The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (1st Ed.: The Vanguard Press, NY, 1951) is a pioneering study of popular culture by Herbert Marshall McLuhan, treating newspapers, comics, and advertisements as poetic texts.McLuhan’s interest in the critical study of popular culture was influenced by the 1933 book Culture and Environment by F.R. Leavis and Denys Thompson, and the title The Mechanical Bride is derived from a piece by the Dadaist artist,Marcel Duchamp.
Like his later 1962 book The Gutenberg Galaxy, The Mechanical Bride is unique and composed of a number of short essays that can be read in any order – what he styled the “mosaic approach” to writing a book. Each essay begins with a newspaper or magazine article or an advertisement, followed by McLuhan’s analysis thereof. The analyses bear on aesthetic considerations as well as on the implications behind the imagery and text. McLuhan chose the ads and articles included in his book not only to draw attention to their symbolism and their implications for the corporate entities that created and disseminated them, but also to mull over what such advertising implies about the wider society at which it is aimed.
McLuhan is concerned by the size and the intentions of the North American culture industry. “Ours is the first age in which many thousands of the best-trained individual minds have made it a full-time business to get inside the collective public mind,” McLuhan writes in his preface to the book. He believes everyone is kept in a “helpless state engendered by prolonged mental rutting is the effect of many ads and much entertainment alike.” McLuhan hopes Bride can reverse this process.
By using artifacts of popular culture as a means to enlighten the public, McLuhan hopes the public can consciously observe the effects of popular culture on them.
McLuhan compares his method to the sailor in Edgar Allan Poe‘s short-story “A Descent into the Maelstrom.” The sailor, McLuhan writes, saves himself by studying the whirlpool and by co-operating with it. Likewise, the book is not interested in attacking the strong currents of advertising, radio, and the press.
The book argues anger and outrage are not the proper responses to the culture industry. “The time for anger…is in the early stages of a new process,” McLuhan says, “the present stage is extremely advanced.” Amusement is the proper strategy. This is why McLuhan uses punning questions that border on silly or absurd after each visual example.
Origin: Marshall McLuhan’s interest in the critical study of popular culture was influenced by the 1933 book Culture and Environment by F. R. Leavis (with Denys Thompson) and Wyndham Lewis‘ 1932 book The Death of Youth, which uses similar exhibits.
During the 1940s, McLuhan regularly held lectures with slides of advertisements analysing them. He first referred to the present era as the Age of the Mechanical Bride in 1945, during a series of lectures in Windsor, Ontario. McLuhan had planned publishing these lectures and slides since before 1945.
During the thirties and forties, many “exposé” books critiquing the advertising industry were published but McLuhan’s book was different. While critical, the tone of the essays was admirable at times, impressed with the skills of advertisers. In June 1948, McLuhan received an advance of $250 for the publication of The Folklore of Industrial Man from Vanguard Press. The tentative title would later become the subtitle.
- Reissued by Gingko Press, 2002 ISBN 1-58423-050-9
- “McLuhan, Marshall (1911-80)” from Routledge Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English, Second Edition. Benson, Eugene; Conolly, L.W. (eds). London: Routledge, 2005.
- “Preface to the original edition” by Marshall McLuhan. The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man. Herbert Marshall McLuhan. 1951. Ginko Press, 2002. pp. v
- Marchand (1989), p. 107
- Walter Ong says “As long as I knew McLuhan he had been talking about publishing The Mechanical Bride” (Marchand (1989), p. 107).
- Marchand (1989), p. 108.
- Marchand says $250 dollars was not “outrageously low for a highbrow book.” (Marchand (1989), p. 108)
Advertisements Analyzed in The Mechanical Bride
Freedom – American Style
The Utopia of the picnic inherited from the aristocratic pastoral convention?
Did Whitman give America the poetry of the open road?
What happens when the ad makers take over all the popular myths and poetry?
Are ads themselves the main form of industrial culture?
Click on each image to expand:-
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St. John’s College, Cambridge University has announced the passing of Sir Jack Goody, whose studies of literacy and communication have influenced media ecologists such as Harold Innis, Eric Havelock, Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, and Elizabeth Eisenstein, as they focused on the development of writing systems, and later, printing; in this aspect of his scholarship at least, Professor Goody can be considered a media ecologist in his own right.
Professor Goody had been a member of St John’s since his student days, and a Fellow since 1961. His outstanding academic career earned him an international reputation in the field of anthropology, which he also taught at the College for many years.
His research was, among other things, credited with enhancing our understanding of how literacy emerges in different societies. Alongside numerous awards and honours, he received a knighthood in 2005, in recognition of his services to social anthropology.
John “Jack” Goody was born on 27 July 1919 and educated at St Albans School. He first came up to St John’s to read English as a student in 1938, but his studies were cut short in the first instance by the outbreak of the Second World War. He served in North Africa until he was captured by the Germans at Tobruk, then spent three years in prisoner of war camps in the Middle East, Italy and Germany. While a prisoner, he escaped and was recaptured several times, at one stage spending several months living undercover in Italy.
After the war, Professor Goody returned to St John’s to complete his BA in 1946, before undertaking a Diploma in Anthropology in 1947. After a short spell in educational administration and at Balliol College, Oxford, he returned to St John’s to study for a PhD in Anthropology, which he received in 1954.
This marked the beginning of a long academic career at the University of Cambridge, during which time he worked as an Assistant Lecturer, Lecturer in Archaeology and Anthropology, Director of the African Studies Centre, Smuts Reader in Commonwealth Studies, and finally as the William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology – a post which he subsequently continued to hold in Emeritus.
At St John’s itself, he taught generations of students, initially as a Supervisor in Anthropology, and then in both Archaeology and Anthropology. In 1961, he became a Fellow of the College. For many years he also fulfilled the duties of College Lecturer in Archaeology and Anthropology, and Director of Studies in Social and Political Studies. Building on the platform of anthropological fieldwork conducted in Ghana, Professor Goody’s research interests included West African anthropology; kinship and family; modes of communication and production; and representations and iconoclasm. His work touched on themes as diverse as cooking, the family, feminism, and the contrast between eastern and western cultures.
From the mid-1950s onwards, he published extensively on anthropology, making numerous contributions to scholarly journals, and publishing more than 30 books. He continued to write, study and lecture well into his retirement, and his last book, Metals, Culture and Capitalism, came out as recently as 2012. Some of his most acclaimed works included Death, Property and the Ancestors (1962), The Myth of the Bagre (1972), and The Domestication of the Savage Mind (1977).
Professor Goody’s many awards and honours included a Fellowship of the British Academy (1976), and of the National Academy of Sciences (2004). He was also recognised at each grade of l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres: Chavalier in 1996, Officier in 2001, and Commander in 2006.
Professor Sir Jack Goody died peacefully in Cambridge on 16 July 2015. His funeral will be held on a date to be announced. Source: http://tinyurl.com/ngu27vk
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“It’s time for a recovery and reassessment of North American thinkers. Marshall McLuhan, Leslie Fiedler & Norman O. Brown are the linked triad I would substitute for Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida & Michel Foucault, whose work belongs to ravaged postwar Europe & whose ideas transfer poorly into the Anglo-American tradition”. – Camille Paglia
The North American intellectual tradition
To hell with European philosophers: The breakthroughs of non-European thinkers are the 1960s’ greatest legacy.
A war still rages over the legacy of the 1960s. For many conservatives that decade spawned the worst aspects of contemporary culture, from sexual promiscuity and epidemic divorce to drug abuse and educational decline.
It’s time for a recovery and reassessment of North American thinkers. Marshall McLuhan, Leslie Fiedler and Norman O. Brown are the linked triad I would substitute for Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, whose work belongs to ravaged postwar Europe and whose ideas transfer poorly into the Anglo-American tradition. McLuhan, Fiedler and Brown were steeped in literature, classical to modern. They understood the creative imagination, and they extended their insights into speculation about history and society. Their influence was positive and fruitful: They did not impose their system on acolytes but liberated a whole generation of students to think freely and to discover their own voices.
I feel fortunate indeed that McLuhan published his central work, “Understanding Media,” in the very year — 1964 — that I entered college. Fiedler’s “Love and Death in the American Novel” and Brown’s “Life Against Death” had appeared just five years before.
McLuhan’s pioneering examination of the revolution wrought by electronic media in Gutenberg’s print culture demonstrated how history could be reinterpreted with terms bridging high and popular culture. He had a breathtaking sweep of vision and a charming aptitude for the startling example. McLuhan’s irreverent, aphoristic wit was perfectly attuned to the brash spirit of my generation, with its absurdist “happenings” and its taste for zinging one-liners — in the satiric style of Lenny Bruce or the gnomic manner of Zen sages and Hindu gurus.
“Understanding Media,” which had a tremendous impact on me at a pivotal moment in my development, is a landmark of cultural analysis. It contains an epic panorama of Western culture: Greek myth, Shakespeare, William Blake, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso and Margaret Mead mingle with the Marx Brothers amid an “Alice in Wonderland” swirl of clocks, comic books, alphabets, telephones and typewriters. In its picaresque form and carnivalesque tone, “Understanding Media” resembles Petronius Arbiter’s “Satyricon,” with its vivid picture of Nero’s Rome. McLuhan finds the key to our overloaded cultural environment, and his swift rhythms, playful tone and deft touch make academic semiotics look ponderous, pretentious and pointlessly abstract. (Read the rest of this outstanding Salon essay at: http://www.salon.com/2000/03/04/inteltrad/
Norman O. Brown at left & Leslie Fiedler
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With the Pan American Games currently on in Toronto and surrounding areas, we remember that Marshall McLuhan was both a sailing enthusiast, as well as a rower. Here he is in his Cambridge University Rowing jacket:
Marshall McLuhan, 1973. Photograph: Mohan Juneja
Tuesday, July 21 will be the 104th anniversary of Marshall McLuhan’s birth. To mark the occasion we are organizing at St. Michael’s College a luncheon just like the one last year. It will be nothing fancy, just an excuse to get together and talk about the McLuhan Legacy among the members of the McLuhan community. Lunch can be purchased in the Canada Room, the student cafeteria, and will cost you less than $10. The food is reasonable and I have eaten it many times, as they serve the same meals in the St Mike’s faculty lunch room. The room will be fairly noisy, as the kids from St. Mike’s summer camp eat there as well, but we will eat our lunch in the Senior Common Room , easily accessed from the Canada Room. It is a quiet place where we can eat in peace and have a good conversation.
Marshall McLuhan (on the right) at St, Michael’s College
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This presentation by Dr. Corey Anton took place at the recent 16th Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association (MEA), hosted by Metropolitan State University of Denver on Saturday, June 13, 2015. It is based on a paper accepted for publication in the forthcoming issue of Explorations in Media Ecology (EME), Vol 13, Numbers 3-4, the journal of the MEA. See http://tinyurl.com/px55df2 . Corey Anton takes issue with the critics of McLuhan who entirely dismiss Marshall McLuhan’s polarity of hot versus cool media. The first two paragraphs of Corey’s provide an introduction to his presentation below. I recommend this as one of the most cogent explanations of McLuhan’s hot/cool polarity that I have come across……..Alex
Of all the distinctions that Marshall McLuhan advances, “hot and cool” is perhaps the most controversial, least coherent, and most confusing. Regarding this pair of terms, some scholars have suggested that McLuhan contradicts himself. Others have claimed that McLuhan rightfully abandoned them, while others still simply try to teach around or ignore that chapter of Understanding Media (2003). Many find the ideas not worth the effort. At a minimum, pretty much everyone agrees that the distinction, even if playful in some regards, remains problematic. Its ambiguity easily leads to confusion.
For my own part, I wish to defend the distinction and argue for the value of the terms despite their convoluted, confusing, contestable and maybe even contradictory claims. I personally do not care if McLuhan abandoned them. If, in articulating what I take to be the general thrust of McLuhan’s argument, I stand accused of committing acts of hermeneutical violence, my only defense will come by way of demonstrating the value of this reconsideration and re-appraisal.
Corey provided the following notes to accompany his presentation in a handout:
Key Point #1: McLuhan mostly employs the hot/cool distinction comparatively, for example, suggesting that radio is hotter than a telephone call, or that comics are cooler than photographs, or that alphabetic text is hotter than hieroglyphs. This means that the expressions “hotter than” or “cooler than” are much more in spirit with McLuhan’s distinction than a simple statement of “hot’ or “cool.” Furthermore, the expressions “heat up” and “cool down” are more useful and directive, as they stress how any environment or medium is experienced as “hot” or “cool” depending upon prior media exposure, and they also suggest how “temperature changes” occur.
Example #1: (Comparative Terms): Radio, McLuhan argues, does not affect literates as it does oral peoples because literate peoples have been exposed to even hotter media forms and can thus take radio as mere entertainment. But television, in contrast to the print word, weakens immunity to radio. Hence, although McLuhan generally equates hot media with specialist, mechanical technologies that detribalize, he also claims that radio, which leads to a re-tribalizing frenzy, is a hot medium. Radio thus remains cooler than text: we cannot have live-time interruptions within a book. Radio also includes a wide range of sounds that cannot be placed meaningfully on the written page. Whereas radio re-tribalizes by creating a shared public echo chamber of cultural values and memories, the book individuates and relies upon a single person’s point of view.
Key Point #2: Any media form or environment can be heated up by: decreasing the number of senses involved, increasing the definition of its content, and completing its overall package for a single individual. Inversely, any media form or environment can be cooled down by: increasing the number of senses, reducing the definition of its content and opening processes to increased, live-time multiple person participations.
Example #2: (Heating Up and Cooling Down, old media): Television, commonly cast as cool, can be made even cooler with the addition of a remote control, but we heat it up just a little as soon as we increase the definition or detach it from live-time information. We can heat it up even more by creating a home theatre, installing row seating, always dimming the lights, allowing no one to talk, accessing only movies, and playing the movie from beginning to end without break. Service providers such as Netflix or Hulu also heat up television shows in this regard. They discharge shows from their cultural rhythms and condense many (or all) episodes into an already completed package that can be watched, in entirety, in a determinable span.
Example #3: (Heating Up and Cooling Down, new media): The telephone is cooler than radio, just as skype, sometimes a multisensory group affair on both ends, is cooler than a private telephone call. Cell phones now accompany people anywhere they go, and because they allow for texting, web access, GPS, social networking applications, and countless other “smart apps,” including Skype or iChat, they have become quite a cool telephone indeed. This also implies that de-tethering a computer from its Internet access returns it to its hotter, earlier, more specialized stage. On the other hand, once Internet access is reestablished, the computer cools back down and becomes more versatile and open to live-time social participations. Still, many computer applications open to a single-sense, operate in high-definition, and are rather isolating and individuating, meaning, “fairly hot.”
About Dr. Corey Anton: http://www4.gvsu.edu/ANTONC/
Finally, here is Marshall McLuhan explaining to an interviewer in 1965 what he means by hot versus cool as applied to media:
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With Canada Day occurring today, July 1, and America’s Independence Day being celebrated three days later on July 4, it might be useful to consider Marshall McLuhan’s sense of the relationship between the two neighboring countries, which took different political, social and cultural paths after 1776 and 1812. Marshall McLuhan was of course born in Canada and spent most of his life there, but he was well-informed about the USA from living and teaching there for almost a decade: 1936-37 at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, 1937-44 at Saint Louis University, and the academic year 1967-68 at Fordham University in New York. He also made frequent visits to the USA to attend conferences, give guest lectures, do occasional consulting work and, like most Canadians, for occasional holidays and pleasure trips. So his sense of the differences between the two countries is based on lived experience, plus the fact that he married an American.
McLuhan’s views of the United States are complex and a thorough understanding would require a much longer analysis and study. This short piece focuses only on his idea of Canada as a “counter-environment” to the USA. Influenced by Edward T. Hall, McLuhan held that the “ground rules, the pervasive structure, the overall pattern eludes perception” by those living in it,“eludes perception except in so far as there is an anti-environment or counter-situation constructed to provide a means of direct attention” (The Relation of Environment to Anti-environment, 1966). In other words, those living in an environment are oblivious to it, or “the one thing you can never see is the element in which you move,” a metaphor for which is his comment that “we don’t know who discovered water, but we’re pretty sure it wasn’t a fish” (both quotes are from McLuhan’s Marfleet Lectures, 1967, see reference below).
In his 2-part Marfleet Lectures, the first of which is titled Canada, the Borderline Case, delivered in Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto on March 16, 1967, Marshall McLuhan described Canada’s role as a counter-environment to the USA thus:-
“Nature and history seem to have agreed to designate us in Canada for a corporate, artistic role. As the U.S.A. becomes a world environment through its resources, technology, and enterprises, Canada takes on the function of making that world environment perceptible to those who occupy it. Any environment tends to be imperceptible to its users and occupants except to the degree that counter-environments are created by the artist.” – McLuhan, M. (1967). Canada, The Borderline Case, Marfleet Lectures, available in McLuhan, S., & Staines, D. (2003). Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews. Toronto: McClellend & Stewart Ltd., pp. 103 – 138.
And in a letter to Claude Bissell, the President of the University of Toronto, March 4, 1965, McLuhan wrote:-
“The U.S.A. is socially and informationally the environment of Canada. Canada is, by way of being anti-environment, a prepared situation that permits perception of the environment … Canada as anti-environment to the U.S.A. is able to perceive many of the ground rules and operational effects of the American environment that are quite imperceptible to the U.S.A. If the U.S.A. has built its distant-early-warning system in Canada for military use, let us observe that we can be of far greater use to the U.S.A. as an early warning system in the social and political spheres generally”. – Letters of Marshall McLuhan, (1987), p. 319.
Arguably, that has been the case, especially in aspects of social and economic policy, where Canada has been more progressive in such areas as an inclusive not-for-profit health care system, multicultural policies rather than a social melting pot, same-sex marriage, gun control, lower incarceration rates for criminals and especially drug users, freedom of choice in childbirth, plus the fact that Canada stayed out of American wars that it perceived to be misguided, as in Vietnam, the Gulf War and Iraq, whereas it was ahead of the USA in entering those wars that it considered necessary, notably World Wars I and II. But as columnist Margaret Wente just noted in a Toronto Globe & Mail editorial titled America’s transformational moment, things are changing in the USA:
Americans have been turning more Canadian. Put another way, they’ve been catching up with the rest of the developed democracies, where the values of individual autonomy and expressiveness have swamped the old notions of tradition, patriarchy and social order. Today, even Christian evangelicals are struggling to come to terms with marriage equality. When Bruce Jenner came out as a woman, most people responded with mild curiosity and a collective shrug. As one person put it, “I don’t get it, but whatever.” (See http://tinyurl.com/oj475x6 )
If that continues, how long will Canada continue to be a counter-environment to the USA?
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The 17th Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association Call for Papers: University of Bologna – June, 23-26, 2016
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Walter Ong, SJ (1912 – 2003)
Mission: The Walter J. Ong Society (WJOSOC) was founded February 8, 2014 at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA by a group of scholars interested in fostering scholarship about, with, and like that of Walter Ong, SJ (1912 – 2003).
For over 70 years, Fr. Ong studied, taught and published about a wide range of cultural and historical matters from the perspectives of many disciplines including literary criticism, the history of ideas, the philosophy of the human person, theology and religious studies, media and communication studies, technology, psychology, and language.
Fr. Ong’s legacy persists in the form of over 400 scholarly books and articles along with hundreds of additional unpublished papers. In his long career, he developed a skilled and nuanced interdisciplinary approach that serves as an excellent model for both specialized and integrative scholarly work.
The Walter J. Ong Society seeks to extend Ong’s legacy by providing resources to foster global interdisciplinary scholarship and by facilitating conversation and collaboration among scholars, including students and younger scholars.
Interim Board of Directors: http://tinyurl.com/naff7vp
To become a member of the Walter J. Ong Society, please go to: http://wjosoc.wix.com/wjosoc
“I’m interested in language because it’s the meeting ground of… process and structure… People in English label me philosophical. The people in philosophy seem to feel I’m philosophical but I think some of them tend to resent me because I don’t do it the way some of them do. I’m constantly being misclassified. Or I’m asked to classify myself and I don’t know how. Some people think I’m an anthropologist or a sociologist or a philosopher or a theologian. Occasionally, a professor of French. In principle, I’m a professor of English, but in my own way. I don’t particularly see why a person has to first classify himself and then do something. I’ve been told I teach and practice Onglish.” – Walter J. Ong
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Watercolour by Joan Steacy (see http://tinyurl.com/nvx9psa )
McLuhan used the works of James Joyce extensively in his own work. This article deals with the source of many of his most startling observations regarding art, society and technology-James Joyce.
“Nobody could pretend serious interest in my work who is not completely familiar with all of the works of James Joyce and the French symbolists.” – Marshall McLuhan
The irony of all the complex contradictions of Marshall McLuhan’s variegated career apparently is that he failed to successfully communicate the insights of contemporary poetry and art to communications researchers. Whatever else McLuhan was up to in his sometimes exasperating and, often enigmatic writings, he developed a theory of communication which he considered to be “applied Joyce,” in the same sense that he had analyzed Joyce as developing an aesthetic which was “applied Aquinas.” At one stage or another, the working title for both The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media was “The Road to Finnegans Wake”. In a certain sense, this title was McLuhan’s Work in Progress (Joyce’s own working title for Finnegans Wake).~ Consequently, it has, as McLuhan himself suggests in the epigraph, been unfortunate that many of those involved in communication and cultural studies have never read his works in relation to the history of art and literature from the 1880s to the 1960s. (Read the rest of this essay by downloading this pdf Donald Theall and Joan Theall (1989). Marshall McLuhan & James Joyce: Beyond Media from:- cjc-online.ca/index.php/journal/article/download/531/437 .
Some examples of McLuhan’s use of Joyce, the first one from (1962) The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, p. 74.
“… the natural dichotomy which the book brings into any society, in addition to the split within the individual of that society. The work of James Joyce exhibits a complex clairevoyance in these matters. His Leopold Bloom of Ulysses, a man of many ideas and many vices, is a freelance ad salesman. Joyce saw the parallels, on one hand, between the modern frontier of the verbal and the pictorial and, on the other, between the Homeric world poised between the old sacral culture and the new profane or literate sensibility. Bloom, the newly detribalized Jew, is presented in modern Dublin, a slightly detribalized Irish world. Such a frontier is the modern world of the advertisement, congenial, therefore, to the transitional culture of Bloom. In the seventeenth or Ithaca episode of Ulysses we read: “What were habitually his final meditations? Of some one sole unique advertisement to cause passers to stop in wonder, a poster novelty, with all extraneous accretions excluded, reduced to its simplest and most efficient terms not exceeding the span of casual vision and congruous with the velocity of modern life.”
From McLuhan, M. & Watson, W. (1970). From Cliché to Archetype. New York: Viking.
“It is not insignificant that the great epics from Homer’s Iliad to James Joyce’s Ulysses have concerned the destruction a city, or the destruction which a city has brought about”. (p. 78)
“One of the most successful genres of this age is the book title itself as a “youdunit.” It involves the reader in such titles as: Time and Western Man; The Revolt of the Masses; The Managerial Revolution; The Organization Man; The Affluent Society; Time, Space and Architecture; The Impossible Theater; Management and Machiavelli; Gods, Graves and Scholars; The Hidden Persuaders; Doctors and Drugs; The Death of God; The Double Helix; The Biological Time Bomb. Replacing the encyclopedias of earlier centuries, such books are all “guides to understanding”. Jay’s Management and Machiavelli, for example, uses the same overall pattern as Joyce’s Ulysses. Retrieving the figure of Machiavelli, it uses this as a probe of modern management techniques. Its relevance with respect to managerial practices is, however, subordinated to its attack on the reader’s ego…” (pp. 90-91)
“It should be clear … that standards imposed from above have little value in relating people to one another in environments that have never existed before. The creative value of commercial stereotypes appears in the portrait of Gerty MacDowell in Joyce’s Ulysses. Gerty is a mosaic of banalities that reveals the effect of these forms in shaping and extending our lives. Joyce ebnables the reader to exult and triumph over the trivia by letting him in on the very process by which they dramatize our lives. In the same way, in the newspaper, or “Aeolus,” episode of Ulysses, Joyce deploys for us the world of verbal gimmicks as well as the mechanical operations on which they depend. He floods the entire newsmaking situation with an intelligibility that provides a catharsis for the accumulated effects of the stereotypes in our lives”. (p. 176)
From McLuhan, M., & Nevitt, B. (1972). Take Today: The Executive as Dropout. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
“… Following the nineteenth century obsession with the new “hardware” service environment of road and rail, [Marx] saw the entire historical process as a struggle between the “productive forces” of “hardware” technology and the “production relations” or social hierarchy created through the ownership of that “hardware” — the song of the “steal” men. His proposal to resolve this conflict was for the production workers to take over the production “hardware” instead of exploiting the new “software” environment and the new knowledge industries created by mobility of the nineteenth-century “hardware.” The “Rose of Castile” (the Joycean pun in Ulysses) interrelated the worlds of art and industry and the world of the press and the the book to the world of the railway. Joyce asked: “My producers, are they not my consumers?” IN THE ELECTRIC-INFORMATION AGE, EMPLOYER AND EMPLOYEE MERGE AS AUDIENCE. (p. 181)
For more examples of McLuhan’s use of Joyce’s work see Marshall McLuhan on James Joyce at http://tinyurl.com/p7olk6n .
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Innis also divided history into periods in which different modes of communication dominated. He divided the age of literacy, however, by the nature of the medium upon which texts were written. “We can conveniently divide the history of the West into the writing and the printing periods. In the writing period we can note the importance of various media such as the clay tablet of Mesopotamia, the papyrus roll in the Egyptian and in the Graeco-Roman world, parchment codex in the late Graeco-Roman world and the early Middle Ages, and paper after its introduction in the Western world from China” (Innis 1972, 7).
During each of these three major communication eras, socio-economic and cultural life were deeply affected by the dominant medium of communication. As each new mode of communication had an impact on society, it dominated those which had preceded it, not obsolescing them, but dramatically changing their character and the use to which they were put. Speech or the oral tradition naturally survived both literacy and electricity but its function changed. It retained its dominance for conversation and everyday communication; however, it was no longer used as the repository of a culture’s traditions as it had been in Homer’s time, nor the means of spreading news from one village or country to another. The wandering minstrel who had conveyed information across both space and time was replaced by the written record which spanned space through the courier and time through the library or archive. With writing, the spoken word took on new functions, sometimes becoming an art form in the guise of poetry and theatre.
Writing also underwent enormous changes with the advent of electricity. The modern newspaper, as McLuhan points out, is a product of the printing press and the telegraph. Electricity and the instantaneous flow of information changed the psychic environment of authors, causing them, in McLuhan’s words, to “live mythically and in depth” (McLuhan 1964, vii). As a consequence, writers became concerned with psychology, anthropology, and sociology. The psychological novel and stream-of-consciousness technique were born.
Electricity produced another unexpected flip that affected the spoken word, namely a revival of the oral tradition in the art, music, and literary world of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as exemplified by jazz and the use of African masks in Cubism. The structure of education also changed with the advent of each new mode of communication. With writing, education was transformed from the apprenticeship mode of learning on the job to formal schooling. The alphabet, abstract science, formal logic, and codified law gave rise to the academies of higher learning that appeared in ancient Babylon, Egypt, and Greece. The printing press gave rise to the modern school system of mass education and the assembly-line style of mass production. The mass media of radio, television and telecommunications shrunk the world to the dimensions of a global village.
Neither Harold Innis or Marshall McLuhan lived long enough to see the two post-1980 revolutions of personal computing brought about by microcomputers or the World Wide Web made possible by the Internet. If they had had the opportunity to observe these two phenomena I believe they would have divided history in to four distinct eras rather than the three they chose. I believe, like me, they would have added a fourth era by making a distinction between the era of electric media of mass communication from the era of electronic media of mainframes, microcomputers and the Internet. While the dissemination of electronic information parallels in some ways that of electric information there is a very important difference. The users of electric media are merely passive consumers of information whereas the users of electronic media can interact actively with the information they access.
There is a rough equivalence in the 3 communication eras as defined by McLuhan-Logan, Walter Ong and Neil Postman, along with Gregory Ulmer’s tri-partite division of media competencies and Alvin Toffler’s 3 Waves of human development.
1st Wave: Agricultural
2nd Wave: Technological
|Electric/Electronic Era||Secondary Orality||Technopoly||Electracy||
3rd Wave: Information Society
“The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.” – Edward R. Murrow
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