A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan continues. If he had lived Marshall would have been 100 on July 21, 2011. Join me in the countdown to his centennial, and an exploration of more of his observations on the way media work in the electric age in which we live.

Culture

What you are seeing is what you (think you are) getting

“Today young lawyers in setting up offices are advised to keep books out of sight,” says Marshall McLuhan in a richly idea-laden essay published in Explorations over fifty years ago.  Why? Because the absence of books. he continues, sends the message “You are the law, the source of all knowledge of the law, so far as your clients are concerned.” In other words, the office is the message.  Today on the third day of McLuhan week  in Toronto a panel discussion will take place on “the changing format of the book and the future of reading.”  I wonder whether any one there will bring up this idea of McLuhan’s?  For if digital books succeed in kicking traditional books to the curb surely one of the more powerful effects of this shift will be to make the practitioners of all the professions seem to be even more knowledgeable than they were before.  It will be as if every professional has been given an invisable teleprompter to use in their offices.

Cordially Me

Reading:

Marshall McLuhan, “The effect of the printed book on language in the 16th century,” [1957] reprinted in McLuhan – Unbound, (02), Ginko Press, 2005, pp.9-10.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, July 20th, 2011
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication 2 Comments

Will we ever crack the code?

Marshall McLuhan (1970, age 59).  The ultimate challenge!

“Cracking the code of our own popular culture is much harder than the problem of the Rosetta Stone image.”

Me (May, 2011, age 58).  And what a challenge it is!

The finding of the Rosetta Stone at the town of Rosetta in Egypt in 1799 provided the crucial information required for linguists to eventually decipher the writing of ancient Egypt because the stone contained parallel passages written in Egyptian hieroglyphic characters, Egyptian demotic writing, and miracle of miracles Greek.  Popular culture is so hard to understand because it is more than language.  It is everything that makes us who we are as feeling, thinking, acting, and speaking social beings.  Unfortunately, there are no cultural Rosetta Stones – no worked examples of the multi-dimensional translation of one popular culture into another – to guide us.  As a result we never know which leads are worth following up and which are not.  And to make matters worse, because we are inside of it most of the time we don’t even realize there is something called our popular culture which we don’t understand. (Or as McLuhan liked to put the idea, whoever it was that discovered water it certainly wasn’t a fish.)  One of the ways Mcluhan thought you could see a popular culture was through ads.  McLuhan found ads to be endlessly fascinating.  Each is outside of ourselves and represents a window into our popular culture.   What do they mean?  Who can say for sure, but they do fascinate …

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading:

Marshall McLuhan, Culture Is Our Business, 1970, p. 148.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, May 31st, 2011
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Culture No Comments

Apocalypse now?

Marshall McLuhan (July 24, 1974, age 63).  Good-bye identity!    

“Electric speeds of information literally create the mass man and obliterate the private man.  … Is it too late to point to our universal victimization by media in which private identity has been abolished?” 

Me (April, 2011, age 58).  With what result?

Electric media separate us from our bodies.  As, for example, when you make a cell phone call.  You stay put your mind hurtles elsewhere to meet with others in electric space.  All media separate you from the physical you.  The result, electrically, McLuhan came increasingly to believe, is a witches brew of dark discarnate effects.  As we lose our physical identities we become unable to separate fantasy from reality, resort unthinkingly to violence, and are watched and monitored relentlessly by electronic eyes at home and abroad.  Is there any escape?  Depending on the day Marshall’s answer was either yes or no. 

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading: 

Marshall McLuhan, Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 503.

Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan:  The Medium and the Messenger, 1989, pp. 249-50

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Michael Hinton Friday, April 29th, 2011
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Communication, Culture, Technology No Comments

What is your task?

Marshall McLuhan (April 12, 1936, age 24).  My task?

“My task as a teacher will be to shake others from their complacency.”

Me (April, 2011, age 58).  But how?

As Marshall showed throughout his career the most effective method was a form of intellectual shock therapy.  To assert that the world was not as it appeared to be in the electronic age.  Cause did not precede effect it followed it.  Consumers were becoming producers.  Advertising was a substitute for consumption.  Print created history.  The medium is the message.   Impossible?   Far from itl.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading:

Marshall McLuhan, Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 84.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, April 28th, 2011
Permalink 1930s and 40s, Education No Comments

Do you have a head for heights?

Marshall McLuhan (1970, age 59).  Depends on whether your ear or eye is dominant.    

“The Iroquois in high steel have no qualms since they don’t have the habit of visual perspective.  If you never think to look down, a twelve–inch girder high above the street is as secure as a sidewalk.”

 Me (February, 2011, age 58).  Don’t like that idea?

Never mind, McLuhan has others.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pa0SFtmS–c&feature=related

 

 

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading: 

Marshall McLuhan, Culture Is Our Business, 1970, p. 150.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Culture 1 Comment

Mea Culpa!

Me (February, 2011, age 58).  How could I have got it so wrong!

Last year, I posted a blog in which I imagined Marshall’s pleasure at the prospect of the word “McLuhanism” appearing in the Oxford dictionary.  However, apparently, I underestimated the later McLuhan’s paranoid tendencies.  According to the journalist Barbara Rowes who wrote a profile on McLuhan for People Magazine in 1976, which I have only recently run across, far from being pleased “McLuhan considered the prospect sourly.”

Marshall McLuhan (September 20, 1976, age 65).  My exact words, if I remember correctly were …

“I can just imagine what that word is going to mean.”

Cordially, Marshall and Me

P.S. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines “McLuhanism” as “The social ideas of the Canadian writer H. Marshall McLuhan (1911-80), such as that the effect of the introduction of the mass media is to deaden the critical faculties of individuals.”

Reading:

Barbara Rowes, “If the Media Didn’t Get Marshall McLuhan’s Message in the ‘60s, Another Is on the Way,” People Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 12, September 20, 1976.

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Michael Hinton Friday, February 11th, 2011
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Communication, Culture 1 Comment

Where is advertising heading?

Marshall McLuhan (May 8, 1967, age 55).  “Quite simply …

The ad will become a substitute for the product, and all the satisfactions will be derived informationally from the ad, and the product will be merely a number in some file somewhere.”

Me (February, 2011, age 58).  And why not?

If as Mad Men teaches advertising is about happiness.

And happiness cannot be bought.  It can perhaps be learned.  And where better to learn than through ads?  For example, here is where you can learn the lesson that it is better to give than to receive.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading:

Marshall McLuhan, “Predicting Communication via the Internet (1966),” interview with Robert Fulford, May 8, 1966, on CBC’s This Hour Has Seven Days in Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews, 2003, p. 101.

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Michael Hinton Friday, February 4th, 2011
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Culture 1 Comment

What’s new pussy cat?

Me (February, 2011, age 58).  Apparently quite a lot …

On June 25, 1967, forty-five TV control rooms around the world joined together to create by satellite the world’s first global TV program.  In Toronto Marshall McLuhan was asked by the CBC’s Stanley Burke “Can you say what message the medium has around the world this afternoon?”  Here is his answer.

Marshall McLuhan (June 25, 1967, age 55).  And yet …

“Everyone will look at this program as if it were something they had already seen before with just a little addition of this or that.  Because that is the inevitable way we look at everything. It’s the same old thing with a little item or two added.”

Cordially, Marshall and Me

P.S.  Many people we imagine have never seen anything new ever.

 

Reading:

Or rather viewing: http://bit.ly/aDWkXA

 

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Culture, Technology No Comments

How did Russia beat the U.S. into space?

Marshall McLuhan (August 24, 1964, age 53).  They didn’t have a nineteenth century.

The Russians are people of the ear rather than the eye.  They didn’t have an Industrial Revolution.  They went directly from an oral age to an electric age, skipping the mechanical age.  This acted like a sling shot to fire them into space.

Me (February, 2011, age 58).  Again, no wonder his colleagues at Toronto University thought he was nuts.

And on this one I’m inclined to agree with them.  And yet it is a thrilling idea.  And certainly a more entertaining one than, say,  the Soviets were good at engineering and math and not shy of spending resources on a space program their economy couldn’t sustain.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading:

David Thompson, “How to learn economics in a rowboat,” Toronto Daily Star, August 24, 1964.


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Michael Hinton Tuesday, February 1st, 2011
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Culture, Technology No Comments

What did McLuhan talk about at the Centre for Culture and Technology in the 1960s?

Marshall McLuhan (August 24, 1964, age 53).  Here are three problems we’ve been discussing:

First, our world and its problems are the creation of specialists.  The solutions we so desperately require, however, can only come from generalists who can see how everything fits together.   Second, it is widely agreed that scientists are befuddled by abstract art.  We can develop ways to help them appreciate abstraction.  Third, parents have long wondered how their children can do their homework with the radio blaring.    We’re close to a breakthrough on this one.

Me (January, 2011, age 58).  No wonder his colleagues at Toronto University thought he was nuts.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading:

David Thompson, “How to learn economics in a rowboat,” Toronto Daily Star, August 24, 1964.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, January 29th, 2011
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Culture, Education 1 Comment