Mcluhan’s “Hot and Cool”

digital_mcluhen_2.JPGIn the book “Digital McluhanPaul Levinson gives an introduction to Marshall Mcluhan‘s key ideas and demonstrates how they are still relevant in this digital age. One of the ideas he discusses, which I found interesting, is Macluhan’s “Hot and Cool”:

Hot and cool are temperatures of different media. Hot media are those that are dazzling, instructive, definitive and overpowering. They present complete information, which the reciever cannot add to. They are intoxicating, but in their loudness and brightness, they quickly satiate the viewer’s senses. It’s like they seem to aim at running you over and leaving you senseless. Examples of hot media is the printed book and newspaper, the big screen motion picture, the true-to-life photography and the stereo and radio (though the radio has cooled down since integrating phone calls).

Cool media is understated and fleeting, fast moving and sketchy. Its power lies in intriguing and seducing. You can think of the temperatures in terms of personality aswell: If Elvis was hot, Mick Jagger is (mostly was) cool. If Ronald Reagan was hot, John F. Kennedy was cool. Cool has a feeling of being in synch with the universe and in tune with the future. Cool media is in need of the warmth of our participation, and it invites participation by the uncompleted information it offers. Examples of cool media are poetry, graffiti, most cartoons, television and the telephone. And, of course, the World Wide Web.

The temperature of a medium comes from the degree of intensity of its engagements. Therefore the articulate prose is hot while the abstract poetry is cool. Therefore the clear sound of the stereo is hot while the tin ear sound of the telephone is cool. Soft colors, soft voices, and software are means of coolness to pull forth our participation. Structure is hot though. Rap music is an example of coolness that offers invitation by its minimal and open structure.

In instant messenger services, like Msn Messenger, Skype or Google Talk, participants in conversation only have each other’s written words to know the other’s intentions by. That’s an example of seducing by offering inadequate information. Text on telephone lines is even cooler, more seductive, than speech – it is often addictive precisely because its mode of presentation prevents us from ever getting enough of it.

The web and its hyperlinks is a cool media because you never know the extent of the knowledge. When surfing and searching, not knowing what you will find and finding what you didn’t know that you were looking for gets you inspired. It makes for a good way to learn. Mcluhan thought that “low defenition media like telephone or television are major education instruments because they offer inadequate information.” His hope for television and telephone as teaching tools haven’t been fulfilled, especially in the case of the telephone, but online courses are working better and better as forums for cool “good teaching”.

So. When experience designing our memorial: If we want to design a place were people stay and participate, a place that people can’t get enough of, were they want to stay long enough to be able to start a contemplation process, we should make use of Mcluhan’s theories and seduce the visitors with understated content and inadequate information. What we make shouldn’t be very structured, or use bright colors, loud voices and so on. We should not only ask visitors to participate but also emotionally pull them into participating. But on the other hand, if we want the overwhelming wow-feeling in our web monument, there seems to be two different paths to follow…

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