Challenges refer to societal difficulties that result from new media.[1] Although times of challenge are interesting to read about, they are difficult to live through.[2]

Frontiers or boundaries between two societies create challenges, as the ideologies of one inevitably affect the other. In general, more advanced civilizations tend to result in an explosive release of energy on adjacent tribal societies. This effect is related to the new state of teenagers. Before electric media, teenagers were able to cope with the fact that they are not yet prepared for adult life, and a transitional state of adolescence existed. With television, however, the teenager's sense of participation with adult life is unavoidable, creating discontentment.[3]

Inadequately responding to challenges can lead to an unhelpful pendulum swing instead of a beneficial hybridization. For example, medieval oral Schoolmen did not understand Gutenberg print culture well enough to hybridize with it, and so scholasticism was completely swept aside, which was "in many respects an impoverishment of the culture."[4]

Inadequate ResponsesEdit

Specialism in particular is a risky response to challenges, because it adaptes the person or society to one challenge but does not prepare them for future challenges.[5]

Two strategies for encountering rapid change are futurism, or looking forward to still future changes, and archaism, or looking backward to older ways of life. Both stem from an inability to cope with the rapid changes of the current state of media, and so both are forms of escapism that do not really help to cope with change.[6]

Another strategy for encountering rapid change is to imitate the example of great individuals. McLuhan sees this as an emphasis of the will over perception. His own view is that, since somnambulism blinds us to understanding what is going on with media, we should exert our wills to the end of perception.[7]

Adequate ResponsesEdit

In general, McLuhan recommends art as the one realm that adequately understands and responds to the coming challenges of media.

When technology is moving strongly in one direction, in some circumstances an opposite response can be effective.[8] For example, New England towns thrived because there was no need for city walls, mixing the town and the country indistinguishably.[9] However, at other times an opposite response is not effective. As an example, McLuhan cites the implosion of students into universities, and explains that responding to this implosion with an explosive increase in size of the university will not work, and that instead a decentralization to smaller colleges is needed.[10]


  1. UM, p. 69
  2. UM, p. 72
  3. UM, p. 70
  4. UM, p. 71
  5. UM, p. 69
  6. UM, p. 70
  7. UM, p. 70
  8. UM, p. 70-71
  9. UM, p. 70
  10. UM, p. 71