McLuhan's way of describing media as "hot" or "cool" suggests a quite different way of looking at television and, if we choose to follow the analogy, hypertext.
One of the grandfathers of the theory of transformative technology, McLuhan wanted to find a systematic way of accounting for regularities in media. His answer was to describe them as "hot" or "cool" according to the amount of information provided. Orality is a "cool" or "low definition" medium because it presents very spare information. It therefore requires a lot of participation on the part of the listener. Writing, and particularly print, is "hot" because it presents a lot of information in high definition. Television is "cool" again because of the low resolution of its grainy picture (and, Postman might add, its "Now...This" information structure). Thus for McLuhan, television is not a passive but a highly involving medium. It requires high participation on the part of the audience, who must fill in the gaps in its low resolution universe:
Since TV, children--regardless of eye condition--average about six and a half inches from the printed page. Our children are striving to carry over to the printed page the all-involving sensory mandate of the TV image. With perfect psycho-mimetic skill, they carry out the commands of the TV image. They pore, they probe, they slow down and involve themselves in depth . . . . Suddenly they are transferred to the hot print medium with its uniform patterns and fast lineal movement. Pointlessly they strive to read print in depth. They bring to print all their senses, and print rejects them.
(Understanding Media 268-69)
So how do we go about understanding an essentially hot print medium that has been cooled off to become a cool web site? Does this mean that hypertext is more participatory than print because it provides less rather than more information (as Landow would claim, though from a quite different angle)? Or does it just mean that a web site encourages meaningless associative drift--"zapping" as Tuman calls it?
Home | Index