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).  Nowadays there is no conversation at all

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 an 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

PS:  See you back here on Tuesday October 13th.

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 Thursday, December 10th, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Vol. 1 No Comments

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