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.

People don’t get ‘the medium is the message’

Marshall McLuhan (October 3, 1964, age 52).  It’s the environment!

Why didn’t I think of it before?  Of course the medium is the message, but when I say it – and I do love saying it – I just get a bunch of blank stares.  ‘What do you mean by that Professor McLuhan?’  The full answer would take some time.  But I’ve discovered a way to say it that people can get.  The new version is that every new technology creates its own environment which contains as its content the old environment.  For example the automobile has built up a vast sprawling network of roads, highways, gas stations, roadside restaurants, and populations of commuters living in their suburbs.  This new environment contains the old environment created by the railroad.  We all see the old environment big cities strung out on the railway lines in sharp relief. What is invisible to us is the new environment.  Why else would you think it normal to spend 2 to 3 hours a day commuting?

Me (March 2010, age 57). How to see the new environment

The next time you’re in a restaurant look around.  Chances are you’ll see people at neighboring tables talking animatedly to people who are somewhere else.  The cell phone and blackberry have created their own new environment which contains the old environment of the land-line phone and face-to-face conversation.  Before the spread of these inventions people would stay at home or at the office to be connected now people can go out and stay connected.   Today people are no longer tied to their homes or offices, but there is a price for this.

Can you ever not be connected?  Under what circumstances would you not take a call or respond to a text message.  When would you?  While shopping or driving?  At dinner with friends?  In bed with your wife, husband, or partner?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p.311

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Michael Hinton Thursday, March 18th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments

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