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.

Who’s afraid of the unknown?

Marshall McLuhan (January, 1964, age 52). You should be!

Corinne says I should be more careful what I say in front of the children.  She said the twins were in tears after I told them nuclear war was not only possible but probable.  Reality, I see is an acquired taste.

The real problem, however, as I told the girls and Corinne, is this electric age of ours – TV, Radio, Telephones – has for the first time extended our central nervous system.  This is absolutely unprecedented.  In the past, the mechanical age, we extended particular body parts.  The car extended the foot, the telescope the eye, the gun the fist.  All these things have predictable results.  They increase our power to act, numb us to their action, and magnify the rational, uninvolved, logical man in us.  But the electric forms of new media as they extend us are taking us in the opposite direction.  We are becoming more tribal, involved, and emotional.  Who knows how far this will take us?  And what will happen to us as a result?  No one.  Welcome to the world of the unknown.   

Me (February 2010, age 57).  There’s even more to be afraid of today

In the 1960s the unknown became a regular visitor – brought each day to families through the western world by radio and TV – the drop out, the hippie, rock music, Vietnam, protests and riots, women’s rights, civil rights.  Today with the spread of computers, social software, and the internet, the speed of change is even greater, and the unknown doesn’t just drop in to visit, she’s become a member of the family.  What this is doing to us – how it is changing us – is just as unclear today as it was to McLuhan in the 1960s.  Marshall McLuhan said he would be happiest in a world in which nothing changed.  He recommended one extremely effective way to control the effects of new technology:  find the off button and push it.

Could you live without the electric technologies you use today for a month, a week, a day?  Would your life be diminished or improved by eliminating some or all of these technologies?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p.295.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments

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