Sunday, February 24, 2013

Week 5: McLuhan's Tetrad


The tetrad describes four effects (enhance, reverse, retrieve, and obsolesce) that all technology/medium has on society. McLuhan believed that the introduction of new technologies/medium into a society has a determining influence on how that society is organized, how its members perceive the world around them and how knowledge is stored and shared (Collections Canada, 2007). McLuhan argues that media are languages, with their own grammar and structure, and that they can be studied as such (Collections Canada, 2007). McLuhan saw the goal of technology/media studies as making the invisible, visible.

McLuhan viewed all technologies as extensions of our bodies: the phone is an extension of the voice and the pencil is an extension of the hand. He believed these extensions altered their respective environments.


I find myself tethered to my mobile device. Communication today is moving at a very fast paced. There was a time when you could work at a slower pace but not anymore.  My mobile device is essential for my professional environment. It allows me to constantly be accessible. I can transfer my office phone to my mobile; participate in conference calls; draft and respond to emails; view and approve documents it all happens seamlessly and regardless of where I am and what I’m doing.

McLuhan’s tetrad examines the effects on society of any technology/medium (put another way: a means of explaining the social processes underlying the adoption of a technology/medium) by dividing its effects into four categories and displaying them simultaneously (Wikipedia, 2013a). The tetrad presents four questions: 1. What does it enhance? What is enlarged, amplified or increased (or minimized) or accelerated (if previously slow) or retarded (if previously slow)? (Ohler, 2010) 2. What do it make obsolete? What is displaced, pushed offstage, or sidelined? (Ohler, 2010) 3. What does it retrieve? What is renewed, reactivated, updated, comeback or revived that had been obsolesced earlier? (Ohler, 2010) 4. What is the flip? What happens when the medium is pushed to extremes? What does the subject turn into when its enhancement process eventually becomes the norm instead of the unusual? (Ohler, 2010) It is important to remember all four laws happen simultaneously and not in sequential order. Every technology enhances, obsolesces, retrieves, and flips, all at the same time (Ohler, 2010).

1. What has my mobile device enhanced? My mobile device has enhanced my ability to get work done. I’m able to work anytime and anywhere. I can respond quickly to issue via phone, text or email that will allow things to keep moving rather than sitting still and waiting for me to arrive at the office.

2. What has my mobile device obsolesce? It has made my physical presence obsolete. I can be anywhere and chime into a conference call, respond to an email, send an email, forward documents, etc. There was a time when you couldn’t sync your email to your mobile device. So there were limitations on how productive you could be especially without access to email during transit situations (i.e., commute to the office, walking from one meeting to another or in my case shuttling from one building to another, etc.) but now those limitations are removed. I can be more productive regardless of my location or activity.

3. What has my mobile device retrieved that was lost? It allows me to retrieve awareness, omnipresence. There was a time when town/cities were small; everyone knew everything about everyone but with modernization we outgrew walking a few blocks to work or living in the loft space above the office. Those were the days when as you walked down the street you were told all the latest neighborhood gossip.

4. What is the flip for Facebook when pushed to its extreme? Rather than working 40 hours week, I find myself working 60-65 hours a week because I’m always connected and accessible. I’m always “on.” There was a time when I left the office now I take the office with me, wherever I go.


Ohler holds high-regard for the tetrad and says, “It provides much grist for the mill even for novices who are trying to see the impacts of technology more clearly (p.134). He also believes the tetrad benefits students because they can use it as an investigative tool for modern technologies.

(2013a, February 18). Retrieved from Wikipedia:
Collections Canada. (2007, March 6). Retrieved from
Ohler, J. B. (2010). Digital Community Digital Citizen. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.




No comments:

Post a Comment