A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.Â Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday,Â I present one of McLuhanâ€™s observations and talk about its relevance today.Â 300 ideas. 300 days.Â 300 posts.
Marshall McLuhan (1960, age 48).Â The telephone blinds us to its power
The other day Everett Munro, a businessman here in Toronto, and one of my leading fans in the Hogtown business community, spoke to me about a problem he was having.Â Normally he said, â€śspeaking to my boss is not a problem.Â But whenever we speak on the phone Iâ€™m gripped by fear.Â My voice shakes and I have difficulty breathing.Â I donâ€™t understand it.Â It seems so irrational.Â I actually like my boss.Â We get along.Â Sure heâ€™s demanding.Â Wants things right and wants them right now.Â But Iâ€™m the same way with the guys who work for me.Â Is there anything I can do to stop this?Â Itâ€™s driving me crazy.â€ť
I was able to set him right.Â â€śYour problem, I said, â€śIs that you do not realize the power of the telephone. The telephone is such an intense auditory experience that it blacks out the visual.Â It blinds our power to see.Â Youâ€™ve got to work to involve the other senses, to counteract the power itâ€™s having on the balance of your senses.Â Hereâ€™s the bottom line.Â Try to visualize to picture your boss when youâ€™re speaking to him.â€ť
Me (November 2009, age 57).Â What if heâ€™s right?
This story is told by Philip Marchand in his 1989 biography of McLuhan. Â It is difficult to tell what Marchand himself thinks of the advice McLuhan gave to the nervous businessman. He writes matter-of-factly that Marshall McLuhanâ€™s advice â€śdoubtless would have sounded farfetched to many people, but the businessman tried it and it worked.â€ťÂ But we are left wondering whether McLuhanâ€™s advice is really all that useful or is it actually something of a scam.Â Something that appeared to help but in actual fact was just a coincidence, or a placebo.
This is the story, however, that stimulated my own fascination with McLuhan.Â For like the nervous businessman I often found myself feeling nervous speaking to people on business calls.Â Curious, I tried McLuhanâ€™s suggestion, and I found that it worked.
Does McLuhanâ€™s advice sound far-fetched to you?Â Do you ever find yourself feeling nervous speaking on the telephone? Why donâ€™t you try McLuhanâ€™s suggestion too and let me know what happens? Â What have you got to lose?
Cordially, Marshall and Me
Reading for this post
Philip Marchand. Marshall McLuhan: The medium and the messenger, 1989. P. 150.