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

Did you try it?

Marshall McLuhan (June 18, 1974, age 62). Well, did you?

Why is it that people insist that the study of media is difficult.  All you have to do is look around you.  Yesterday I suggested you look at Xeroxing.  Well, did you?

Me (May 2010, age 57).  What about another artifact?

The cell phone, of course, is still having affects on us and our other artifacts.  Yesterday I went past the shattered remains of four telephone booths in a large public building in downtown Montreal.  Each one had been killed by the cell phone.  Other effects of the cell phone are:  we are no longer tied to our desks, being out of touch is no longer easy to happen, charging a cell phone is now one of our daily tasks.

One more time – don’t worry about being profound – how are the artifacts about you changing your life and the artifacts about them?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 500.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, May 15th, 2010
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Try it sometime.

Marshall McLuhan (June 18, 1974, age 62).  Don’t be shy.

I just got back from England, where my oldest son Eric was married.  I was delighted to run into Hugh and Winifred Lane at the wedding.  Hugh and I were students together at Cambridge in the 1930s.  I was telling them about my work which concerns the effects of technologies on human society and psyche.  You may be wondering how one goes about identifying those effects.  The answer is simply to ask yourself about any item around you:  What it is doing to its users and to other artifacts?  For example to study the effects of Xeroxing make an inventory of the changes Xeroxing has had on your life.

Me (May 2010, age 57).  You as a student of media

I remember one of my professors at the University of Toronto, John Dales, saying that students spent too much time photocoping and not enough time reading.  By photocoping – he insisted – all we were doing was delaying the act of reading.  Why not cut out the middle man and read it?  Another way to look at it is that we were too caught up in publishing to bother about reading.

How are the artifacts about you changing your life and the artifacts about them?

 

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 500.

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Michael Hinton Friday, May 14th, 2010
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TV is addictive.

Marshall McLuhan (February 6, 1974, age 62). Read all about it

Did you happen to see TV Guide for September 15, 1973?   There is a report of the effects of quitting TV watching cold turkey in England and Germany.  They paid people to turn off their sets off for as long as they could stand it.  Some lasted three months but most could only do it for a week.  And all showed the same kind of symptoms of withdrawal as alcoholics or drug addicts do when denied their fix.   Quite obviously this had nothing to do with their missing the content of Bonanza or the Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  They could not do without the medium.

Me (May 2010, age 57).  TV Guide ain’t a scientific journal

But what does that matter, McLuhan wasn’t a scientist.  He insisted that everything he said could be tested by anyone who was willing to look honestly at the world.  Our experiment with living without TV continues in the Hinton household.  Three months and counting.  I must say I have had some withdrawal symptoms.  My experience is that Internet video and rented DVDs are not the same as TV.  And I must agree with McLuhan that it is not the program content I miss.  But then, this is not a scientific test.

However, a recent study appears to both support and contradict McLuhan.  On the one hand it shows the increasing power of electronic media to create dependency.  On the other it would appear that modern users of electronic media are dependent on both the content and the medium.

According to the study in which 200 college students were asked to give up “any media interaction” (texting, facebook, phone, TV) for 24 hours and then report the  experience, many found the assignment impossible to complete and others reported uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Participants reported missing their virtual relationships.

What about you? Have you ever tried to give up TV?  Any other media interaction? What happened?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 490-91.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, May 13th, 2010
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Coincidence.

Marshall McLuhan (April 11, 1974, age 62).  Bad vibes?

You wouldn’t believe it.  Two months ago, when our youngest daughter Elizabeth was about to be married and the house was full of guests, the water main burst.  Now, just as the water main is being replaced at home and the lawn is completely dug up, we’ve had to replace the water main at the Coach House – which as you know is my office at Toronto University and the Center for Culture and Technology.  What’s next?  Thank God I don’t have a cottage.

Me (May 2010, age 57).  Coincidence?

Two water mains in the same year?  Bad luck?  Bad vibes?  Coincidence?  Certainly uncomfortable.  Someone once told me that when they lived in Kingston (Ontario) they lived on Montreal Road, but when they moved to Montreal (Quebec) they wound up living on Kingston Road.

 

What coincidences – comfortable or uncomfortable – come to mind for you?

 

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 490, 491, and 496.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
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How to deal with hecklers.

Marshall McLuhan (June 13, 1974, age 62).  For what it is worth

Hecklers are easily dealt with.  The heckler’s goal is “to annoy or confuse a speaker by interrupting with questions or taunts.”  As I was telling Pierre Trudeau here are my two favourite ploys.  Depending on your mood you can: (1) invite them to come to the microphone and address the audience; or (2) look at them quizzically and ask them, “You mean my fallacies are all wrong?”  Very few hecklers are prepared to deal with either approach. [for more on heckling]

Me (May 2010, age 57)   I wonder

Marshall McLuhan might have found these effective strategies .   I doubt that Pierre Trudeau would have found them helpful.  But then …

What are the best ways of dealing with hecklers?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 499.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, May 11th, 2010
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What is truth?

Marshall McLuhan (March 25, 1974, age 61). Hercule Poirot knows!

The truth is not beauty nor shall it set you free.  It is explosive and discomforting.  In my study of media I have noticed it time and again, the minute you talk to people about media effects they start to lose their cool.  Nobody wants to hear that the medium is the message.  It only upsets them.  It is when people get upset I know I’m on to something.

“What is truth?”  asks Agatha Christie’s consulting detective Hercule Poirot.  “Eet ees whatever upsets zee applecart.”

Me (May 2010, age 57).   Look out!

One apple cart I keep upsetting has to do with PowerPoint.  In my work as a presentations coach I encourage corporate presenters to think about the effects PowerPoint will have on their audiences.  This is something it appears it takes courage to do.  PowerPoint is now so deeply ingrained in business as both a project management tool as well as a presentation device that as one corporate manager said, “I couldn’t think without PowerPoint.”

What apple carts are you upsetting?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 491.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, May 8th, 2010
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What don’t you know?

Marshall McLuhan (January 25, 1973, age 61). That’s my favourite question.

Why is it that people are so interested in what they know?  My strategy is always to explore my ignorance, the things I don’t know.

Me (May 2010, age 57).   A big territory.

Once you start exploring your ignorance you will find – at least I have found it so – that it’s a big territory.  If you are having trouble discovering things you’re ignorant of take any subject on which you think you know something and ask yourself “How do I know that?”  (This question according to Deirdre McCloskey was a favourite of economics Nobel laureate Milton Friedman.  See “this” on her web site.)

Experiment.  Try this question when other people start telling you things about politics, economics or society and see what happens.  Let us know what happens.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 464.

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Michael Hinton Friday, May 7th, 2010
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How are you?

Marshall McLuhan (January 25, 1973, age 61).  I hate that question.

You walk into a room, pass someone strolling down the street, or bump into an acquaintance at work, and dollars to donuts they’ll look you straight in the eye and say, “How are you?” or “How are you feeling?” or “How are you doing.”  It makes me wince.  It’s as if they’d stepped on my toes.  Clearly, they don’t really care how I am, it’s just a load of social hooey.  My usual reply is, “Are you sure you really want to know?  Because if you do this may take some time.”

Me (May 2010, age 57).   I hate that question too.

Another question I dislike is “Are you busy?”  Of course I am but that’s not the question is it?

What social greetings do you dislike?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 463.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, May 6th, 2010
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The reading public no longer exists.

Marshall McLuhan (January 12, 1973, age 61). Thousands of reading publics exist

When I was at Cambridge, in the 1930s, the library of the English School maintained displays of a small number of relevant books covering a variety of different fields.  Looking over the shelves I came away with the distinct idea that this was what you needed to know to know what was happening in history, poetry, or any other field.  Today however such an impression is an impossibility.  So much is being published – in America alone 39,000 books are published every year -  there cannot be a reading public only publics.  We read what we will and except for very modest area of overlap our reading separates us from one another.

Me (May 2010, age 57).   Thousands have become millions.

Every book club is a reading public.  Each blog has its reading public, some large, most small.

What are the implications?  Are programs like “Canada Reads” necessary to maintain a sense of community?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 462.

Deborah Hinton‘s post @ Communication Matters

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
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Do you go outside to be alone?

Marshall McLuhan (March 10, 1972, age 60). You do if you’re American.

Remarkably, Americans go outside to be alone, while Brits go outside to be with others.  Americans find privacy in cars, restaurants and bowling alleys.  Brits find community in walks, coffee houses, and sporting events.

 

Me (May 2010, age 57).   Surely a curious thing?

This is an idea that McLuhan found extremely interesting.  And one he kept returning to and repeating as a precept beyond dispute.  In 2000 Robert Putnam published Bowling Alone, a best seller that assembled much evidence supporting the idea that Americans in the last quarter of the 2oth century have become “increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbours, and … democratic structures.”    Also interesting is that among other things Putnam attributes this growing disconnection to television.  This then would appear to be one of those curious ideas that McLuhan was onto much in advance of everybody else.

Do you go outside to be alone?

 

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 452.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, May 4th, 2010
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