Money As A Medium Essay, Research Paper
Money as a Medium
Marshall McLuhan’s lasting contribution is his vision of the ways technology affects and changes history and culture. McLuhan proposes that technologies are not mere add-ons to who and what humans are but, rather, alter them as though the technologies really are extensions of humans. Technology determines culture and history to the extent that it “shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.” The introduction of money affected culture in that this new technology gave rise to accelerated change and growth within society.
Money increases the volume and diversity of trade and it facilitates the exchange of goods and ideas. It also provides a means of showing who gives and who takes to and from society. Money is an extension of mankind’s ability to give, receive, and exchange. McLuhan claims that all media are extensions of man, and subsequently, money extends the human faculty of giving and taking work. McLuhan states in Understanding Media:
Money, which had been for centuries the principle transmitter and exchange of information, is now having its function increasingly transferred to science and automation. (142)
Moreover, money makes possible many other enterprises and technologies. The invention of money changed society and caused change. For example, seventeenth century Japan was affected by this new technology. It caused a slow revolution, the breakdown of the feudal government, and a revival of foreign trade. McLuhan also emphasizes in Understanding Media:
Like any other medium, it is a staple, a natural resource. As an outward and visible form of the urge to change and to exchange, it is a corporate image, depending on society for its institutional status. (133)
McLuhan implies that money is a chief item in society, but depends on the members to define it. Giving value to an object creates money. A person then takes on the role of tracking the exchanges of the object, or issuing notes or tokens that are accepted by the community.
Pythagoras introduced coinage into Southern Italy around 500 B.C. In his time, one of the prominent questions thinkers were asking was “What are things made of?” Some said
fire, some said water, or earth, air, or some combination thereof. Pythagoras was one of the first to introduce the idea that it is not so much what things are made of, but that their form is important. The particular type of form he was interested in was mathematical. It is fitting that he introduced money that abstracts worth into a value and provides a common unit of measurement. In its abstraction of worth into numeric value, it habituates humans into dealing with numbers and, more generally, promotes the sort of quantitative analysis that is prerequisite for deeper mathematical thought.
This deeper mathematical thought acquires a position in daily life because of money. The language of number becomes as common as other forms of language. Money makes humans into precise bean counters, then geometricians, and then urban engineers. Modern probability theory came about in the eighteenth century as a result of attempts to solve gambling problems. Considerable mathematical ingenuity has been exercised on problems wherein the entities under consideration were dollars. Money, in addition to providing motivation toward knowing elementary mathematics, comes also to mediate the environment that builds the paths society walks. Banks and depositories were created just on the basis for lending and storing money. Stocks are based on the idea of investing money. One cannot picture today’s society without the use of money. McLuhan feels that a mechanized culture needs money for coordination and communication between different specialist functions. Work, time, and money become interrelated, but separate. He remarks that money “separates work from other social functions.” In this, McLuhan reveals that money makes a job rewarding, and therefore that job serves a specific purpose in life. The job provides money, which is necessary for everyday living.
Money mints a hot connection between numbers and desire. It is not money that gives rise to human calculations and schemes, but rather desire to experience certain feelings. Humans do not want a particular item for its own sake, but rather to have certain feelings. Humans have knowledge of how they want to feel; this gives rise to what they think they want; at this point, if the item he or she wants has a monetary price attached to it, then he or she will calculate or observe the price and whether they have enough money. Humans do not often think in terms of trades and counter trades, talks and negotiations, but proceed directly to the balance of dollars and cents. Numbers, in such case, are no longer remote abstractions, but useful measures of human desire, need, and power. Money creates in humans a range of emotions toward numbers, given how much money counts in the fulfillment or frustration of needs and desires. The affective relation between numbers and need is dramatized and formalized with the introduction of money.
The technology of money is a dramatic and relatively obvious example of McLuhan’s idea of inventions changing cultures and societies fundamental ways. Not only did money pave the way for mathematical thinking, but also extended mankind’s ability to give, receive, and exchange. In conclusion, money clearly exemplifies McLuhan’s proposition that “the medium is the message.”