Marshall McLuhan’s Tetrads

About Tetrads

In preparation for creating a tetrad project you will have to familiarize yourself with the concept of tetrads invented by Marshall McLuhan. The tetrad is a tool for interpreting the effects a specific media object and to focus attention and organize reflection on the relations involved in the experience of media. It is organized by what McLuhan saw as the 4 laws of all media. There can be, in principle, as many tetrads on a single game as there are interpreters. What makes a particular tetrad valid and “good” is the generation of insight and the quality of its reasoning and observations.

To do the Tetrad project option you will need to read / watch the following:

  1. “McLuhan’s Wake” documentary, ‘laws edit.” This is an abridged edit of a longer documentary on McLuhan that focuses on the 4 laws of media. Password is “aestheticeducation”
  2. “Tetrads” from Laws of Media. This is a chapter composed of many example tetrads by McLuhan, framed by a comment about their purpose.


In addition to the image you create you will need to write about it using this template. Instructions are embedded in the template.

From “Laws of Media” in Laws of Media

Here are the 4 laws in question form:

  1. Enhance: What does the artefact enhance or intensify or make possible or accelerate?
  2. Obsolesce: If some aspect of a situation is enlarged or enhanced, simultaneously the old condition or un-enhanced situation is displaced thereby. What is pushed aside or obsolesced by the new ‘organ’?
  3. Retrieve: What recurrence or retrieval of earlier actions and services is brought into play simultaneously by the new form? What older, previously obsolesced ground is brought back and inheres in the new form?
  4. Reverse: When pushed to the limits of its potential (another complementary act ion), the new form will tend to reverse what had been its original characteristics. What is the reversal potential of the new form?


Here are some example tetrad images that students have made in the past – they are pretty fancy and yours do not need to be so polished, but they give you a nice sense of how they used the tetrad laws to orient their appreciation of the media objects.



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