A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.  Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, I present one of McLuhan’s observations and talk about its relevance today.  300 ideas. 300 days.  300 posts.

Archive for May, 2010

The truth about advertising.

Marshall McLuhan (1977, age 66).  What we know that isn’t true

Much of what people take for granted about advertising simply isn’t true.  Common sense says people read advertisements and then buy the product.  Yet as David Ogilvy says research shows people only read the advertisement after they’ve bought the product.

Me (May 2010, age 57)   What is true?

In the City as Classroom Marshall McLuhan examines some of the false assumptions people commonly make about advertising.  One of those assumptions, he says, is that advertising is designed to sell things to everybody.  It can be easily seen this is not true, as McLuhan says, by imagining who any given advertisement is directed at.  For example, consider this small advertisement from the New Yorker:

Don’t self-publish alone!

Publishing can be maddeningly complicated.  At Vantage Press our experts have simplified the process for over 20,000 authors.  Use our fulltime service approach to publish your best book now.

Who is the audience this simple, scare-tactic ad is directed at?  Is it you?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Marshall McLuhan, Kathryn Hutchon, and Eric McLuhan, City as Classroom:  Understanding Language and Media, 1977,   pp. 158.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, May 29th, 2010
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Advertising and culture.

Marshall McLuhan (1977, age 66).  Try this experiment

Advertising (as figure) has much to instruct us about culture (as ground).  This is something you can explore in a plug and play fashion by looking at advertisements.  List as many different products as you can that are frequently advertised.  What picture does this list form of our culture?

Me (May 2010, age 57).   Let’s try it?

(This is another one of Marshall McLuhan’s exercises, which you can find in his book City as Classroom.)  Let’s try a variation on this experiment by looking at the products advertised in a recent issue of the New Yorker.  Here is a list of all of the products that appear in the ads that appear in the opening pages (inside cover to The Talk of the Town section) of the May 10, 2010 issue.

Vanguard investment fund

AT&T cell phone service

Novel by Isabel Allende

Novel by Marilynne Robinson

Continental airlines

New Yorker cartoon collection (The Graduation Collection)

Tiffany & Co. jewelry

Oil and natural gas exploration

New Yorker cartoon bank

Hyatt hotels

New Yorker T shirts

New Yorker cover prints

Chamber music concert at Lincoln center

Vintage golf photos

The magazine industry

U.S. Trust asset management

What’s your take on the culture described by these products?   How does this culture fit with your picture of the ‘real’ US culture?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Marshall McLuhan, Kathryn Hutchon, and Eric McLuhan, City as Classroom:  Understanding Language and Media , 1977,   pp. 7.

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Michael Hinton Friday, May 28th, 2010
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Discovering new things.

Marshall McLuhan (1977, age 66).  Try this out for size

Here’s a game marketing experts play to discover new products.  Take any object, say a Q-tip or a thumb tack.  A Q-tip or thumb tack is not any one particular thing but a relationship between itself (figure) and everything about it (ground).  As a result it is easy to invent new things by combining familiar figures with an unfamiliar ground.

Me (May 2010, age 57).   What does experience tell us?

This is another of Marshall McLuhan’s “warm up” exercises to “sharpen your powers of observation,” which you can find in his book City as Classroom.  Just as words have different meanings in different contexts artifacts would appear to have different uses in different environments.

Take the familiar Q-tip. What unfamiliar grounds can you place it in contact with?” (touch screen, sun screen, electrical outlet, electric light … )  What new products can you create?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Marshall McLuhan, Kathryn Hutchon, and Eric McLuhan, City as Classroom:  Understanding Language and Media , 1977,   pp. 16.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, May 27th, 2010
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What you see on the phone.

Marshall McLuhan (1977, age 66).  Just something I’ve observed

Here’s something I’ve noticed for years.  Receptionists in the business world have all had the experience of finally meeting people in person they’ve only known by their discarnate voice over the telephone.  They tell me that they are surprised to discover that these people do not look the way they thought they would look.  For the most part, they cannot tell me why they are surprised, only that they are surprised.

Me (May 2010, age 57).   What does experience tell us?

This observation forms the basis for one of Marshall McLuhan’s “warm up” exercises to “sharpen your powers of observation,” which you can find in his book City as Classroom.

This is one of those observations that strikes me as true to experience, and at the same time peculiar and strangely unsettling to those who have experienced it.  The key questions about it I think are “Why?” and “So what?”  And whether it is an experience peculiar to the telephone.

Have you ever had such an experience?  Have you ever had a similar experience using the new social media?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Marshall McLuhan, Kathryn Hutchon, and Eric McLuhan, City as Classroom:  Understanding Language and Media,  1977,   pp. 7.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, May 26th, 2010
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The writing methods of Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan (Fall 1951, age 40).  Boredom is the enemy!

Finally my book on industrial folklore is being published by Vanguard Press.  I will be very glad to get it out of my mind as it now seems to me to be ancient history.  I’ve lectured it, written it, and the editors have hounded me to re-write it for years.  I’m thoroughly sick of it.

Me (May 2010, age 57).   Avoiding boredom came at a cost

Like all of McLuhan’s books his first one, The Mechanical Bride, is not easy reading.  Part of the reason is that he could not bring himself to rewrite.  He wrote it seems to amuse himself and he wrote very quickly.  Whenever he was asked by his editors to look again at anything he wrote he refused to clarify his ideas but instead added on new ideas to the ones already there.

The problem, said Seon Manley, who was an editor at Vanguard in the 1940s, is that anything that smacked of good writing – clarifying an idea, cutting extraneous material, or providing a telling example – bored McLuhan.  And McLuhan refused “to bore himself.”  The result was a style of writing many have found impenetrable.

How then should an intelligent reader approach the task of reading Marshall McLuhan?  Read fast?  Don’t be afraid to skim or jump about?  Don’t worry if you don’t get it?  Realize, perhaps, you’re not meant to?

Is it true, as McLuhan liked to say, “clear prose indicates the absence of thought?”

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger, 1989, pp. 118.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, May 25th, 2010
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The problem with the Shannon-Weaver model of communication

Marshall McLuhan (February 1, 1979, age 67). Communication is not about transportation!

You are undoubtedly familiar with the Shannon-Weaver model of communication.  I was just telling Pierre Trudeau about it.  Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver were mathematicians who said that the chief difficulty of a sender in getting a message through to a receiver is “noise.”  And their remedy for noise is to increase the electrical charge in the circuit.

This type of thinking is what’s wrong with most communications.  They don’t hear you and your solution is to shout? That’s a transportation solution.  What’s needed is a transformation solution.

Me (May 2010, age 57).   But how do you affect transformation?

One thing you can do is stop looking at communication as a transportation problem.  Frame your task from the beginning as transformation.

Transportation is ridiculously easy with current technology, which perhaps accounts for its attractions. I’m curious to know, what do you think? Why are we spending too much time on transportation and too little on transformation? 

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 524-25.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, May 22nd, 2010
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Who is this blog for?

Marshall McLuhan (December 10, 1976, age 65).  Its public of course!

I was just remarking to Sheila Watson that anyone who wishes to communicate, must know who it is they wish to help, or otherwise transform.  They require, in other words, a complete understanding of their public.  Canadians have a national problem with this.  We cannot imagine anyone needing our help.  Perhaps that is why since our problems seem so similar to American problems we typically adopt American solutions.

Me (May 2010, age 57).   I believe you are curious.

But what are you curious about?  I believe you are curious about whether Marshall McLuhan still has something to say about the world in which we live.  And, you’re curious about what new idea he will come up with next on this blog.

Help me imagine you better. What brings you to this blog?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 524-25.

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Michael Hinton Friday, May 21st, 2010
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Where do you find puns?

Marshall McLuhan (January 8, 1979, age 67).  Newspaper headlines!

Ms B. Ann Vannatta, a graduate student in journalism at the other U of T (Tennessee), asked me to comment on the effects of right hemisphere thinking on journalism.  Isn’t it obvious?  The punning that now takes place extensively in newspaper headlines is the result of electric media giving the edge to right over left brain thinking.  Puns are right brain, narrative jokes are left brain.  I used to call this contrast the difference between cool (inclusive, holistic) and hot (exclusive, fragmentary).  I now prefer to use the distinction of the hemispheres.  Love to talk about this more, but I must end here.

Me (May 2010, age 57). Just for the pun of it?

Whether or not electric media have promoted the use of puns in headlines there would seem to be a large amount of punning going on in newspapers.  On the surface, the impact of punning is simply to give a humourous spin to the story whose headline is being punned.  Presumably, the newspaper’s intention is to bring a welcome smile to their readers’ faces.  The result, however, can also be to make the subject of the story an undeserved, or unthinking object of ridicule.  This would appear to be the case in a front page story of today’s (May 18) Edmonton Journal about the closing of an old wing of a hospital for pregnant women and the opening of a new one.

The headline reads: “Pregnant Moms Labour to Make History.”   Get it?  Labour to make history.  All in good fun?  Perhaps, but I don’t think the moms are laughing.  McLuhan makes another point: the pun is smarter, more devious, than it looks.  It allows the newspaper both to report the news and in a “sneaky” way editorialize on it.

I’d love to hear from you. What punning headlines have you noticed lately in your favourite papers, magazines, newsletters, or blogs?

And, what is really going on in the punning?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 541.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, May 20th, 2010
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The strangeness of you.

Marshall McLuhan (May 7, 1976, age 64). Absolutely amazing !

I often use a simple home recorder to study poetry.  A group of us will read a poem and the most remarkable things happen when you separate your voicing of a line from the immediate hurly burly of the present and listen to it as if it was being said by someone else.

I remember Wyndham Lewis as being bowled over by the sound of his own voice.  He is English but was surprised to hear that he had an English accent.  “Bloody Hell,” he said, “I thought I had an American accent.”  I must admit I was as shocked as he was.

Me (May 2010, age 57).   Shocking

Why is it that our voices sound so strange and unpleasing when we listen to them as a recording? I’ve had people tell me I have a wonderful voice.  That’s not my reaction when I hear it  recorded.  I say, “what a peculiar sounding voice.”

The experience is totally different from ordinary live conversation.  No matter how hard I concentrate when I am speaking I cannot catch the sound of my own voice or change it to match how I’d rather have it sound.  It is said this has something to do with the way the heads we are inside (bone, sinew, tissue) affect the way we hear the sounds we make when we are speaking.  But it does seem odd to me that over time I have never adjusted to the strangeness of hearing my voice.  And I have a similar reaction to photographs in which I appear.

What is your reaction to the sound of your own voice or picture of your image?   Why do you think that is?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

P.S.  Marshall McLuhan, it is said, disliked having his picture taken.

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 519.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, May 19th, 2010
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Separation is obsolete

Marshall McLuhan (January 26, 1976, age 64). Sheer stupidity

Last night I shifted 40 to 50 books off the sofa and miraculously Sheila Watson’s Coach House press collection of essays and stories, Open Letter, came to hand.  It really is a delight.  As I was reading her essays on Wyndham Lewis it hit me forcibly that we have all been fools.  Here we are joined in a common interest and we have done less than we might to advance that interest because we no longer live in the same place.  The wind has blown us and we have allowed ourselves to be scattered.

Me (May 2010, age 57).   Has technology compensated for stupidity?

Unlike books, electric media now enable us to reconnect, work together and live apart in ways McLuhan could not.  Whether this is a good thing or not, it is a fact. You no longer need to live in the same town to be part of the same community.

What discarnate, disembodied communities are you part of?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 516.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, May 18th, 2010
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