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October 22nd, 2000

Hot and Cold Media

I just finished work on a large-scale project that involved, amongst other things, two hours of live webcasts. I watched two of the webcasts as they were being recorded and streamed… and it was interesting to say the least. One involved author Sandra Jackson-Opuku reading excerpts from her forthcoming book. Her stories about coming to grips with racism and society’s interpreations of it were terribly interesting; as an added bonus, she is a fantastic storyteller.

The interesting facet is that there was no physical audience. While there were three of us there in the theater, all of the audience members were elsewhere: either a few blocks away at the installation, or watching at home. This means that there was no real feedback for our speaker. No nodding heads in the audience, no eyes to lock on to, no bodies to see – just the unblinking eye of the camera.

This plays heavily into Marshall McLuhan’s theories of hot and cold media. Hot media, as defined, is pretty much ready-made. Like television. No real interaction: you’ve got a full story, start to finish, without any intervention from you. Cool and cold media are the opposite. You interact fully with very little of a predefined notion involved.

Where does that leave webcasts? The web medium, by definition, is cool. Yet the broadcast’s content was hot. There’s got to be a middle ground somewhere… or some way to get feedback on the web. The closest thing right now is probably a webcast simultaneous with a live chat, but it’s no substitute for the "real thing". The above link, by the way, touches on other theories which might be more appropriate… but the McLuhan one is the most widely known.

I tend to think that broadband access will help things a bit. The web has been limited in that, since commercialization, it’s been trying to duplicate other mediums. Think about it. Television? Got streaming. Print? Got articles. Movies? Got streaming. Even if the applications aren’t there yet because of technology, they will be, soon. The thing is, the web can really do more. It might be the thing that defines the "lukewarm" medium. I don’t think the idea nor the technology are in place as of yet. But when they are, the end result is going to change the way we communicate. -pm

Posted in Technology

FROM: Terry Murphy
DATE: Sunday October 22, 2000 -- 12:49:06AM
How about talk radio? Hot or cold? How does it differ from interactive web media, when a subset of the audience is participatory?

FROM: Paul
DATE: Sunday October 22, 2000 -- 9:38:37AM
Good question. A good majority of talk radio shows are hot, and the broadcasters are then adding the cold element of interactivity on the fly. But often, listeners with intriguing stories or news items can make the medium cooler.

But I don't think they can really make it cold. A cold medium has nothing predefined, really, and talk radio still has the moderator or host to keep things in check or bring things back into the focus; that coupled with a time limit keep things hot.

Current interactive web media is very similar to this - IMHO the current interactivity is very limited - but I still believe that a forthcoming radical change in the web (perhaps a superset of the web?) will merge hot and cold media. What that thing is, I don't know. :)

It could be the Daily Ping!

FROM: Amanda
DATE: Sunday October 28, 2001 -- 9:22:26PM
Maybe we should be looking at the web as a series of media. I mean, you have web-based email, which is relatively cool, but then you have flash sites like which are totally hot. Then, you've got lukewarm stuff like Paul was talking about. But the web is almost too big to look at as a whole I think, so, no wonder we have a hard time deciding if it's hot or cool!

DATE: Thursday June 13, 2002 -- 8:42:50 am
I believe McLuhan would be a bit upset with this article if he were still alive. In this article it is stated that television is hot media. "Hot media, as defined, is pretty much ready-made. Like television." However, in his discussion of Hot and Cold Media, McLuhan clearly states that television is an example of cool media where as film is an example of hot media. So the question is, will this correction be posted and help prove that the dailyping is a good example of interactive cool media on the web, or will it be censored and ignored to save face but at the same time establish the dailyping as a ready-made hot media?

FROM: Paul [E-Mail]
DATE: Thursday June 13, 2002 -- 9:59:08 am
Don, what about this from the linked main article?

He wrote that hot media leave little to be filled or completed by the audience. Hot media are low in participation, and cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience. In this sense, the new interactive media is mostly cool.

Television is very low in participation; it's passive, and nothing one viewer does can directly impact it whatsoever. Thus, it's hot. But the Ping, because you've posted to it and spurred a discussion all by yourself, could be considered cool.

Of course, you could have a different definition of interactivity in which case I'd like to hear it. For me, television isn't interactive because the most one can do is change channels - in a way, filter content. But it doesn't allow the user to truly participate in any of the goings-on.

What do you think?

FROM: Rob [E-Mail]
DATE: Thursday June 13, 2002 -- 10:39:29 am
I don't know, Paul. Some people seem to think screaming at their TV will make their favorite sports team perform properly. There's some interaction, especially if it works.

DATE: Saturday February 8, 2003 -- 8:59:43 pm

FROM: Peter B
DATE: Monday April 7, 2003 -- 3:54:31 pm
i think the proof that this medium (daily ping) is cool is the fact that i have successfully submitted a comment that you are all now reading.

FROM: Victoria Prince
DATE: Tuesday October 14, 2003 -- 9:12:22 am
I find this all very interesting! I've been set a task at university to discuss whether text messaging and picture texts are hot or cold media. what do you think?

FROM: truong
DATE: Thursday October 30, 2003 -- 12:57:50 am

DATE: Saturday January 3, 2004 -- 7:37:26 am
very good question. i have no idea. anyone?

FROM: Devil Lesbian
DATE: Thursday January 8, 2004 -- 12:12:50 pm
mcluhan sucks. i hate his fucking lameass theory. why does he persecute me? his theories are irrelevant, he was clearly a very very bored man.

FROM: Paul
DATE: Thursday January 8, 2004 -- 12:47:47 pm
i hate his fucking lameass theory.

Most educated comment ever.

FROM: Faiqa
DATE: Sunday May 9, 2004 -- 3:32:54 pm
would somebody plz tell me whtever there is to know abt McLuhan's theory on hot n cold medias?? fer that matter, i cud do with whteverz avaliable on his life n works. i'm a student n looking fer everything tht i can get my hands on abt this guy...

will somebody help?? plz?? and soon??


FROM: Paul
DATE: Sunday May 9, 2004 -- 9:43:32 pm
Identify that language and win a free progeria picture for your report.

FROM: Faiqa
DATE: Tuesday May 11, 2004 -- 1:25:23 pm
uhhh... scuse me? what language? n wht pic?? i juss asked abt his hot n cold media theory!!

will u help or not?

FROM: Vixen
DATE: Tuesday August 10, 2004 -- 10:24:34 am
Did anyone decide if text msgs were hot or cold??? I can't decide, also looking for uni work!

FROM: Pissed off Global Village user.
DATE: Monday November 8, 2004 -- 6:29:35 pm
I find this website to be a complete joke. Most of the things you state here, Paul, contradict McLuhans' theories. You should most definitley be ashamed.

FROM: Denis L
DATE: Wednesday December 8, 2004 -- 3:29:56 am
As much as I ditest putting other people down, I must agree with the above post. Television, as described by McLuhan himself, is a cool media. Oh, and for anyone interested in a completely different outlook on technology and modern society, I highly recomend George Grant.

DATE: Saturday January 1, 2005 -- 2:53:24 pm

FROM: palli
DATE: Thursday March 3, 2005 -- 5:16:10 pm
This is probably a dead thread but I just want to point out to people that although the author does mix up McLuhan's examples of hot and cold media, McLuhan himself is very unclear as to what constitutes hot or cold and why. He says that a hot medium is high definition and then goes on to say that high definition means filled with data. Well, wouldn't you say that television is filled with data. We watch the TV news and we get film coverage, audio and a news caster explaining what's going on in case we miss it in the onsite audio. What then is it that makes TV cool. Well, it's because we don't have to use our imagination to fill in any gaps. But wouldn't that mean that we don't have to fill in gaps because it's so full of data? He also says that TV is a cool participatory medium that engages you. Radio (hot) on the other hand can run in the background. Newpapers, he says, are hot. Don't newspapers engage you? You can't be doing the dishes and reading a newspaper at the same time. So, the mistake in this article is no worse than McLuhans own mistakes.

FROM: Josine
DATE: Thursday May 26, 2005 -- 4:47:02 am
It seems that you are all forgetting to take into consideration that McLuhan was a man who wrote this (and defined hot and cold media) in 1964. Television was not what is is today. And I'm not just talking about contents but about the technical quality of this medium as well. Watching tv in the 60's did mean filling in the gaps. Not gaps of data, but also gaps in perception. So in that way, tv thn may have been a cold medium.

FROM: satish
DATE: Saturday August 20, 2005 -- 4:04:52 pm
how 2 know the net speed

FROM: Ryan [E-Mail]
DATE: Sunday August 21, 2005 -- 11:47:38 am
Check your spedometer.

FROM: cellajune
DATE: Thursday September 29, 2005 -- 9:21:52 pm
McLuhan.. is a very intelligent man...
the theory is very good... hehe

FROM: Not a McLuhan Fan
DATE: Sunday November 27, 2005 -- 2:14:39 am
Wow -- this is a 5 year running thread. That's pretty nifty.

I find McLuhan incredibly simplistic and hypocritical... He dismisses the notion of universal theories, then tries to draft one of his own. He dismisses categories, then goes on to establish nebulous ones like "hot, cold, and cool"... I know he's trying to point out paradoxes, but to me that should be the first step of developing thought and intelligence, not the first. And to be honest, the people still advocating him in the academic world are kind of losing respect in the Comm world. Far better to jump into some other writers...

FROM: Not a McLuhan Fan -- edited
DATE: Sunday November 27, 2005 -- 2:16:57 am
(fixed for mistakes)

Wow -- this is a 5 year running thread. That's pretty nifty.

I find McLuhan incredibly simplistic and hypocritical... He dismisses the notion of universal theories, then tries to draft one of his own. He dismisses categories, then goes on to establish nebulous ones like "hot, cold, and cool"... I know he's trying to point out paradoxes, but to me that should be the first step of developing thought and intelligence, not the kast. And to be honest, the people still advocating him in Communications theory have lost respect in the academy. Far better to jump into some other writers and thinkers...

Joanna November 1, 2008, 12:37 am

Make that 8 years. (Damn, you show up high in Google organic results when you’ve been around for 8 years!)

So, you’ve said that TV is hot and radio is cool. I understand that McLuhan suggested the opposite: Radio is hot and TV is cool. There’s that whole [infamous] Kennedy-Nixon debate where Nixon performed well on radio, a hot medium, and Kennedy performed well on TV, a cool medium. Kennedy was cool, so he worked on TV; Nixon was hot, so his voice worked well on radio. (A very simplified way of looking at it.)

But, who cares? McLuhan, for all the interesting points he makes, doesn’t really make a point. I mean, big deal. So what if a medium is hot or cool? Like, when you figure out if text messaging is hot or cool, then what? Do you win a prize? Do you get a year-long membership in the McLuhan Club?


(PS: Wow! That “Zip Zap Rap!” button on your blog is so 2000. What would Jakob Nielsen say?!)

gits December 8, 2008, 4:00 pm

big deal.. for students that have to give examples of hot n cold media(while their lecture cant really explained this theory and its examples).

What is this then?

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