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.

Teenagers are not adolescents.

Marshall McLuhan (1967, age 65/66). The adolescent is now obsolescent

In the 1930s and 1940s adolescence was the stage children passed through on their way to adulthood.  Adolescents were not adults they were adults in training.  Today, electric technology, in particular the transistor radio and television have banished this rite of passage.  Teenagers are not going through a stage today; they have become a different species.

Me (June 2010, age 57).   Howard Gossage explains …

As I said yesterday Marshall McLuhan liked to assert ideas but he did not like to explain them.  In McLuhan: Hot and Cool (pp. 28-29) Howard Gossage makes an attempt to provide an explanation for McLuhan’s idea that the teenager of the 1960s had become a different species.

“McLuhan’s theory is that this is the first generation of the electronic age.  He says they are different because the medium that controls their environment is not print – one thing at a time, one thing after another – as it has been for five hundred years.  It is television, which is everything happening at once, instantaneously, and enveloping.

A child who gets his educational training on television – and very few nowadays do not – learns the same way any member of a pre-literate society learns: from the direct experience of his eyes and ears without Gutenberg for a middle man.”

What about the teenager of today?  Has the internet so speeded up the electric age that we share the world with another new species?

Is the concern about the internet making people stupid missing the point?  It may be that it is not bringing us all down to some given preliterate level, but rather dividing generations more thoroughly and irrevocably than TV ever did.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Howard Luck Gossage, “You can see why the mighty would be curious.”  In McLuhan: Hot and Cool, edited by Gerald Emanuel Stearn.

Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?:  What the internet is doing to our brains,” The Atlantic, July, 2008.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, June 26th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Culture, Education, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments

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