What is it to be human?: a book review on The Gutenberg Galaxy

This review has an Introduction, a Book Review in two sections, a Conclusion, and a Personal Reflections section.


There is a movement in tech and business right now that focuses on “rethinking our defaults.” From Tristan Harris saying “infinite scroll is dangerous and should be avoided” to John Zeratsky and Jake Knapp saying “we don’t need to be notified every time an app thinks we should be,” to Andy Crouch saying “tech should support us, not rule us,” influential people in tech are saying what Ella declared the Prince in Disney’s Cinderella (2015): “Just because it’s what’s done doesn’t mean it’s what should be done!”

You tell him, Ella!
The Gutenberg Galaxy

Book Summary

Language and its manifestation changes people. Period.

  • From Civilized Man to Modern Man

From Non-Literate Man to “Civilized” Man

In quoting J.C. Carothers, McLuhan explores the notion that non-reading peoples are “a rather insignificant part of a much larger organism — the family and the clan — and not [an] independent, self-reliant unit.” (When discussing published books far later McLuhan argues that “the portability of the book…added much to the new cult of individualism.” (235) In other words, when people are can read, they can truly be individuals and separate from their tribe, family, or clan.

  1. It creates libraries of volume but does not guarantee true knowledge or wisdom.
  2. The alphabet was a “reduction of a complex, organic interplay of spaces into a single space.” (51)
Hyoi and Ransom just enjoying some martian waters.

From Civilized Man to Modern Man

Quoting James Frazer: “Two or three generations of literature may do more to change thought than two or three thousand years of traditional life…” (104). Simply put, the written word changes mankind… fast.


There are far more things that McLuhan covered that were, above all, interesting. A study on the medieval view of deity & king (138–142), the theological reduction that occurs when we use “trespasses” in the stead of “debts” in the Lord’s Prayer (277), the origins of textbooks (109), the reduction of women by media (241), and why Socrates, Christ, and Pythagoras avoided the publications of their teachings (113).

Personal Reflection

What impact has it had on me? Transparently, I hope quite a bit. It has made me reconsider my interaction with words, both spoken and unspoken. It has lead me to read Scripture out loud more than I previously did. It has lead to me seeking after “multi-sensory” interactions (calling instead of texting, making music with my guitar instead of playing music from Spotify). It has challenged me to think about how I interact with clients and remote coworkers at work, and the importance of sensory interaction for the sake of operating as a team and unit. It has challenged me to think about the life of the “commoner” and their many “sacraments,” as opposed to the life of the “modern man” with little ceremony or beauty at all.

Coach & Design Sprint Facilitator at Crema

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