In this post I shall be exploring the work which will be inspirational in developing ideas for my third part of my final project which is an illustrative text which will be referred to as Typo Texts. Alan suggested to look at the following works which are illustrative probes that make point and develop an enquiry into the subject of Internet studies (or at least partial). I will look at The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore as well as The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present by Douglas Coupland, Shumon Baser, and Hans Ulrich Obrist and The Book of Probes by David Carson and McLuhan.

At this point it would be very beneficial to establish the meaning of probe in this context.

To search into or examine thoroughly; question closely (

Something which penetrates something else, as though to explore; something which obtains information.                                                                                        (

The Medium is the Massage

In reference to the above, McLuhan whose work I have established I will be looking at in detail is a pioneer in probing issues with short words, phrases or illustrative image. McLuhan’s work has become iconic with provocative use of cryptic aphorism, more commonly known as a method of probe and he would revel in using metaphorical language or probe in order to try and compress his complex and thorough ideas into just small, thought provoking terms; posing a new question interested him far more than confirming an idea.

In essence, this is very similar to my own intentions for creating a typo text/probe. I will be producing an academic and a journalist piece of writing and it is in these that I will be able to explore, develop and put forth thorough argument with great detail. Therefore the probe gives me the opportunity to put forth the same ideas but in a different format. It is important to place emphasis on the phrase “put forth ideas” as in the probe, that’s all it will be, whereas in the written work, there will be far more importance placed on a particular angle to make an argument.

The title of the book itself is a probe into the greater meaning of context of the ideas the book puts forth. The book can be read as ‘Mass age’, ‘Mess age’ ‘Message’ and ‘Massage’. It was initially a typo error, having meant to read ‘Message’ but McLuhan requested that it remain as that to denote the effect each medium has on the human sensorium, taking inventory of the effects of numerous media in terms of how they massage the sensorium.

I will now explore some images from the book to identify a visual style and to see how McLuhan has structured the illustrative elements to provoke thought, paying attention to the visual aesthetics in particular.

Figure 1. IMedium is the Massage images.

Figure 1. Medium is the Massage images.

Med Mass 1 Med Mass 2 Med Mass 3 Med Mass 4 Med Mass 5 Med Mass 6 Med Mass 7 Med Mass 8 Med Mass 9 Med Mass 10 Med Mass 11 Med Mass 12 Med Mass 13 Med Mass 14 Med Mass 15 Med Mass 16I initially intended to upload 5 or 6 images from the book, but looking through I found it incredibly difficult to choose that few. I have been very sparing in choosing but so much of the content was really appealing to me and I am very fascinated at the design aspect of this book. Indeed as McLuhan set out to, my thought well and truly has been provoked, and I really am thinking deep!

The first thing I would like to bring attention to is the sheer amount of versatility in the design that McLuhan and Fiore have created; from using clever word play, abstract imagery, blanks space and unconventional layout and typography. I also think that design choices that have been made are very bold, such as the second to last image (above) where there is a blank white page with small text reading, “Environments are invisible. Their groundrules, pervasive structure, and overall patterns elude easy perception.” (McLuhan, Fiore 1967). One one hand, this could be seen as too much blank space and a page wasted. However, this blank space is representative to the text, in the words “Environments are invisible” and this is very effective. Not only that but it gives the reader time to think, time to consider these complex ideas and suggestions. Throughout the book, a lot of ideas are put forth and so giving the reader some dwell time is a very plausible way of achieving higher comprehension.

What struck me most when reading through the book was my attention and anticipation at what would be next. There is so much diversity is the way content is expressed and it feels as though each page is something new; there is no sense of deja vu. I also think that there is a very good balance between text and image. At points there is obvious emphasis placed on using bold and suggestive Imagery but there is then sections which focus more on solely text and by doing this McLuhan and Fiore have really been able to explore some interesting and complex ideas in a provocative manner.

I would like to just briefly discuss a few of the images that have grasped my attention the most. The first one is the first one. I think the way the point has been made is very well worded, quick, sharp and to the point. More so, the image that lays underneath is very helpful in projecting this idea that we visualize the present by living through our past. Admittedly I don’t think its anything anybody would deny, but at the same time it is not really recognised and the way the idea is represented here is extremely interesting and in some ways (at least for myself) it brings upon ones-self a sense of epiphany. Of course this metaphor is very applicable in the study of technology and in particular my topic of the Internet as a learning tool. Much of what we now know can be understood and developed by understanding its historical background and context.

Some Notes

I also think the 2 pages stating that Art is anything is very clever in the way it carry’s across 2 pages. Obviously this would only work well within a particular medium, such as a book or on posters that are viewed in one, chronological order (to get the one after the other effect at least). I’m also very intrigued by the ‘Bang’ page and I think the loud and abrupt illustration here juxtaposes very well with the calm and uniform placed text by its side. Finally, I find the placement and misalignment of text interesting to digest. In a conventional sense this would be bad practice and would not work well but in this instance it attracts a lot of positive attention.

The Age of Earthquakes

“Planet Earth needs a self-help book, and this is it the future is happening to us far faster than we thought it would and this book explains why fifty years after Marshall McLuhan’s ground breaking book on the influence of technology on culture. The Medium is the Massage, Shumon Basar, Douglas Coupland and Hans Ulrich Obrist extend the analysis to today, touring the world that’s redefined by the Internet, decoding and explaining what they call the ‘extreme present’. The Age of Earthquakes is a quick-fire paperback, harnessing the images, language and perceptions of our unfurling digital lives” The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present (2015). – Taken from the synopsis.

The book was suggested by Alan and this is a great follow up to look at after McLuhan and Fiore’s bearing a similar visual style, and an even closer resemblance to the theme of my study. As stated above the book “tours the world redefined by the Internet” and considers meme theory and popular culture which is great in developing my understanding of the social impact of the Internet. Again, I will be making comments purely on this from a visual and design perspective to help develop my knowledge and inspirations for my Typo Text.

Figure 2 - 9. Images from 'The Age of Earthquakes' (2015).

Figure 2 – 9. Images from ‘The Age of Earthquakes’ (2015).

Age 2 Age 3 Age 4 Age 5 Age 6 Age 7 Age 8

Straight away the resemblance in style to that of McLuhan’s and Fiore’s book is obvious in the layout, imagery and placement of text. Although The Age of Earthquakes (AoE) is certainly cleaner and crisper in its finish, and the images are higher in contrast. One thing I think is noticeable however is that AoE is not as provocative and experimental in its layout; all of the images above can be separated into grids or wire-frames where the text and images could be placed symmetrically. Whereas with ‘The Medium is the Massage‘ there is images appearing from the edges and in random places, arbitrary singular phrases and text in odd places. It was this that I emphasized was the reason it caught my attention so much. Furthermore the decision to create a book like that should really be appreciated or admired being that when it was published that would have been far less accepted and understood than in 2015 (year of AoE).

However this does not detract from how effective AoE is at achieving the ability to probe thought and to question how the Internet is having severe implications on our lives. The tone of language they use is quite sarcastic and satirical, for example “I miss getting emails from Nigerian princes” and “I’m Seven iPhones Old” – both are commentaries on popular culture regarding eras in the use of technology. The email page makes reference to a nostalgic outlook by reminiscing about something which was quite crude and ridiculously annoying. Also, the third image from bottom which discusses our inability to switch off from email, even on holiday uses a similar technique to that of McLuhan’s living our future through the past in the sense that it creates a sense of realisation of just how reliant and fixated with the Internet and technology we really are.

Also The second from last Image I think is extremely impressive at probing thought about the severe impact of technology and the concept of the global village. “The question ‘Where are you?’ will be increasingly irrelevant” makes use of just 9 words and yet it is extremely suggestive and provokes the reader to really consider how true this statement is. It is this which is also very useful in providing me with ideas for my own Typo Text as it is very possible I will create something similar.

Figure 10.  A glossary for the extreme present.

Figure 10. A glossary for the extreme present.

Don’t be smupid: a glossary for the extreme present –

The above link is to an article on ‘The Guardian’ website which discusses the language/keywords the authors of AoE have created to emphasize on the way ‘people are truly thinking and feeling now’.

Deselfing (n) Willingly diluting one’s sense of self and ego by plastering the Internet with as much information as possible.

Stuart (adj) Stupid and smart. We’ve all been in stuart situations yet have not had the word to describe it. To be stuart is to tell a person: “I’m actually a very intelligent human being – unfortunately I’m without an Internet connection, and thus am unable to display said intelligence.” The essence of stuartivity is that one gets comfortable knowing which things one no longer needs to know – your car’s licence plate number, sports statistics and recipes, for example – and hence doesn’t waste brain cells remembering.

I have picked out two in particular that are ironically very descriptive of particular areas of interest in my own study. Although before discussing these I will acknowledge that I think the terms they have created are very creative. Or rather so, the definitions of said terms as I think they are extremely accurate representations of Internet behaviour. Although I do think something like creating a set of new words is quite risky and could possibly lead to negative reception. At the same time however it is a very bold move which I think in this instance really works because of the way the material has been portrayed.

So I think the first term, ‘Deselfing’ is very applicable when considering the concept of participatory culture and collective intelligence because both revolve around the individual’s desire to be active within the social parameters of the web and often share very dilute material.

The term, ‘Stuart’ is very useful when considering ‘The practice of searching for information and reading texts’ as we have become accustomed to not necessarily increase our wealth of knowledge, but rather improve our ability to source knowledge. Therefore in actual fact, it could be argued that we can find out more but we are so reliant on immediacy and inconvenience that we chose not to remember information as we feel it is not required.

Although I stated that I would also look at David Carson’s The Book of Probes I have decided I will research this in my next post. I think it will make this one too long and I feel that looking at just The Medium is the Massage and The Age of Earthquakes is a fitting choice as they are both very comparable and so I have definitely developed my knowledge, understanding and initial inspirations for my own Typo Text.



Figure 1. Medium is the Massage’ Images. Available at: McLuhan, M., Fiore, Q. (1967) Medium is the Massage. Gingo Press Inc: USA. [online] Available at: [Accessed on 29/03/15]

Figure 2. Image available at:,cs_srgb,dpr_1.0,q_80,w_940/MTI4MjE2MDM3MzM3MzczMTUw.jpg [Accessed on 29/03/15]

Figure 3. Image Available at:,cs_srgb,dpr_1.0,q_80,w_940/MTI4MjE2MDM3NjA1ODMwNjI2.jpg [Accessed on 29/03/15]

Figure 4. Image Available at:–/q-95/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2015/2/20/1424450881513/From-The-Age-of-Earthquak-007.jpg [Accessed on 29/03/15]

Figure 5. Image Available at: [Accessed on 29/03/15]

Figure 6. Image Available at: [Accessed on 29/03/15]

Figure 7. Image Available at:,cs_srgb,dpr_1.0,q_80,w_940/MTI4MjE2MDM3NjA1ODIwNDI2.jpg [Accessed on 29/03/15]

Figure 8. Image Available at: [Accessed on 29/03/15]

Figure 9. Image Available at: [Accessed on 29/03/15]

Figure 10. A glossary for the extreme present. Image Available at: Basar, S., Coupland, D., Obrist, H U. (2015) ‘Don’t be smupid: a glossary for the extreme present’. The Guardian [online] Available at: [Accessed on 29/03/15]

Basar, S., Coupland, D., Obrist, H U. (2015) ‘The Age of Earthquakes’. Penguin:

Basar, S., Coupland, D., Obrist, H U. (2015) ‘Don’t be smupid: a glossary for the extreme present’. The Guardian [online] Available at: [Accessed on 29/03/15]

McLuhan, E. (2015) ‘Marshall McLuhan’. [online] Available at: [Accessed on 29/03/15]

McLuhan, M., Fiore, Q. (1967) Medium is the Massage. Gingo Press Inc: USA. [online] Available at: [Accessed on 29/03/15]