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 oral method of Marshall McLuhan … continued

Marshall McLuhan (1962-1963, age 51-52).  The good of talking it out

I am happiest talking.  Talk is a technology to deliver understanding of what you think right now.  Writing is a technology for preserving what it was you used to think.  I prefer to talk about what I’m thinking now rather than what it was I used to think.  The academic boys don’t get this.  Plato got it.  He has Socrates say that writing is a dangerous technology that allows you to deliver someone else’s thinking as if it’s your own.

Michael Hinton (2009, age 57).  How Marshall McLuhan talked it out

To find out more about Marshall McLuhan and his methods of thinking and preference for talking over writing, a conversation I told you a bit about yesterday, I spoke with Professor Abraham Rotstein, professor emeritus in economics, at the University of Toronto, who was a member of McLuhan’s circle in the 1960s.  Here is what he told me about McLuhan’s methods for talking it out.

Rotstein:  McLuhan worked as an oral man in research.  He spoke through his books dozens of times.  His monologues [it is said that McLuhan was a very polite listener, he never started to speak until he saw your lips had stopped moving) were his way of writing books.  He had a hierarchy or stable of people called to whom he would rattle on.  Basically there were four groups of people [he would phone to talk to in the evenings]: (1) 9pm-10pm graduate students; (2) 10 pm-11pm faculty; (3) after 11pm special people; and (4) up to 1 am [Tom] Easterbrook and other close buddies.

When McLuhan called he would rattle on at great speed. McLuhan presented orally work that later became written.  He put down on paper what he had already thought out through extensive oral repetition.

Compare McLuhan’s style in his letters or interviews with his style in his books. Can you see the difference?  How do you think the people in McLuhan’s stable handled being phoned and rattled on to?  Is this the price they were willing to pay to be close to genius?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

See the pre-1968 interviews of McLuhan on www.digitallantem.net/mcluhan

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Michael Hinton Friday, November 6th, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Education, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments

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