McLuhan developed a simple visual tool, the tetrad, as a way of looking at and thinking about media and technology.  He thought of it as a teaching tool, to help us study and analyze the impact and effects of new technology or media on individuals and society.  The goal was to determine the relative benefits or damages introduced by the new media.

McLuhan’s tetrad examines the syntax of new media by asking four questions:

  • What does the medium enhance?
  • What does the medium make obsolete?
  • What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
  • What does the medium flip into when pushed to the extreme?

In the tetrad, four diamonds are arranged without overlapping.  In the center, at the point of intersection, sits the medium itself.   McLuhan assigned the two diamonds on the left as figure – enhancement and retrieval.  On the right, McLuhan assigned the other two diamonds as ground – reversal and obsolescence.  McLuhan said that to fully understand the effects of a new technology/medium, you must examine figure (the medium) and ground (context) together, because neither is completely comprehensible individually.  Like an Escher drawing, the tetrad helps us to see all sides of a complex dynamic simultaneously.

My Take on McLuhan and his Tetrad in Relation to Social Media:

Social Media:

  • Enhances:
    • Thought/social interaction/more information and choices
  • Retrieves:
    • neighborhood gathering/a forum/group information
  • Reverses:
    • information overload/misinformation/thoughtless acts/bias information
  • Obsolesces:
    • books and publications/one-way forms of communication

My Take on McLuhan and his Tetrad in Relation to Social Media Marketing:

Social Media Marketing:

  • Enhances:
    • worldwide marketplace
  • Retrieves:
    •  hand-in-glove fit of buyer to seller/village marketplace
  • Reverses:
    • short-circuited by a sea of choice
  • Obsolesces
    •  conventional advertising/print media