Marshall McLuhan vs. Peter Robertson

If the "medium is the message," Robertson’s message was clear: life’s too short to deal with stripped screws

Marshall McLuhan

Why he’s famous: Most of all, for his famously misunderstood phrase, “the medium is the message.”

Why he deserves to win: As the the father of modern mass media theory and an early philosopher of the electronic age, McLuhan changed the way people relate to information. Best known for coining the expressions “global village” and “the medium is the message” (which meant that the way we acquire information shapes us more than the information itself), his two major books—The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media—still have a cult following. Though he died before the advent of the Internet, McLuhan seemed to see it coming: he theorized electronic media was creating a global village by exposing people to events on the opposite side of the world which would render books obsolete. Ask Barnes and Noble if he was right.

Peter Robertson

Why he’s famous: He’s the inventor of the Robertson screwdriver—you know, the square-shaped one in your toolbox.

Why he deserves to win: Before Robertson’s invention in 1908, we were stuck with the slip-prone flat bladed driver and slotted-head screw, a combo notorious for causing injuries. Later, when the cross-shaped Phillips screw and driver were invented, Consumer Reports magazine declared the Robertson superior because Phillips’ screws are easily stripped and degrade with wear. As writer Witold Rybcynski put it, “no matter how old, rusty, or painted over, a Robertson screw can always be unscrewed. [It’s] the biggest little invention of the 20th century.”

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