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.

The brevity of Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan (October 3, 1964, age 53).  Watch out for the meat!

T. S. Eliot said the message of a poem is the meat thieves throw to the dog to distract its attention while they break into your house.  Running this backwards, then, if you want to nail down the message of a poem or a book it’s not hard to do.  All you need to look for is the meat that’s being thrown at you.

Me (June 2010, age 57).   Is it that easy?

My apologies for putting this idea into Marshall’s mouth.  You will not find it in anything Marshall McLuhan wrote or said.  But aside from the fact the focus is on the message not the medium, it does sound like something McLuhan might have said in a lucid, unmystical moment.  Marshall McLuhan’s uncanny ability to go to the heart of a book with very few words was something that was very real and frequently impressed his friends and colleagues.  For example, Ted (Edmund) Carpenter with whom McLuhan first began to work on media studies in the 1950s, says in an interview which you can find appended to the documentary film McLuhan’s Wake:  “He had a way of getting to the point.”  And “[I was] stunned by the brevity he could summarize things.”

For example, in a letter to Pierre Trudeau, McLuhan summarizes the famous Shannon-Weaver model of communication this way:  “Shannon and Weaver were mathematicians who considered the side–effects of noise.  They assumed that these could be eliminated by simply stepping up the charge of energy in a circuit.”  [for more] And here is McLuhan’s summary statement of Peter Drucker’s Managing for Results:  “[I]n every situation 10% of the events cause 90% of the events.  The 10 % is the sector of opportunity, the 90 % is the area of problems.  [Typically] the opportunity or environmental and innovational area is ignored.  All sensible people deal first with problems – that is, the dead issues.”

Can McLuhan’s power of “brevity” be learned?  If it can, how?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post:

The Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 311 and 542.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, June 9th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Vol. 1 No Comments

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