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.

Nowadays there is no conversation at all

Marshall (June, 1951, age 39).    Nobody wants to talk.

I was writing to Pound about this.  Nobody wants to talk.  Not business men.  Not teachers.  Everyone distrusts talk.  They’re afraid of what they will discover.  That they’re lives are vacuous.  That’s why they turn the mirror to the wall

Me (October 2009, age 57).   Conversation still isn’t happening

Talk was the way McLuhan thought things through and thought things new, by talking it out.  His conversations tended to be one sided.  (Someone once said that McLuhan was very polite in conversation.  He always waited for your lips to stop moving before he started to speak.)

Conversation can mean many things: “talk, intercourse, communion, communication, discourse, conference and colloquy.”  But the meaning I have in mind is an exchange, a give and take, a two way street.  If it’s all one way it’s not an exchange; it’s an unloading, a filling up, a release, an exploration, a lecture.  It can be therapeutic, you can learn things, but it’s not n interaction.  Interactions are potentially dangerous things.  As McLuhan suggests you may find out things you don’t like.  There may be winners and losers.  Something new may be revealed and what’s new is not typically comforting and comfortable.

What kinds of conversations do you have?  How many are really just the sharing of feelings?  How many degenerate into lectures.  When you lecture who learns more, you or the person you’re lecturing to?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

The Letters of Marshall McLuhan. Selected and edited by Matie Molinaro, Corinne McLuhan, and William Toye. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 227.

“Conversation,” in Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary. Second edition, 1958.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, October 10th, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Vol. 1 4 Comments

4 Comments to Nowadays there is no conversation at all

  • This posts makes me wonder what McLuhan would have thought of social media (a.k.a. the conversational web). Web 1.0 = traditional websites = one way. Web 2.0 = blogs, social networks = two way street, where the door is open to interaction (of course someone has to step through that door).

    Until now, I’ve enjoyed simply reading the posts in your new blog. But I’m stepping through the door now, accepting your invitation to move this site from 1.0 to 2.0. To make it conversational. Watch out 😉

    p.s. Is this a typo or did McLuhan have issues with homonyms? “That _they’re_ lives are vacuous”

    p.p.s. Who is the Pound in this quote? Ezra? Not being an expert on McLuhan OR Pound, you’ve piqued my curiosity as to why Pound would care about conversation.

  • Michael says:

    Hi Michelle
    Pound is Ezra. It’s not Pound who cares about conversation it’s McLuhan. They both care about language. McLuhan is writing to Pound. And he is trying to impress him I think.

    The point is conversation is dangerous, You could change your mind. And, yes, my misspellings are legendary. Your and you’re always give me trouble.

    Cheers and thanks for your interest in this project

  • Dangerous to whom? McLuhan? Or the businessmen to whom he’s referring? I presume the latter, rather than the former, but don’t want to jump to conclusions as to whether or not McLuhan would be a fan of social media.

  • Michael says:

    Conversation is dangerous to people who do not want to open themselves to the possibility of change. As
    Mcluhan says that means it is dangerous to most of us. We spend our days for the most part sleepwalking.

    Would Mcluhan be a fan of social media? Normally it is not a good idea to try and speculate as to what McLuhan would or wouldn’t have thought of something. Afterall he was a genius and his mind worked in a wonderfully imaginative and associative way. But the odds are he wouldn’t. This is a man who had deep personal issues with most of the media of the modern world. He never learned to drive. All of his ties were clip ons, or rather elastic arounds, and he only reluctantly adopted the wrist watch. He gave up radio in college, warned his son not to let his grandchildren watch TV and limited telephone calls to no more than a couple of minutes.

    To see an example of really poor imagining of what McLuhan would have thought of things see Wired Magazine’s 1997 “McLuhan is now our patron Saint” issue. It’s worth reading because it tells you alot about what McLuhan didn’t think about things.

    Thanks for your interest in this blog

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