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.

Telephone

For whom does the bell ring?

Marshall McLuhan (1960, age 49) For your information some questions

“Is the telephone extremely demanding of individual attention? Is it abrupt, intrusive, and indifferent to human concerns?”

Me (June 2011, age 58) Well?

These are just two of the questions in Marshall McLuhan’s 1960 “Report on Project in Understanding New Media” which was intended as a high school textbook on media studies and wound up being the first draft of his 1964 best seller Understanding Media. It is probable the book would have flopped as a high school textbook, but the questions have much to teach anyone who is willing to tussle with them. For example these two beg the answers, yes and yes. Knowing this will you always be so eager to call knowing what effect you’re having?

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Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading:

McLuhan:Hot and Cool, edited by Gerald Emanuel Stearn. New York, 1967, p. 157

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, June 28th, 2011
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Let your fingers do the walking! (Or is it running?)

Marshall McLuhan (1970, age 59).  Remember the ad?      

“Remember the New York Telephone ad?  ‘Let your fingers do the walking.’  In the computer age the role of the pedestrian is taken over by the pushbutton.”

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Me (June, 2011, age 58).  The prescient Professor McLuhan

Do your thumbs deserve a break today? 

 

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading: 

Marshall McLuhan, Culture Is Our Business, 1970, p. 236.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, June 4th, 2011
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Products are becoming services.

Marshall McLuhan (May 8, 1967, age 55).  For example …

“Instead of going out and buying a packaged book of which there have been five thousand copies printed, you will go to the telephone, describe your interests, your needs, your problems … and they at once Xerox with the help of computers from libraries all over the world, all the latest material for you personally, not as something to be put out on a bookshelf.  They send you the package as a direct personal service.  This is where we’re heading under electronic conditions.  Products increasingly are becoming services.”

Me (February, 2011, age 58).  Sound familiar?

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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 Saturday, February 5th, 2011
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The telephone cures

Marshall McLuhan (May, 1964, age 52).  Is it not remarkable?

Neurotic children apparently lose all symptoms of their neuroses on the telephone.  And stutterers have been known to lose their stutter on the phone or when speaking a foreign language.

Me (December, 2010, age 58). The lesson?

Simple.  Media are not passive instruments.  They change us.  The telephone, McLuhan says, demands the participation of our other senses.  We doodle, we caress the phone, we feel, fall in love.  But, strangely we are not able to visualize the person we’re talking to.   In the clip, below, Rock Hudson and Doris Day show us how the phone works.

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Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading: Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964, p. 56 and 273.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, December 11th, 2010
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The telephone calls!

Marshall McLuhan (May, 1964, age 52).  And we answer!

For your information, some questions:  Why do we feel compelled to answer a ringing telephone?  Why does a ringing phone in a movie or play create such tension?  Why can a silent phone create such a terrible feeling of loneliness?

The answer is simple the telephone by its very nature demands a partner.

Me (December, 2010, age 58). What about the calls of other media?

If McLuhan is right the telephone has a special power over us.  But is this power unique to the telephone?  Not unique, surely.  But it’s hard to deny that McLuhan is on to something.  Certainly, I don’t feel the same compulsion to open packages, letters, or e-mail, open a door, start an engine, or turn on a television or an electric light.

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To protect yourself you may wish to put your cell phone on vibration, now.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964, p.268.

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Michael Hinton Friday, December 10th, 2010
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What the bell!

Marshall McLuhan (March 27, 1967, age 55).  The ringing, the ringing!

“Mrs. Stewart, if that phone rings one more time I’m going to go stark raving mad.  That was from another kid with a bad case of the giggles who asked me to tell him the message.  There it goes again.   I’m going deaf with the ringing.”

“Professor McLuhan, I’m going to do what we should have done two hours ago.  There!”

“Silence.  Merciful Mary, how did you do it?”

“A little trick my husband told me about he saw in Popular Mechanics.  Put some carpet between the bell and the hammer.”

“Mrs. Stewart, you are a genius.”

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Me (December, 2010, age 58). The power of the press

Marvin Kitman’s comedic review of The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore appeared in the New York Times on March 26 1967.  Among other things, Kitman said, “With all the zeal of a convert, I would like to urge everybody not to buy this book, in either the paper medium or cloth medium.  McLuhan argues forcibly that the invention of television makes books obsolete.  Anybody who purchases a McLuhan book is playing into the hands of McLuhan’s enemies in the intellectual establishment; high sales figures can only tend to discredit him as a modern thinker.”

As Marshall McLuhan and his secretary Marg Stewart were soon to discover, it was funnyman Kitman who was responsible for the unending ringing of his number.  For Kitman also told his readers that if you really want to get McLuhan’s message you needed more than a medium, such as the telephone, you also needed “to establish a connection.  [And that] Marshall McLuhan’s telephone number at the University of Toronto is 416-WA 8-3328.”

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marvin Kitman, “Get the Message?” The New York Times, March 26, 1967.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, December 9th, 2010
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Gold for the student of media.

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52). “Now this is gold!”

“What is, Marshall?”

“Why simple facts like these.  Did you know that there are no telephone books in Moscow and no central switchboard for any government department?”

“No Marshall.  I didn’t.  Is it important?”

“Vital, I’d say.  You can keep your theories.  I’d read a hundred books to turn up two facts like these.”

Me (November, 2010, age 58).  These are the kind of facts that niggle away at you.

Are they true?  What do they mean? Do they matter?

One thing though they seem to describe the type of world large corporations are moving toward today.  A place without a telephone book.  A place where you phone and effectively no one is there to pick up and direct your call.  A place of one way communication.  Have you tried calling someone in one of the big banks lately?

This is a long clip, but you’ll get the message fairly quickly.

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Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, pp. 214.

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Michael Hinton Friday, November 19th, 2010
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It took TV to really make the telephone’s stimulus pay off.

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52). Of course …

“In the 1920s, the telephone spawned a good deal of dialogue humour that sold as gramophone records.  But radio and the talking pictures were not kind to the monologue, even when it was made by W.C. Fields or Will Rogers.  These hot media pushed aside the cooler forms that TV has now brought back to a larger scale.  The new race of nightclub entertainers (Newhart, Nichols and May) have a curious early-telephone flavor that is very welcome, indeed.”

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Me (November, 2010, age 58). Is this where the internet has taken us?

Now we have a brand new race of entertainers turning the book into dialogue.  Very welcome, indeed.

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Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 270.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, November 13th, 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 it about the telephone?

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  Anger!

According to McLuhan the big problem with the telephone is that it naturally drives you to rage.  Have you ever lost it on the telephone?  I know I have.  Here’s Marshall’s explanation for this phenomenon.  In short, the medium is so cool (read participative or involving) it overheats you.  Before going to Marshall, here is actor Alec Baldwin being driven to rage by the medium.

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Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Complete participation

“Some people can scarcely talk to their best friends on the phone without becoming angry.  The telephone demands complete participation, unlike the written and printed page.  Any literate man resents such a heavy demand for his total attention, because he has long been accustomed to fragmentary attention.”

 

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 267.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, October 6th, 2010
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