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.

Always on send

Marshall McLuhan (1965/66, age 53-55?).  In conversation with Howard Gossage.

“Marshall, will you listen for a second?”

“Why?”

“Because I have something to say.”

“Well, say it then.”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”

“Well”

“Well what?”

“I’ve forgotten.”

Me (June 2010, age 57).   How bad was McLuhan as a listener?

It is agreed that McLuhan was a polite but not a good listener.  (The story being that he always waited for your lips to stop moving before he began speaking.)  Howard Gossage, who knew McLuhan well, says that while McLuhan was a bad listener McLuhan did have friends who were worse than he was.  For example, Gossage says that Buckminster Fuller, who was profoundly deaf, and often turned off his hearing aid, was the worst listener in McLuhan’s wider circle.  On one occasion, Gossage says, Fuller stopped him in mid-sentence with the question, “Do you want an answer or don’t you?  Very well, [said Gossage.]”  Fuller then proceeded to give him an answer.  One problem, it wasn’t the answer to the question that he had been discussing.  But then all Fuller had promised him was “an answer” not “the answer.”

The price of poor listening seems obvious.  What is the benefit?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Howard Luck Gossage, “You can see why the mighty would be curious,” in McLuhan: Hot and Cool, 1969, footnote, p. 24.

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Michael Hinton Friday, July 2nd, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Vol. 1 No Comments

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