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.

Speed

Why is the news so hard to understand?

Marshall McLuhan (March 3, 1959, age 47). The news is coming at high speed.

“When the news moves slowly, the [news]paper has time to provide perspectives, background, and interrelations for the news, and the reader is given a consumer package.  When the news comes at high speed, there is no possibility of such literary processing and the reader is given a do-it-yourself kit.”

Me (February, 2011, age 58).  Are you surprised?

Perhaps, as Marshall suggests, you don’t understand because you need to find new ways to understand.

Pattern recognition for example.  At any rate, is it a surprise you don’t when you keep expecting the consumer package and what your given is a do-it-yourself kit?

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Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading:

Marshall McLuhan, “Electronic Revolution:  Revolutionary Effects of New Media,” address to American Association for Higher Education Conference, March 3, 1959, in Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews, 2003, p. 8.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, February 15th, 2011
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You are living a “gigantic flashback.”

Marshall McLuhan (1970, age 59).  Think about it.

“In our time we are reliving at high speed the whole of the human past.  As in a speeded-up film, we are traversing all ages, all experience, including the experience of prehistoric man.”

Me (January, 2011, age 58).  Is it any wonder you sometimes feel dizzy?

But, as Marshall says, relief is possible.  You “can turn it off.”

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Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading:

Marshall McLuhan, Counterblast, 1970, p. 115.

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Michael Hinton Friday, January 21st, 2011
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TV: Reaching out to touch someone near you

Marshall McLuhan (May, 1964, age 52).  The effect of TV.

Have you noticed the way children in grade school read these days?  The same way they watch TV:  too close, too involved, too slow.

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Me (December, 2010, age 58).  Something’s happening here…

But what it is ain’t exactly clear

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media:  The Extensions of Man, 1964, p. 308

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, December 8th, 2010
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Reading yesterday’s newspaper.

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Think about it.

One day’s paper is much like another.  Shootings, car crashes, foreign wars.   Stock markets up or down.  House prices stable or uncertain.  The home team wins or loses.  Nevertheless to suddenly realize that the paper you are reading “is not today’s is a disconcerting experience.”

Me (November, 2010, age 58).  Have you ever done this?

On Sunday I was in a restaurant for breakfast.  On my way to a booth I picked up what I thought was the front section of Saturday’s newspaper sitting abandoned at a table near the cash.  Waiting for my coffee I leafed through the news when suddenly I realized it was Friday’s not Saturday’s paper.  Up until that moment I had been entertained and diverted.  Now my interest in the paper was gone and I felt deflated, foolish, and cheated.  McLuhan says the dateline of a paper is its vital organizing principle.  To find yourself reading yesterday’s (or in my case the day before yesterday’s) news is like discovering that a memoir you have enjoyed reading is a fraud.  Fiction dressed as fact.  Being conned into buying a fake Rolex.

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Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 212.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, November 24th, 2010
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Who lives in the city?

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Look around …

Just as the horse was the real population of the nineteenth century city, the automobile has become the real population of the twentieth century city.  I admit it makes me uneasy.  Everything is designed for the care and convenience of the car.  The needs and wants of human beings are coming in at a very distant second.

Me (November, 2010, age 58).  Today, for the most part it’s still the same old story …

Human beings don’t live in the city, automobiles do.

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Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 218.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
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How do you sling your slang?

Marshall McLuhan (November 2010, age 99). Down memory lane with Marshall and Corinne …

Corinne do you remember this?  ‘Slang offers an immediate index to changing perception.’”

“It certainly sounds like you, Marshall.”

“Of course it sounds like me, I said it.  And you typed it up and that’s how it got into Understanding Media. ”

“Did I?”

“Of course you did, behind every great man in the university is the sound of his wife’s typing.  The fascinating thing is that slang continues to be an immediate index to changing perception.”

Just listen to the internet kids talking.  Here’s a typical snippet:

  • He’s really, really, mad.
  • I’m like, ‘Hey, why are you like that?’
  • And he’s like, ‘whatever.’”

“What are they saying, Marshall?”

“Hard to say, there is an unmistakable 80s patina to it, but that doesn’t matter, focus on the medium, the words.  That’s the real message.   No one says saying or said anymore.  The verb to say is gone, replaced by like.  Conversation is getting cooler and cooler.  More and more involved and involving.  The internet has taken on the job TV was doing to us in the 60s and stepped it up several notches.  Visual man is waving good bye to his progeny.”

Me (November, 2010, age 58).  Here’s some more talk to think about:

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Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. vi.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
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Seeing our present as future.

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  Another one for McLuhan.

The critics of Marshall McLuhan said he was a charlatan speaking gibberish.  Yet here he is in 1964, sounding remarkably sane to modern ears, predicting a now ubiquitous small, hand-held electronic device – cell phone, blackberry, i-phone – on which you can play a movie.  Granted he doesn’t see it as digital but 20/20 future sight is asking a lot.  Lesson – if you’re going to predict the future be ready for criticism if you get it right.

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Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Clearly …

“At the present time, film is still in its manuscript phase, as it were; shortly it will, under TV pressure, go into its portable, accessible, printed-book phase.  Soon everyone will be able to have a small, inexpensive film projector that plays an 8-mm sound cartridge as if on a TV screen.  This development is part of our present technological implosion.”

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, pp. 291-292.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, October 30th, 2010
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What is the problem?

Marshall McLuhan (June 15, 1964, age 52).  Communcation!

Everywhere you turn communication is breaking down: the relations between east and west, government and citizen, teacher and student, and parent and child are in disarray.  And yet the assumption rules that somehow we generally manage to get our meaning across.  In fact we should be assuming exactly the opposite.

Me (August, 2010, age 58).  Communication!

For McLuhan it was obvious that the rapid movement of information in the electric age was responsible for the problems of the 1960s.  Few understood or agreed with him.

Today information moves even more rapidly and arguably our economic, environmental and social problems are even worse.  What remains unchanged is the unwillingness of sensible people to think about our economic, environmental, and social problems as communication or media problems.  Perhaps we need to start.  Because if there is a universal law of communication in the electric age, it is that communication is always breaking down.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, edited by Matie Molinaro, Corinne McLuhan, and William Toye, 1987, p. 302.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, August 10th, 2010
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Prediction.

Marshall McLuhan (1966, age 55). It seems inevitable.

As the world speeds up what was formerly separate becomes joined.  Politics is becoming entertainment and entertainment politics.  Within fifteen years I think it is safe to say an actor will be elected president of the United States.

Me (July, 2010, age 58). And vice versa?

This is one of McLuhan’s predictions that seems spot on (Ronald Reagan) incredibly perceptive (who else would have thought such a thing) and a bit too good to be true (one wonders how seriously he took the idea.)

As I was playing with the idea it struck me that it should work the other way too.  A politician should eventually succeed as an actor.  It took a bit longer but Al Gore did win an Oscar for his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

What predictions of Marshall McLuhan’s do you find most startling?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

P.S.  From Marshall:  Corinne tells me it’s your birthday.  Happy Birthday Michael.  May there be many more.

Reading for this post

Barrington Nevitt with Maurice McLuhan, Who Was Marshall McLuhan? 1994, p. 198.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, July 24th, 2010
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Is this the apocalypse?

Marshall McLuhan (June 30, 1960, age 48). We have opened a door to a new world.

I have the uncomfortable feeling that I’m the only one who senses that something dramatic and unprecedented has happened.  As I wrote in my Report on Understanding New Media, which was commissioned by the National Association of Educational Broadcasters, “We are in great danger at the present of sacrificing the whole of our western culture with its unconscious bias based on alphabet and printing.”

Corinne said if I get this wrong I’ll come off like the boy who cried wolf.  Perhaps, but I’m no boy and this is no ordinary wolf.  When so much is at stake how can I remain silent.

Me (July, 2010, age 57).  We are still waiting for the future to arrive.

An unnamed reviewer (L.H.) acting for the National Association of Educational broadcasters advised the group that they should exercise “caution in interpreting and generalizing … [the] results [of McLuhan’s report.”  Caution is still being exercised.  Nicholas Carr may be convinced that “Google is making us stupid,” but it is doubtful if anyone is losing any sleep over the subversion of our culture by electric media that McLuhan said was taking place some fifty years ago.  Perhaps, at long last, we should be.

As I have said before the death of western culture appears to be a very long and circuitous process.  Are you worried? Should we remain silent?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Marshall McLuhan.  Report on Understanding New Media. 30 June 1960, preface p. 8.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, July 13th, 2010
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