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.

What goes on in coffee shops?

Marshall McLuhan (July 1952, age 41).  I go to coffee shops to talk

The coffee shop in the basement of the Royal Ontario Museum is conveniently located close to the English department and the department of Political Economy.  This  is my destination most week days at 4p.m.  There I’m sure to find congenial company,  economists Harold Innis and Tom Easterbrook, and anthropologist Ed Carpenter and one or two others.  We go to talk.

Yesterday the subject of conversation was study, where it’s done and how and with what end in sight.  In the ancient world and in the Middle Ages study was an oral and a social activity.  Texts were read aloud and outdoors.  With the advent of print study became a solitary indoor activity, a communion with books.  And where better place to commune with books than in a library, surrounded by them.

Michael Hinton (2009, age 57).  Today people go to coffee shops to study

What remains of the basement coffee shop in the Royal Ontario Museum – a gathering place for bus loads of public and high school students visiting the museum – that McLuhan talks about can still be visited by anyone who wants to have a look at the place where McLuhan talked his way into his first insights about the Gutenberg Era and Understanding Media.

Walk into any coffee shop today, Second Cup, Starbucks, what have you, and what do you see?  Students.  Studying.  Heads down, tapping away on their computers, communing with the digital world.  Study which was a solitary book-mediated activity has increasingly become a social electric-mediated activity.  What they are studying is less interesting than the fact that they are studying and doing it outside the boundaries of their school, college, or university.

Parents:  Where do your children study?  What does it matter whether they study alone or together?  Are there subjects that are better studied alone than together?

Students:  Do you study in coffee shops?  If so, why?  Are there subjects you cannot study in a coffee shop?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

McLuhan, Marshall.  Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 231-232.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, November 17th, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Education, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments

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