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.

New media are hungry

Marshall McLuhan (August 10, 1964, age 53). Here’s a new idea!

This is an idea that hit me too late to be incorporated into Understanding Media, which I might add – and I will – has been doing ‘vurry’ well at the book stores.  New media have a habit of swallowing old media and in so doing transforming them.  The newspaper swallowed the book.  Film swallowed newspapers and books.  TV swallowed film.  Film on TV became something quite different from what it was  – shlock transformed into a high-class art form.  Books when printed serially in newspapers became something quite different, too.  Dickens and Conan Doyle ceased to be writers of pot-boilers and became literary masters.  Here’s the rule:  new medium eats old medium and the old becomes high art while the new is seen as low art.

Me (March 2010, age 57). Does the rule still work?

Let’s see.  Are the series ‘Magnum PI’ or ‘Murder, She Wrote’ seen on DVD today different from what they were on TV in the 1980s?  Seriously though the rule seems to have two parts:

  • new media eat or swallow or contain old media; and
  • the new media are seen as low class (kitsch, grade B, cliché) and the old media as high class (art, grade A, archetype).

And the first part is easier to swallow than the second.  The cell phone has swallowed the watch.  Watches have become chronometers.  E-mail has swallowed the letter and the letter has become art.  The computer has swallowed the filing cabinet (and a great many other things) and filing cabinets are becoming classy collectables.

What’s becoming art in your home?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p.308

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Michael Hinton Saturday, March 13th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Culture, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments

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