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.

Repetition is not learning

Marshall McLuhan (1967, age 55).  Read to learn

Tomorrow I will give my students their oral exam on books I asked them to select from my reading list.  Here are a few of the books on that list:  Jacques Ellul, Propaganda, 1965; E.T. Hall, The Silent Language, 1959, and A.P. Usher.  The History of Mechanical Inventions, 1929; 1954.

Today they asked me what to expect I told them: (1) we’d start at A and go from there; and (2) Don’t tell me what’s in the book, I’ve read it.  Tell me what you think now that you’ve read it.  Then we can talk about new things instead of old things.

Michael Hinton (2009, age 57).  Learn to read

Marshall McLuhan was a master reader.  He knew how to get to the heart of anything he read quickly and learn from it.  And this power he tried to teach his students.

Can you and I learn to read like Marshall McLuhan? McLuhan, of course was a genius, so this may seem like a difficult thing to do.  However, I do not think it is impossible.  Here is my take on a book McLuhan refers to indirectly on his reading list:  The Meaning of Meaning, by C.K. Ogden and I.A. Richards.

The trick is to follow the spirit of McLuhan’s advice.  Don’t only summarize the book or piece of the book: “The relationship between words and ideas and ideas and things in the world is direct.  But the relationship between words and things in the world is indirect.  That is you can always find words to express your ideas and ideas to match the things we see in the world, but you cannot reach for words to describe things.  This is impossible.  The only thing you can do is reach for words to express your ideas about the description of things.”

The summary is necessary but it is not thinking, it is repeating.  It is step 1.   Go to step 2:  Ask yourself what new thing you’ve learned from it.  For example, I’ve learned that to reduce misunderstanding I need to take the shortest possible indirect route between my words and the real world I’m trying to talk about.  The shortest possible indirect routes are through pictures (look at this), pointing at something (there it is), putting my finger on the thing (see) or describing the picture or thing in plain English (it’s a house).

The next time someone starts telling you word for word, image for image, about a book, movie, or magazine article  do you think you could ask them not to repeat it to you but rather to tell you what they learned from it?

Having read this blog post will you ask yourself what you learned from it?  If so, what did you learn from it?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Barrington Nevitt with Maurice McLuhan, Who Was Marshall McLuhan? Toronto: Stoddart, 1994, pp. 13 and Appendix A.

C.K. Ogden and I.A Richards, The Meaning of Meaning.  Sixth edition. New York: Harcourt, Brace and co. 1943.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, November 19th, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Education, Vol. 1 No Comments

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