Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
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McLuhan marks the incorporation of written language into societies as a catalyst for the transition from a general audio bias to a visual bias. With the creation of the alphabet, speeches could suddenly be recorded as well as orated, and sight began to take, in McLuhan's mind, precedence over hearing. McLuhan also states that a medium is most powerful when it changes the "form, scale, and speed of human relations and activities" (xv). Not only did the medium of text change the form of human relations, it allowed speeches and messages to travel great distances at considerable speeds, increasing the entire scale of communication. The senses could now be ranked in order from most to least powerful and relevant:
McLuhan presents his beliefs as follows: "the relationships among the five physical senses... may be ranked in order of the degree of fragmentation of perceptions received through them. Sight comes first, because the eye is such a specialized organ. Then come hearing, touch, smell, and taste, progressively less specialized senses. By contrast with the enormous power of the eye and the distances from which it can receive a stimulus, the tongue is thought capable of distinguishing only sweet, sour, bitter, and salt, and only in direct contact with the substance providing the stimulus." (xix-xx).
Though McLuhan's reasoning is biased, it reflects a general trend towards viewing vision (no pun intended) as the truest and most reliable of all the senses. Recall the popular phrase "You'll have to see it to believe it!" It is no wonder that advertisers today still rely heavily on the visual to market their products.