Hot Media VS Cool Media

As McLuhan said in Understanding Media, the Extension of Man, hot media do not leave so much to be filled in or completed by the audience and need low participation, while cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience. For example, radio is a kind of hot media because people don’t need to participate in radio and they just need auditory sense. Telephone is a kind of cool media because people need to speak and respond when using the telephone and that can be considered high participation.

However, for the same media, it becomes hotter and hotter during the development. That is relevant to people’s choice. People pretend to choose hot media because they don’t need them to participate much. That is to say, hot media is the market tendency. The development of media is driven by human needs. For TV, from traditional black and white TV to color TV and then to digital TV, the picture of TV is becoming more and more clear. At the same time, TV is becoming bigger and bigger and TV is developing towards networked. Every time when technology is updated, the audience can get clearer information and their participation is becoming less and less. Before revolutionary change, technological progress is a process of gradually hot.

When the temperature is higher and higher to a certain degree, the revolutionary change happens. Although TV is becoming hotter and hotter, young people pretend to use internet rather than TV. At the same time, internet is also becoming hotter and hotter. Initially the website was only full of text, and then pictures. Now it comes into the hypermedia time.

However, an interesting fact challenges this qualitative change. Take the car as an example. The car is developing and evolving all the time and in the future, maybe non-driver car will appear. However, the sale volume of the car doesn’t have qualitative change. On the contrary, because the environment is becoming more polluted and the roads are getting more crowded, the government is calling for reducing the times of driving private cars and using public transportation more. No media can stay existed and have meanings alone and any media can only realize its own meaning and existence in the interaction with other media. When interacting with the other media, the development of the media is bound to add a pressure on the environment. When the pressure on the environment reaches a certain degree, the pressure will turn to promote the reversal effect.

The function of the cool and hot media is due to the interaction of human’s needs. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of need, human beings have physiological needs, safety needs, love/belonging needs, esteem needs and self-actualization needs. The five needs begin from the most basic physiological needs and gradually upgrade. Today, most people don’t need to worry about the basic physiological needs and they are gradually chasing for higher levels of needs. The little information in cool media requires the active input of people and during this process, the opportunity of human interaction with others is greatly increased. The more information in hot media weakens the differences among people, such as gender and labor ability. Consequently, it reduces the opportunities for people to cooperate and communicate with others and the chances for interaction. The transition from cool media to hot media is related to the pursuit of self-actualization of human beings. When the media is becoming hotter, people’s esteem and self-actualization needs are not met and then reversal effect happens in nature.


  1. Manovich, L. (2001). The language of new media. MIT press.
  2. McLuhan, M. (1994). Understanding media: The extensions of man. MIT press.