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.

Things change but we do not know it

Marshall McLuhan (November 18, 1961, age 50).  Thank goodness for Walter Ong.

It was a delight to have Walter Ong, Father Ong, S.J., that is, come to visit at 29 Wells Avenue here in Toronto.  Corinne fixed quite a spread for us.  He was my first and best graduate student – a damn good study he wrote on Gerald Manley Hopkins for his M.A. under me at St. Louis and an absolutely brilliant one on Ramus, a long neglected figure in Renaissance theology for his PH. D. under God knows who at Harvard.  It was Walter through his study of Ramus who helped me see that the world turned up-side down after the advent of printing.  The auditory world of rhetoric gave way to the visual world of the logic.  And from this everything western grew– rationality, the nation state, modern economic growth.

Of course no one sees the media at work.  They are invisible.  The good old medium does its work on us and we go on differently, but do not see that everything has changed.

Me (January 2010, age 57).  For example?

PowerPoint has made dramatic changes to the way people work and study.  Today I want to talk about the world of work.   Next week I’ll talk about the world of education.

If you want to see very clearly how a new medium can reshape the environment, literally, and work us over at the same time, the next time you’re watching a presentation stop listening and watching the presentation and look around you.  What do you see?

Here’s what I saw at one presentation.  I’m sitting in a darkened, windowless room.  The room is dominated by a screen filling the center of the wall ahead.  The speaker is standing with her back to the audience enthralled with the slide show appearing on the screen.  She is the audio-visual aide to – or the electric bride of – the PowerPoint slide show.  A long time passes.  The audience appears to be very involved with the screen.  Very little appears to have been accomplished.

Stop and look around at the next presentation you see.  What do you see?   How does what you see affect how you think?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 280-281.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, January 23rd, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments

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