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.

Understanding McLuhan: The less is more approach

Marshall McLuhan (May 7, 1966, age 54).  New York City here I come!

Today, Eric reminded me, I’m booked to speak at the Kauffman Art Gallery on 92nd street in New York City.  My talk is about the way the media work us over.  The title of the talk is “The Medium is the Massage.”   I’m bubbling over with ideas I want to talk about.  I only hope there’s time for me to say everything I want to say.

What’s that Corinne? My cab’s at the door?  Must run, wish me luck.

Me (June 2010, age 57).   Good luck, Professor McLuhan!

Reading this speech today it’s easy to understand why so many people, then and now, find it hard to understand Marshall McLuhan.  In some ways McLuhan’s speech has the standard characteristics of great public speaking:  an opening that grabs attention (“I have been introduced recently as Canada’s revenge on the United States); a clear statement of a theme (an electronic medium “massages the population in a savage way); humour (a cat is hunting a mouse, the cat imitates the barking of a dog, the mouse thinks the cat’s been chased away by a dog and it’s safe to come out from its hiding place, the cat eats the mouse and remarks – it pays to be bilingual); a personal and conversational style (“when our thirteen-year-old saw this, he said, “Dad that’s real cool …”).

But McLuhan cancels out its good features and pushes his talk across the line from understandable to overwhelming because he can’t stick to one or two main subjects.  Instead, by my count, he deals with 52 subjects: including, the problem with value judgments, the world as teaching machine, memory and discovery, the future of work, the future of the book, perception and science, how to study media, computers and social change.

To understand McLuhan I think you must read him very slowly and in bits and pieces.  For example consider just one idea from his talk:  If you want to lose your job be sure to specialize:  eventually someone will figure out a way for a computer to replace you.  Something to think about.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Massage,” in Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews, 2003, pp. 76-97.

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Michael Hinton Friday, June 4th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Vol. 1 1 Comment

1 Comment to Understanding McLuhan: The less is more approach

  • Was this drawn from a letter? or is MM asking his personal journal to wish him luck? If so, I have to say this is the first time the thought has crossed my mind that MM writes (in his journal) like a 14 year old girl. Maybe I can write my PhD thesis on the premise ;)

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