in the dawn of the color-TV era, was widely seen as a visionary capable of seeing deep into societal shifts before they happened, and providing guidance as they unfolded. Perhaps his works should be revisited, as they continue to provide useful insights.


  1. McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Cambridge: MIT, Print. 1994.