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.

Marshall McLuhan: Hedgehog or fox?

Marshall McLuhan (January 23 1953, age 41). The Gutenberg Era

I’ve told Ezra Pound and I’ve told Walter Ong.  I have a big idea I’m writing a book about.  The movement from script to print created the logical, visual western world.  The new electric media are returning us to the oral, acoustic world from which we came 2000 years ago.  The important thing is not the content of these media but their technique.  Print is the mechanization of writing.  Radio, movies, and TV are the mechanization of voice and gesture.  Every day sees new discoveries opening up this new uncharted place.  “We were the first that ever burst into that land-locked sea.”

Michael Hinton (2009, age 57).  McLuhan was a hedgehog who thought he was a fox

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin proposed the idea that all thinkers can be usefully divided into two groups, hedgehogs who relate everything they write about to a single unifying vision and foxes who come to every question with ways to think about it, who have not one vision but hundreds.  In economics, Milton Friedman is a hedgehog, John Kenneth Galbraith a fox.  In religion, both the Pope and the Dahli Lama are hedgehogs.  In politics, Reagan is a hedgehog, Clinton is a fox.  In literature Ayn Rand is a hedgehog, Charles Dickens is a fox.

The question is what is Marshall McLuhan?  His biographers give the impression that they believe McLuhan to be a fox.  But I think this is not the case.  McLuhan loved specific examples, observations and was not at his best in writing up systems of thinking about the media.  However in one important way he was a hedgehog.  Throughout his life in everything he did in studying media he displayed an obsession about exploring the impact of media on us by means of their operation as forms, rather than through their content.

In your life are you a hedgehog or a fox?  What about the people you admire most, parents, teachers, politicians, mentors, writers, thinkers, activists:  Are they hedgehogs or foxes?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

McLuhan, Marshall.  Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 234.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, November 18th, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments

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