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 July, 2010

Where do you get your information?

Marshall McLuhan (Fall 1953, age 42).  Books!

“Marshall, must you spread your books throughout the house?”

“No, Corinne, but it serves me to do so.  It reminds me of what I have read.  Also I like to pick a book up and dip into it every now and again to add to and refresh my memory.  Having them about me this way is a great help.”

Me (July, 2010, age 57).  Books!

While McLuhan enjoyed talking to people, Philip Marchand says he got most of his information from books.  On average, says Marchand, McLuhan read 35 books a week, which seems like a lot, even for a university professor.  I get most of my ideas for this blog from books, but not exclusively from books.  On average, though, I cannot say I read more than two books a week. (May be – like McLuhan – I should skim more.)

Where do you get your information?  How many books do you read in a week?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading for this post

Philip Marchand.  Marshall McLuhan:  The Medium and the Messenger, 1989 p. 179.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, July 17th, 2010
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What’s wrong with Google?

Marshall McLuhan (March 3, 1959, age 47).  Another breakthrough!

You have no doubt noticed that the first thing we do with a new invention is to use it in old ways.  It is not a coincidence that the automobile was originally called “the horseless carriage,” the railroad “the iron horse,” and, at least in Britain, the radio was known as “the wireless.”

Me (July, 2010, age 57).  Google may be leading us down memory lane.

Whether or not Google is being used in old or new ways, it is as McLuhan taught extending or enhancing some part of us, but what?  Some months ago,  Julien Smith blogged about how Google was making it unnecessary to remember things.  And as a result, he suggested, we may be losing our power to remember.  Who starred in that movie?  Who wrote that book?  How did that old song go?  Don’t worry about it. Google it!

In artificially extending our memories the technology may be weakening our natural powers to remember.   This is a concern.  But it may also be that Google is doing more than our memory work for us; it may be leading us down memory lane.  With it we can remember more than we ever could, and, as a result, find ourselves more interested in recovering old ideas than discovering new ones.  This may be a greater concern.

What do you use Google for?  The old or the new?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews.  Edited by Stephanie McLuhan and David Staines, 2003, p. 2.

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Michael Hinton Friday, July 16th, 2010
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The small matter of quotation.

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 62).  The question of quotation.

My editors at McGraw-Hill have driven me to distraction on the vexed subject of quotation.  They tell me I should only quote someone I disagree with.  What an idea.  No one has ever thought about the things I agree with only the things I disagree with?  As I was saying to Ted Carpenter we should give credit to those who have come before us – those we stand on the shoulders of.  That doesn’t mean we don’t need to make choices.  The trick is to give credit to genius and pass by the fortunate but mediocre.

Me (July, 2010, age 57).  The rules

The writer Kingsley Amis, I think it was, once said that the first duty of the writer is to write not to quote.  McLuhan thought differently.  His books lean so heavily on quotation that it is understandable that his editors would try to persuade him to quote less and write more.

McLuhan’s rules seem to be:  quote liberally (up to 50 words from poetry, 500 from prose), quote from established authorities, don’t worry too much about context, and never under any circumstances quote Marshall McLuhan, it will only get you in trouble with academics.

Apart from questions of copyright, do you have rules for quotation?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Philip Marchand.  Marshall McLuhan:  The Medium and the Messenger, 1989 p. 179.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, July 15th, 2010
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Memories.

Marshall McLuhan (June 16, 1975, age 63).  My first memory.

I am in Edmonton.  I can’t be much more than two years old.  I’m looking out the window of a street car and  I see horses on the river bank.  I remember thinking they look so small they could fit in my nursery.  Such is the magic of visual perspective.  To me the horses in the distance not only looked small, they were small.  I was a very perceptive lad.

Me (July, 2010, age 57).  Too good to be true?

Philip Marchand writes in his biography of McLuhan that “in view of McLuhan’s later obsession with visual perspective as an invention of the print era and his almost visceral rejection of that perspective – in later years, the painter Harley Parker recalls, McLuhan seemed actually to believe that ‘things became smaller as they receded into the distance’ – the memory is almost too pat.”

Who can say?  My first memory is from the time I was two or three.   I’m in a long hallway.  I look around and realize that I’m lost.  Given that this blog in a way is an exercise in both discovery and self-discovery, a way of finding my way home, intellectually, perhaps this first memory of mine is also “almost too pat.”

What is your first memory?  Does it reveal something significant about you?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Philip Marchand.  Marshall McLuhan:  The Medium and the Messenger, 1989 p. 8-9.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, July 14th, 2010
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Is this the apocalypse?

Marshall McLuhan (June 30, 1960, age 48). We have opened a door to a new world.

I have the uncomfortable feeling that I’m the only one who senses that something dramatic and unprecedented has happened.  As I wrote in my Report on Understanding New Media, which was commissioned by the National Association of Educational Broadcasters, “We are in great danger at the present of sacrificing the whole of our western culture with its unconscious bias based on alphabet and printing.”

Corinne said if I get this wrong I’ll come off like the boy who cried wolf.  Perhaps, but I’m no boy and this is no ordinary wolf.  When so much is at stake how can I remain silent.

Me (July, 2010, age 57).  We are still waiting for the future to arrive.

An unnamed reviewer (L.H.) acting for the National Association of Educational broadcasters advised the group that they should exercise “caution in interpreting and generalizing … [the] results [of McLuhan’s report.”  Caution is still being exercised.  Nicholas Carr may be convinced that “Google is making us stupid,” but it is doubtful if anyone is losing any sleep over the subversion of our culture by electric media that McLuhan said was taking place some fifty years ago.  Perhaps, at long last, we should be.

As I have said before the death of western culture appears to be a very long and circuitous process.  Are you worried? Should we remain silent?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Marshall McLuhan.  Report on Understanding New Media. 30 June 1960, preface p. 8.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, July 13th, 2010
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Here comes the sun.

Marshall McLuhan (Summer 1958, age 46/47). California here we are

Hugh Kenner persuaded me to take over teaching his courses at the University of California at Santa Barbara this summer.   So we packed up the old Dodge station wagon, piled the kids in the back and Corinne drove us out to the coast.  The sand, sea, and sky has warmed every part of me.  I’d trade Toronto for this any day if I didn’t have to work for Kenner.  Tonight it’s Joe’s Café on State Street. Is there any place you can get a better martini?

Me (July, 2010, age 57). Enjoy  …

On this hot summer’s day let’s join McLuhan in California.  For the full effect please turn your speakers OFF!  For added effect pour yourself a martini. 

Is there anything that won’t keep for another day?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Philip Marchand.  Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger, 1989, p. 144-45.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, July 10th, 2010
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The hard cover book is dead

Marshall McLuhan (1960, age 48/49).  They didn’t want to hear it …

Thanks to my old friend Bernie Muller-Thym, I spoke today, to a group of book publishers meeting at Columbia University.  I told them the news they absolutely need to know.  The hard cover book is obsolete – in short, dead.  From the restlessness of the natives I could tell they didn’t want to hear it.

Me (July, 2010, age 57).   And yet …

It is one of the curious ironies in McLuhan’s life that at that meeting where he foretold the death of the hard cover book one of the editors in the audience came up to McLuhan after his talk to ask him if he would consider writing one for McGraw-Hill.  McLuhan said yes and that book which appeared in 1965 was the best-selling Understanding Media.

For some time now it has appeared that the concept of the book as we know it – the centerpiece and center force of western culture – has been on its deathbed.  Recently, however, some have suggested that e-books and the new electronic readers may give the book new life.  Are they right?  Should Tom Wolfe’s question “what if he’s right?” really be “what if he’s right eventually?”

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Philip Marchand.  Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger, 1989, p. 176.

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Michael Hinton Friday, July 9th, 2010
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Perseverance

Marshall McLuhan (1974, age 63).  I have doubts …

I don’t know perhaps it was late.  I was tired.  The Monday night seminar had just ended.  Eric was driving me home and I said to him:  “Is it worth it?  All this effort to alert people, when they just attack the bearer of news and do nothing.  Do I have the right to, am I supposed to, should I continue to keep investigating and making discoveries?  Why bother, if the West is being discarded and no one will do anything about it or even listen.”

Me (July, 2010, age 57).  But he never gave up

McLuhan had doubts about his ability to get through to people, to get people to think about, to comprehend, the power of media.  He would have been a fool not to.  His style insured him critics.  But he never gave up.  Today it is clear, as Douglas Coupland says, what with Google, Facebook, You tube, and everything else like this blog your reading on the internet, McLuhan “was right on the money four decades ahead of the biggest shift in human communication since the printing press.”

Am I getting through to McLuhan?  What can we learn from him after all these years?

Like McLuhan I too have doubts.  As we approach our 200th post questions come to me.  What was I thinking when I committed to 300 posts?  Should I keep going?  It’s been great, but why bother?  What good does it do to sieve through old ground?  Is the medium a barrier to the message?  But then occasionally there are discoveries …

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

W. Terrence Gordon.  Marshall McLuhan: Escape into Understanding, 1997, p. 275.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, July 8th, 2010
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Wiseguy or wise guy?

Marshall McLuhan (1965, age 66).  Of course it’s obvious …

“What do you think, Marshall?  At the same time as we are chatting here, just the six of us,* America’s biggest communication conference, led by S. I. Hayakawa, the semanticist, is meeting across town at the San Francisco Hilton with over 1,000 people in attendance.”

“Obviously, it’s unimportant.  In the time it takes to get a 1,000 people to agree on anything conditions will have changed.  With the conditions changed the conversation will be pointless.  They’ll be meeting for the wrong reasons on the wrong questions.  Under electronic conditions of high speed change this is inevitable.”

(*Tom Wolfe, Howard Gossage, Gerald Feigen, Mike Robbins, Herbert Gold, and Edward Keating.)

Me (July, 2010, age 57).  What should be done?

As usual McLuhan’s wiseguy banter raises serious questions.  Under electronic conditions of high speed change are large conferences likely to be a waste of time.  A disquieting thought given the number and size of such conferences that continue to be held today.

Is McLuhan right on this one?  What is your view?  Are large meetings inevitably focused on the wrong things?  If so, what forms and methods for holding conferences are likely to be most effective?  Is the “unconference” the meeting of the future?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Tom Wolfe. “What if he is right,” in McLuhan: Hot and Cool, 1967, pp. 44-45.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, July 7th, 2010
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Hot’s not hot!

Marshall McLuhan (December 13, 1977, age 66).  In a word, you need charisma.

Today, Peter Gzowski asked me if the age of the Sophia Loren woman – the movie star – was over.  Of course it is.   To succeed today you must be able to succeed on television.  And on television you can’t succeed with that hot stuff.  That’s what killed Senator Joe McCarthy.  One appearance on television and his career was over.  That’s what killed Nixon too.  The key is you’ve got to look like a lot of other nice people.  That’s charisma.

Me (July, 2010, age 57).   The meaning of charisma.

If you watch the McLuhan interview on Gzowski’s show you can tell that Gzowski doesn’t really know what to make of McLuhan.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyvMVfa23CA&feature=PlayList&p=5C29E759A4EED9C6&playnext_from=PL&playnext=1&index=10 Take for example McLuhan’s definition of charisma:  looking “like a lot of other nice people.”  Gzowski laughs.  He isn’t sure what to make of this.  But clearly there is something in that definition that rings true and yet is unexpected.     The definition forces you to think in the way a typical dictionary definition does not.  For example a typical dictionary definition of the word is:  “A capacity to inspire devotion and enthusiasm.” (The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.) McLuhan’s definition explains how that power or capacity is conferred with different media.  On television, he is saying, the power to inspire devotion and enthusiasm is given to people who we think look like us.  In McLuhan’s language they have a corporate or social image.  But in the movies things are different.  There the people who inspire devotion and enthusiasm – movie stars – do not look like us.  They have their own unique private image.  This is not a theoretical position.  It is an observation.

Is it true?  Is it true today?  Is the same true for social media?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, July 6th, 2010
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