"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Marshall McLuhan, What're Ya Doin?

I learn in today's Toronto Globe and Mail that this is the centennial of the birth, in frigid Edmonton AB, of U of Toronto professor and media maven Marshall McLuhan, coiner of the catchphrase "The Medium is the Message", collagist of the unclassifiable book "The Medium is the Massage", and author of the scholarly tome "The Gutenberg Galaxy".

The Globe also summarizes McLuhan's numerous insights in a sentence which I will take the liberty of paraphrasing and improving as:
The visible or audible content delivered through any medium is less important than the implicit messages the medium itself introduces into human affairs.
(Original: "the visible content delivered through any media, such as the television, is less important than the invisible effects the vehicle that conveys it introduces into human affairs".)

This key observation is why Wired called Prof. McLuhan the "Prophet of the Internet" even though, as far as I know, he never envisioned anything like it. From a McLuhanistic perspective, the internet is every bit as big a revolution in human consciousness as the printing press; its effects will evolve over the next century or two, but those of us privileged to be on the scene in its early days will have much to say about the long future of human civilization (presuming civilization sufficient to support the internet survives our other present turmoils).

McLuhan, (like Norbert Wiener,) was prominent in my teenage reading list and influential in my own subsequent thinking.

Recent McLuhan stories in the Globe and Mail:

A Catholic Cassandra's Faith
McLuhan: From tweedy academic to household name
The return of Marshall McLuhan


Michael Tobis said...

A McLuhan anecdote from Margaret Atwood:
Oh,[The] Edible Woman? My first novel, actually happily for myself and the rest of the world never got published.
It was influenced by Marshall McLuhan. There was a lot of advertisements in it.

I was one of those people who luckily was able to obtain a copy of The Mechanical Bride, early on. you know that he had to pull off the shelves – do you know this book at all?

He reproduced a lot of ads, from soap companies and cigarette companies and everything. He showed the actual ad, and then he would do an analysis of them. And it is very funny.

But the companies who’s ads they were took exception. Copyright issues. And he had to pull the book. But he had them in his cellar and if you had contact you could purchase one out of the back window of Marshall McLuhan’s house – so The Mechanical Bride, a piece of genius.

me wants one.

Michael Tobis said...

A Twitter search on "McLuhan" today is very fruitful.

I cannot figure out how to do the equivalent on G+, which is amazing and disappointing, though.