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General Contexts

Intrapersonal Communication (Persuasion)

Interpersonal Communication

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Organizational Communication

Intercultural Communication

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Last updated February 19, 2001


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Explanation of Theory:

Technological Determinism state that media technology shapes how we as individuals in a society think, feel, act, and how are society operates as we move from one technological age to another (Tribal- Literate- Print- Electronic).

Theorists: Marshall Mcluhan

Date: 1962

Primary Article:

     Mcluhan, M.  (1962). The Gutenberg Galaxy: The making of Typograhic Man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Individual Interpretations:

We learn and feel and think the way we do because of the messages we receive through the current technology that is available. The radio required us to only listen and develop our sense of hearing. On the other hand, television engages both our hearing and visual senses. We then transfer those developed senses into our everyday lives and we want to use them again. The medium is then our message.

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

Ontological Assumptions:

Humans do not have much free will at all.  Whatever society as a whole is using to communicate, they too will use to communicate.  Therefore they will adapt to the medium they are using so that they can send and receive messages like everyone else.

Epistemological Assumptions:

We know that there is one truth by observing what has happened over time.  As the medium changes so does society's way of communicating.  People can only use the medium for which it was created (phone for talking over lines or electronic mail for talking via computer).  If the medium is impersonal (television) then the message too is impersonal.

Axiological Assumptions:

This theory is objective in that everyone will act and feel the same no matter what the medium they are using provided that they are using the same medium.  Values are not involved because evidence is seen strictly through observation.

Critique: Scientific Theory 

Explanatory Power: It explains when new systems of technology are developed, the culture or society is immediately changed to reflect the senses needed to use the new technology.

Predictive Power:  It predicts that with every new system of media technology, society will change and adapt to that technology.

Parsimony: There is a simple cause and effect analysis between the introduction of new technology and the changes in society's way of thinking, feeling, acting, or believing.

Falsifiability: The theory could be proved false if a new technology is invented and nothing changes.

Internal Consistency: There is a logical flow of proof evidenced over time.

Heuristic Provocativeness: Would this theory only work in the USA or would it vary culture to culture within or outside the United States? Does it vary in the electronic age between those who can afford the new technology and those who can not?

Organizing Power: We know that we have developed and we know that we have changed. This theory provides a way to see why this has happened.


With everyone electronically mailing each other today, there is no longer a need to write a joke down to remember it. You can just forward it to a friend. We also do not communicate with distant friends as over the telephone anymore. We have started to only communicate through the impersonal use of the e-mail system.

Relevant Research:

  Adler, R. B. (1995). Teaching Communication Theories with Jungle Fever. Communication Education, 44, 157-164. 
     Aufderherde, p. 91991) Public Television and the Public Sphere. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 8, 168-183. 
     Schiller, D. (1994) From Culture to Information and Back Again: Commodization as a Route to Knowledge. Critical Studies in Mass Communications, 8, 39-59.

Location in Eight (8) Primary Communication Theory Textbooks:

     Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press.  N/A

     Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. N/A

     Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. pp 313-325.

     Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 341-352.

      Infante, D. A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. N/A

      Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. pp. 329-330.

      West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. N/A

       Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. pp. 283-291.