“You mean my whole fallacy is wrong”, from Annie Hall (1977), directed by Woody Allen

“Marshall McLuhan was a skeptic, a joker, and an erudite maniac. He read too deeply from Finnegans Wake, had too great a fondness for puns, and never allowed his fun to be ruined by the adoption of a coherent point of view. He was dismayed by any attempt to pin him down to a consistent analysis and dismissive of criticism that his plans were impractical or absurd. His characteristic comment during one academic debate has taken on a mythic life of its own. In response to a renowned American sociologist, McLuhan countered: ‘You don’t like those ideas? I got others.'” – Wired 4.01: The Wisdom of Saint Marshall, the Holy Fool by Gary Wolf  ( http://tinyurl.com/mkhbxe2 )

“Technical critiques of McLuhan are somewhat beside the point. How does one logically attack a court jester, a man who declares the end of linear logic?” – Daniel Czitrom (1982). Media & the American Mind: From Morse to McLuhan, p. 128)

The Marshall McLuhan Estate has published 3 pages from the great man’s joke file on the Estate’s Facebook page (see https://www.facebook.com/mcluhanestate and scroll way down). The first one below is of McLuhan one-liners, which McLuhan argued were all that listeners in the acoustic Electronic Era could pay attention to, because of their decreased attention spans in an environment of information overload; he opined that one-liners like this, often pun-intensive, at least those devised by McLuhan, had replaced the long form story line jokes. The second page below illustrates this obsolesced narrative style of jokes, a by-product of the visual era of print literacy.

(Magnify your screen view for easier reading.)

'People Weekly, September 20th 1976. Article by Barbara Rowes, photos by Harry Benson'   'Marshall McLuhan in front of René Cera's painting "Pied Pipers All" at the Centre for Culture and Technology. Photo by Harry Benson'   'McLuhan's comment to Barry Nevitt, recorded here, on Karl Popper's definition of a scientific statement as 'one which can be disproved' is a cornerstone of Laws of Media.'
'He [George Thompson, assistant] has driven McLuhan to his office at the University of Toronto for the last three years - ever since McLuhan gave up driving. "It was the least I could do for the environment," McLuhan explains.</p>
<p>Photo [by Harry Benson] shows Marshall looking over a sculpture (by William McElcheran, outside the Kelly Library, UofT) on which he himself is featured.'

If the Media Didn’t Get Marshall McLuhan’s Message in the ’60s, Another Is on the Way

September 20, 1976 – Vol. 6, No. 12

 Select quotes from that article, the full text of which can be read at http://tinyurl.com/lgdnnzu .

Just as Sigmund Freud is the father of psychoanalysis, Marshall McLuhan is the pioneer in media sociology [today called media ecology], the study of the effects of electronic information—TV, radio, stereo and cassettes—on society. Understanding Media created a storm of controversy when it was published in 1964, but now it is used in nearly every university on the North American continent and has been translated into 15 languages… 

“You see, I’m a sleuth, a kind of Sherlock Holmes character who simply investigates the environment and reports exactly what he sees. Strangely enough, some people are actually frightened by me. I find the whole exploration of the environment very exciting. Once you decide to become an explorer, there’s no place to stop. I’m like Columbus. I discover new worlds everywhere I look”… 

Much to his satisfaction, more and more of his early prophecies are coming true. Twelve years ago, for example, he predicted that high school students would soon be more dramatically influenced by the audiovisual media than by print. At the time educators doubted him. Now HEW and several educational testing services confirm that reading scores among such students have dropped alarmingly…

Watergate, of course, was for McLuhan a microcosm of what is happening everywhere in this electronic age. “Electronic devices are making what we think of as privacy obsolete,” he explained back in the 1960s. Nixon, to hear McLuhan talk about him, was a Greek hero. His tragic flaw was his failure to recognize that he could not defend his own privacy while depriving everyone else of theirs. “He also wasn’t good television,” McLuhan points out. “He looked too different, too private. People are suspicious of privacy in the electronic age. Now, Gerald Ford is the perfect electronic man. He becomes whatever you want him to be.” 

Because of his theory that print is becoming obsolete, McLuhan is sometimes considered an enemy of books. On the contrary, he devours them, as many as 30 a week in five languages. Curiously, McLuhan moved his TV set into the basement recently. Although his theories pivot upon the importance of TV in shaping the future, McLuhan wants to minimize the effect it has on him. “I did not want it invading my home,” he explains. (Likewise, he never uses a dictation machine and prefers that his secretary use a manual rather than an electric typewriter)… 

A month ago McLuhan got word that he has achieved a kind of immortality. The Oxford dictionary, bible of the English language, will include the word “McLuhanism” in its next edition, a colleague advised. McLuhan considered the prospect sourly. “I can just imagine,” he says, “what that word is going to mean.”

[Addendum: the word McLuhanism is still there in the OED in its online version, defined as: “The social ideas of McLuhan concerning the effects of mass media, esp. the argument that it is the characteristics of a medium rather than the information it disseminates which influence and control society”. – see http://tinyurl.com/pwo7mqe ]

McLuhan on the Today Show, 1976

Kate Harrison, Island Marketing, 12.03.15

A previously unpublished manuscript by Marshall McLuhan – the founding father of modern media communications theory – has been uncovered.

Written in 1976, with Robert K. Logan, the manuscript titled “The Future of the Library: An old figure in a new ground”, was to be the culmination of McLuhan’s work on media ecology.

A 6,000 word edited excerpt, abstracted from the 60,000 word manuscript, will be published in Australian literary quarterly, Island magazine (issue 140, due out on March 30), with kind permission from the Marshall McLuhan Estate.

McLuhan’s work on media ecology began in the 1950s, with the publication of The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man. Although it was not until the publications of the early 1960s – with The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, which launched such ideas as ‘the medium is the message’ and ‘global village’ – that McLuhan became internationally famous.

McLuhan, who predicted the Internet 30 years before it came into existence, wrote “The Future of the Library” with Robert Logan during the mid-1970s, before the onset of home computers, and yet he was able to accurately foresee the rapid changes that libraries would undertake over the next 35 years, in light of the development of information technology.

Significantly, McLuhan offers a suggestion for what a library of the future could still look like.

‘What is most interesting about this manuscript,’ said Island editor, Matthew Lamb, ‘is not just that McLuhan had the foresight to see what has happened over the past 35 years, but that his suggestions for how we should address these changes are still relevant. In fact, what McLuhan had to say about our present moment from his vantage point of the past is far more interesting, prescient, and useful, than what most of our contemporary media commentators have to say today.’

This announcement comes on the back of recent announcements that Island is forming a literary partnership with David Walsh and the Museum of Old and New Arts (MONA), and with this coming issue, Island will be available only in a print edition, with no digital edition or online content.

‘The decision to go print-only is very much a result of a close reading of the work of Marshall McLuhan,’ said Lamb. ‘So it seemed appropriate to launch the first print-only, MONA-edition with a feature essay by McLuhan himself.’

As McLuhan writes, in this essay: ‘In industry there is an old saying: “If it works, it is obsolete.” We have been saying for some years that the book and printing are obsolete. Many people interpret this to mean that printing and the book are about to disappear. Obsolescence, in fact, means the opposite. It means that a service has become so pervasive that it permeates every area of a culture like the vernacular itself. Obsolescence, in short, ensures total acceptance and ever wider use.’ (Source: http://tinyurl.com/louy4t9 )

Island 140 will be published on 30 March, 2015. Island Magazine’s homepage is at http://islandmag.com/

Island Magazine on Social Media: TWITTER: @IslandMagTas   –   FACEBOOK: /islandmag   –   INSTAGRAM: @IslandMagTas   –   HASHTAG: #islandmagtas

Libraries of the Future

The following essay is an astute and well-written student essay, I think by a student of Dr. Paul Levinson at Fordham University. [Correction – the author of this essay informs me that he’s a student at Bangor University in Wales, UK.] Marshall McLuhan said that, “Gutenberg had, in effect, made every man a reader. Today, Xerox and other forms of reprography tend to make every man a publisher”  (The Future of the Book (1972), in Understanding Me: Lectures & Interviews (203), p. 179). That was only partially true in 1972, as mere photocopying scarcely equates with traditional book publishing as such. But today’s digital technology and its capabilities has made the idea of every man who wishes to publish something a publisher literally true…….Alex

Gutenberg Press

A printing press in the Gutenberg style, invented around 1440

“Something as simple as a change in speed can change the world”.

“In a culture like ours . . . it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operation and practical fact, the medium is the message.” Such is Marshall McLuhan’s introduction to a revolutionary concept in media studies (1964, p. 7). Written over a half-century ago, McLuhan’s view on media holds remarkably firm in a modern context. In this essay, we will be examining how “the medium is the message” applies specifically to innovations in publishing. After first examining the impact of the invention of the printing press in its day, we will contrast this historical event with more recent developments in the publishing industry; specifically, how Amazon, Inkshares and other companies are encouraging a move towards self-publishing. In comparing the media’s impact on the world both before and after McLuhan’s time, we can see that his famous statement on the nature of the medium consistently applies to the development of our worldwide culture.

McLuhan, in the first chapter of Understanding Media, is laborious in defining the meaning of his claim that “the medium is the message”, and equally laborious in defining what it does not mean. “Many people would be disposed to say that it was not the machine, but what one did with the machine, that was its meaning or message”, he posits, before firmly contesting the notion (McLuhan, 1964, p. 7). He explains that “the ‘content of any medium is always another medium’, and that when we focus on the content we fail to understand the bigger picture (ibid).

McLuhan defines the message of any media “as the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.” (ibid., p. 8) This is what he calls, in his book’s very title, the extensions of man. This extension, then, can be thought of as an improvement of humanity’s abilities. McLuhan observes that something as simple a change in speed can change the world, referring to the invention of movies as key example. He summarises this innovation as a speeding up of the mechanical process which “carried us . . . into the world of creative configuration and structure”(ibid., p. 12).

It is exactly this principle of media changing the world through the extension of mankind that we will test, beginning in application to the invention of the Gutenberg printing press in the 15th century. Although it is often cited as a factor in the rise of the Protestant reformation and the fall of the Catholic Church as an absolute political power, McLuhan and his disciples notably go so far as to posit that the printing press was the cause of the reformation (Levinson, 2015).

Not all writers on the subject follow this school of thought. One such writer states that “Printing provided a catalyst, a precondition, but did not of itself cause the movement” (Cameron, 1991, p. 6). In continuing to protest the theory of direct causation, this writer argues that “The press existed for some sixty years” before the major Protestant figures arose (ibid.). This particular argument seems weak; the lack of immediacy in revolution does not decide culpability for said revolution one way or another. Another writer comes closer to McLuhan’s stance in noting that “the invention allowed ‘renaissance’ to affect many more minds” preceding the reformation (Chadwick, 2001, p. 7).

More illuminating is a comparison made on the subject by a biographer of key reformation figure Martin Luther. In his book, Bernard Lohse makes note of John Huss, a predecessor to Luther who was killed by the Catholic Church for his religious ideas (Lohse, 1987, p. 11). In comparing Luther to Huss, Lohse observes that the spread and discussion of Luther’s ideas was “only possible because the art of printing had already been developed for a few decades . . . The resulting powerful effect on public opinion on Luther’s work made it impossible for Luther to be done away with as quickly as Huss had been.” “Thus”, Lohse concludes, “the art of printing is of considerable significance for the end . . . of the Middle Ages”. 

The enhanced speed of the spread of information was, to follow McLuhan’s theory, the message of the printing press. This message caused a major shift in the balance of societal power across Europe. In today’s society, we are seeing a new message in the world of publishing, and it can again be categorised as a change in speed.

With the rise of services like Amazon, authors are being offered a way to circumvent the practice of appealing to large publishing companies. This is coupled with the possibility of instantaneous publishing through the medium of e-books. Paul Levinson, a disciple of McLuhan, refers to this development as a “revolution [that is] a profound game changer for the author” (Levinson, 2014, p. 71).

Read the rest of this essay at http://tinyurl.com/n8tgbq5 ).

The Medium is the Massage. Marshall McLuhan’s ground-breaking paperback is the encapsulation of how technology and design impacted 1960s culture. Now 50 years on, SHUMON BASAR, DOUGLAS COUPLAND and HANS ULRICH OBRIST write for BBC Arts about why Planet Earth needs a new self-help book for the digital age. Their answer to McLuhan is The Age of Earthquakes.

A Page from The Medium is the Massage

We’ve made our own ‘experimental paperback’ entitled The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present. Wondering what McLuhan would have made of our always-connected world has led us to other interesting questions. The key difference is that while the McLuhan/Fiore/Agel book charted the impact of 1960s electric technology on culture. The Age of Earthquakes tours the impact of digital technology – in particular the Internet – on our brains, our relationships to each other and even changes in our planet.

The Age of Earthquakes is also born from an extensive collaboration (between novelist Douglas Coupland, cultural critic Shumon Basar, contemporary art curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, graphic designer Wayne Daly and 35 visual artists from all over the world).

We wanted to update what Quention Fiore described as “a dialogue between the computer and the book” back in 1967. We were also inspired by McLuhan’s 1964 pronouncement that, “the paperback itself has become a vast mosaic world in depth… a transformation of book culture into something else.”

In The Age of Earthquakes, this ‘something else’ is our current culture of addiction to screens, big and small. We’ve culled visual clutter from smartphones and computer monitors then arranged them on the pages of our paperback. We’ve stolen aphorisms, slogans and spam from the Internet, which we then set in the same neutral modern font. They miraculously transform into poetry. All this is rendered in the same monochrome aura of The Medium is the Massage.

It goes to show that embedded in the DNA of the simple paperback is an enduring technology. An ‘operating system’ that’s resilient and open to continual cultural renewal, absorbing what’s around it.

Often, it takes the medium of a previous era to fully capture the contemporary moment we live in. We call this 21st century moment, ‘The Extreme Present.’

What’s that, you may ask.

‘The Extreme Present’ defines the current historical instant when the future seems to be happening much faster than we ever thought it would. Symptoms include your life not feeling like a story anymore; you not feeling like an individual any longer; waiting for something smarter than us — and dreading what that might be.

We’ll never know if McLuhan/Fiore/Agel would ‘LIKE’ our homage to their intrepid and innovative intelligence. Or if they’d rather start a Twitter feud. Worse still, resort to a YouTube outburst. Ideally, they’d pat us on the back, and paraphrase something Agel said 50 years go: “Boys, it’s a book that shows what’s happening when what’s happening is happening. It predicts the present.” (Source: http://tinyurl.com/pgptxsr )                                                                                                                        Pages from The Age of Earthquakes

Cover Seas and Fables Meet

This is a powerful, beautiful book that blends parables, aphorisms, dreams, fantasies, ideas, anecdotes, witticisms, puns, vignettes, and prose poems in a meditative and often passionate way. It is a book that takes the risk of being free in its style and form, to affirm the possibilities of thought, spirit, heart, humour, and imagination. In Where Seas and Fables Meet, B.W. Powe gives us his boldest, most soul-revealing work to date.

Praise for his work:
“A soaring alchemical vision.” Pico Iyer
“An impassioned chronicler. His words seem to emanate fully formed from the cosmos… Ecstatic moments… hair-raising lines.” The Globe and Mail
“One of Canada’s leading cultural commentators.” The Toronto Star
“Like some latter-day Magellan, Powe has taken it upon himself to sail into turbulent waters, mapping out the hazards and the consequences.” The Montreal Gazette
“Invents something original—and often breathtaking.” The Ottawa Citizen
“Gloriously poetic…” The Vancouver Sun
“His writing burns off the page.” George Steiner
“His subtly textured themes affirm the importance of the romantic voice in these troubled times.” Canadian Literature
“Trenchant in [his] vision, and often rhapsodic… Powe adopts the stance of a rhetorician—a fitting stance… that involves in not only observation of the evidence but regard for the beauty of a sentence.” The National Post
“[Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye, Apocalypse and Alchemy] is a rich and subtly argued book that offers many first-hand insights.” Times Literary Supplement
“Way cool.” John Doyle
“A rare intellectual figure in the Canadian landscape….definitely in the same league with the Canadian giants of the twentieth century.” Francesco Guardiani

B.W. Powe

B.W. Powe is widely regarded as one of the original and unclassifiable authors in Canadian writing. He is the author of A Climate Charged (1984), The Solitary Outlaw (1987), A Tremendous Canada of Light (1995), Outage (1995), Light Onwards, Light Onwards (2003), The Unsaid Passing (2005), a finalist for the ReLit Prize, and These Shadows Remain.

 Where Seas and Fables Meet 

Guernica Editions  –  ISBN-13: 9781550719420  –  TPB $20  –  150 PAGES  –  Literary Fiction  –   Pub date: 1 March 2015

Guides to Two Ages of Anxiety


The 1st UK edition, 1967


In 1967, an unusual-looking book called The Medium is the Massage sold in millions and became that rare cultural phenomenon: a mass-market cult success. Its prophetic words came from a 56-year-old Canadian professor of English literature called Marshall McLuhan (not exactly a hipster or a hippie). Three years earlier McLuhan had introduced a phrase that still sounds current today: ‘the medium is the message’.

This dictum became the driving logic behind The Medium is the Massage (and no, that’s not a typo) [Ed – actually it *was* a typo, one made by the printer, which McLuhan chose to retain because of its aptness.]. McLuhan’s fizzing ideas about how all media – including radio, television, magazines and advertising – are “extensions of man” were shaped into a kaleidoscope of graphically audacious words and images in flux. The border between man and technology is porous, McLuhan was saying, and with every new invention we reinvent ourselves as humans.

In Massage, Professor McLuhan was flanked by two other first-rate intelligences: former advertising man turned ‘book producer’ Jerome Agel, and New York graphic designer Quentin Fiore. They aspired to animate and activate McLuhan’s often-obtuse prose into something that even children could access. And enjoy.

This week, Penguin (who released Massage in 1967) is publishing our own ‘experimental paperback’ called The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present. It’s intended as The Medium is the Massage for the 21st century and wonders, “What would McLuhan have made of the world today?” He died in 1980 and never got to see the Internet – but seemed to anticipate many of its qualities and effects.

Our book is a poetic manifesto, designed by Wayne Daly with images sourced from 35 visual artists, that portrays what we call ‘the Extreme Present’. What’s that?

The ‘Extreme Present’ is the realisation that the causes of the modern condition are not going to go away. If anything, the forces driving the current world can only keep accelerating. This leads to enormous changes in the texture of life. These changes include new ways of consuming old and new forms of culture, new relationships with history, and new ways of perceiving both the near future and the distant future.

One thing McLuhan taught us is that reality is usually one step ahead of the language we already possess to describe it. As such, we tend to misunderstand the present moment as it’s unfurling. So, new words and new terms must be constantly invented to fully apprehend the volatile changes taking place to us, to our values and our surroundings.

Here are examples from The Age of Earthquakes’ new Glossary for ‘the Extreme Present’. Feel free to use them today over lunch while you’re ‘deselfing’. Or when you’re paying for groceries, you suddenly forget your PIN number and you feel completely ‘smupid’.

Aclassification (n.)
Aclassification is the process wherein one is stripped of class without being assigned a new class. If you lose your job at an 
auto assembly plant and start supporting yourself by giving massages and upgrading websites part time, what are you? Middle class? Not really. Lower class? That sounds archaic and obsolete. In the future, current class structures will dissolve and humanity will settle into two groups: those people who have actual skills (surgeons; hairdressers; helicopter pilots) and everyone else who’s kind of faking it through life. Implicit in aclassification is the idea that a fully linked world no longer needs a middle class.

Blank-collar workers (n.)
Blank-collar workers are the new post-class class. They are a future global monoclass of citizenry adrift in a classless sea. Neither middle class nor working class – and certainly not rich – blank-collar workers are aware of their status as simply one unit among seven billion other units. Blank-collar workers rely on a grab bag of skills to pay the rent. By the time they’ve died from neglect in a badly run senior-care facility, blank-collar workers have had at least 17 careers, none of which came with a pension scheme.

Denarration (n.)
The process whereby one’s life stops feeling like a story.

Deselfing (n.)
Willingly diluting one’s sense of self and ego by plastering the Internet with as much information as possible.

Detroitus (n.)
Detroitus is the fear of Michigan. It is
the queasy realisation that it’s probably much too late to fix whatever little bit of the economy is left after having shipped most of it away to China. Detroitus is also the fear of roughly ten million primates needing 2,500 calories a day sitting on top of a cold rock in the middle of the North American continent, with nothing to do all day except go online and shop from jail. Detroitus is an existential fear, as it forces one to ponder the meaning
of being alive at all: we wake up, we do something – anything – we go to sleep, and we repeat it about 22,000 more times, and then we die.

Interruption-driven memory (n.)
We only remember red stoplights, never the green ones. The green ones keep us 
in the flow; the red ones interrupt and annoy us. Interruption. This accounts for the almost near-universal tendency of car drivers to be superstitious about stoplights.

Monophobia (n.)
Fear of feeling like an individual.

Occession (n.)
Occession is the process whereby the West cedes its claim to having the sole means
 of attaining enlightenment in all realms. Implicit in Occession is the assumption that the traditional Western mode of creating ideas based in secularist theory has possibly run its course, or is hitting an unclimbable wall. This wall may, in
 the end, be surmountable. In the interim, the East is forging forward with modes 
of thinking grounded in radically different ways of approaching individual identity, capital, globalisation, religion, politics, global ecology and nationalism.

Smupid (adj.)
Smupidity defines the mental state wherein we acknowledge that we’ve never been smarter as individuals and yet somehow we’ve never felt stupider. We now collectively inhabit a state of smupidity where the average IQ is now 103 but it feels like it’s 97. One possible explanation for smupidity is 
that people are generally far more aware than they ever were of all the information they don’t know. The weight of this fact overshadows huge advances made in knowledge accumulation and pattern recognition skills honed by online searching.

Time snack (v.)
Often annoying moments of pseudo-leisure created by computers when they stop to save a file or to search for software updates or merely to mess with your mind.

The glossary is taken from The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present by Douglas Coupland, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Shumon Basar (published by Penguin). (Source http://tinyurl.com/k7l2lsj )

The Authors:                                                   

DOUGLAS COUPLAND was born on a NATO base in Germany in 1961. He is the author of the international bestsellers Generation A and JPod, and nine other novels, including The Gum Thief, Hey Nostradamus!, All Families Are Psychotic, Microserfs, and Generation X, along with nonfiction works, including a recent short biography of Marshall McLuhan. His work has been translated into thirty-five languages and published in most countries around the world. He is also a visual artist, furniture and fashion designer, and screenwriter. He lives and works in Vancouver.
Hans Ulrich Obrist is a curator and writer. Since 2006 he has been co-director of the Serpentine Gallery, London. His previous books include Ai Weiwei Speaks.
Shumon Basar

HWY 401 #20
Aerial photo of the Hwy 401 & Spadina Expressway (Allen Road) Interchange, facing east (October, 1967)

Check your ego at the transit door

By Michael Geller – Vancouver Courier – March 3, 2015

My interest in the forthcoming transit referendum dates back, in part, to Oct. 15, 1970 when, as a University of Toronto student, I attended the premiere screening of a The Burning Would, a documentary film made by the late Jane Jacobs and Marshall McLuhan opposing a proposed expansion of Toronto’s Spadina Expressway. 

Both Jacobs and McLuhan were supposed to be at the screening but McLuhan had to cancel at the last minute. The moderator apologized for his absence and read out his speech which, as I recall, comprised three words: “Forget your ego.” McLuhan wanted us to stop thinking about expressways and automobiles as first-class transportation and public transit as second-class.

This resonated with me since a year earlier, I had returned from 15 months working and travelling in England and Scandinavia where the image of public transit was very different than in North America. In hindsight, it is fascinating to revisit what McLuhan had to say about city planning and transportation four and a half decades ago.He wrote: “Our planners are 19th century men with a naïve faith in an obsolete technology. In an age of software, planners treat people like hardware — they haven’t the faintest interest in the values of neighbourhood or community. Their failure to learn from the mistakes of American cities will be ours too… The Spadina Expressway is an old hardware American dream of now dead cities and blighted communities.”Toronto’s Stop Spadina movement was happening around the same time as the Strathcona Property Owners and Tenants Association (SPOTA) was leading the charge against a proposed expressway in Vancouver. Today, most Vancouverites would agree we have a much better city since we stopped U.S.-style freeways.


Before voting, I would urge you to carefully consider the real benefits offered by improved transit: substantial gas, parking, and car maintenance savings; improved health; reduced traffic congestion; and for a few of us, a reduced likelihood of being charged with DUI offences.

Marshall McLuhan was right. We should be building better transit, not expressways. So forget your ego and vote Yes. (Read the rest at: http://tinyurl.com/plz9265 )

The Burning Would: Film by Marshall McLuhan & Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs on “Making a Movie with Marshall McLuhan”

 I first met Marshall McLuhan in 1969, when we had lunch together at the Faculty Club at the University of Toronto. I found him interesting and kind, but I hardly knew what to make of him as a thinker because of the way his conversation jumped about. He would say something interesting or outright brilliant which I would have liked to pursue with him and test out a little bit, but instead he would — flit — or so it seemed to me — to a different idea, and from that to still another.

But although this was bewildering and a little frustrating, I found the lunch enjoyable and knew that I’d met a really remarkable man. Then Colin Vaughan called up one day and brought McLuhan over to where I lived at the time on Spadina Road. They were concerned about a tract of land just south of Wychwood Park where they both lived, which was going to be developed into hideous highrise slabs. Colin Vaughan, who is an architect, had figured that the same number of people could be housed in a decent, human way. Marshall had become involved because he saw how horrid those slabs would be right on their border. We talked about how to fight it; of course I was on their side.

Sometime later Marshall got in touch with me again. In his wonderful energetic and optimistic way, he said:
“We need a movie about the Spadina Expressway! You and I can do the script.”
I said, “But I don’t know a thing about scriptwriting. I won’t be any use.”
“Oh, I’ve never written one either,” he said, “but we can easily do it together. Come on down to my office and we’ll get to work.”
I was dubious about this, but I was carried away by his enthusiasm. We really did need a movie about the issues involved. It was a good idea, so I went to his office in the Coach House, and McLuhan called in his secretary, introduced her, and said, “She’ll take down what we say.”

So we talked. Both of us were enthusiastic and much of our conversation consisted of “Hey, what about this?” followed by some notion, and “Hey what about this?” followed by another. After we had talked for about an hour, Marshall asked the secretary, “Have you got it all down?” Then he turned to me and said, “Well that’s it. We’ve got the script.”

“No we don’t!” I said “It’s all just ‘Hey, what about this?”

“Oh, that’s immaterial,” he replied.

He made a date for us to see the filmmaker, who was Christopher Chapman — the man who made “A Place to Stand.” When we arrived at his studio I was handed a typed copy of the script. I started looking through it, and it was even more garbled and unreadable than I expected. It was not the secretary who had garbled it — she had done an excellent job — it was just that what Marshall and I had said was so garbled. All the “Hey, what about this’s” we in there. The thing jumped around, without beginning or end. This did not bother Marshall but it did bother me. I thought we needed a thread.

Chapman also had a copy of the script in his hand, but to my mingled relief and alarm he didn’t seem exactly to read it. He flipped through it, back and forth, and said congenially that it was fine; it was something to go on. He asked us a lot of questions about the issues, Marshall went off and I remained a while longer to answer some more questions. That’s all I did.

Once in a while Marshall phoned and said everything was going fine, and in due course invited me to a viewing. I couldn’t have been more astonished that there even was a film. Marshall had obviously done lots more work on it. The name of the movie was “A Burning Would” The title was, of course, Marshall’s.

There was a shape to it. It had music. It did have a thread and raised a lot of important issues. Colin Vaughan provided an excellent narration. It was a good movie; furthermore, it was shown a lot, especially in the United States. For a long time I would get an occasional letter from this or that group in California saying that they had shown the movie. However, the final product bore no relationship at all to our original script. (Source: Commentary appended to YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P510tPTQyWg ). See also Jane Jacobs’ comments in Nevitt, B. with McLuhan, M. (1995). Who Was Marshall McLuhan? Toronto: Stoddart, pp. 101-103.

Announcement in the June 4, 1971 Globe & Mail

Marshall McLuhan was interested in the nature of information, especially later in his career, as new electronic media had been altering established conceptions about the nature of information. In a letter to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau dated February 1, 1979, he wrote: You are probably familiar with the Shannon-Weaver model of communication theory … Shannon and Weaver were mathematicians who considered the side-effects as noise. They assumed that these could be eliminated by simply stepping up the charge of energy in the circuit. (Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 542). Elsewhere, he explained that such a transportation theory of communication was inadequate in that what is needed is a transformation explanation. No doubt Bob Logan, all of whose recent books have been influenced by Marshall McLuhan in one way or another, will explain this and more in his scheduled talk, based on his recent book:

What is Information book cover

 Date & Location: Friday March 6 at 10 am at the Fields Institute, University of Toronto, 222 College Street. The event is organized by Professor Marcel Danesi. 

Robert K. Logan – Physics and St. Michael’s College – U of T
Abstract: Shannon’s Mathematical Theory of Information made an important contribution to our general understanding of information and found many applications in addition to his original engineering  objective of determining the accuracy of transmitting a set of signals from a sender to a receiver. I suggest that Shannon created a theory of signals rather than a theory of information because of its lack of a concern with meaning and interpretation. Shannon readily admitted his theory was not concerned with the meaning of transmitted signals when he wrote: “Frequently the messages have meaning… These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem.” This talk will explore the complex nature of information and the many ways in which this term is used.  A distinction is made between the Shannon’s notion of information and biotic information, based on the Kauffman, Logan et al paper entitled The Propagation of Organization: An Enquiry.  We suggested that the constraints that allow an organism to convert energy from its environment into the work required to maintain its metabolism represents  biotic or instructional information, which differs from Shannon information. Terrence Deacon’s use of information as constraints in his book Incomplete Nature is described. The talk will also include other results from What is Information? – Propagating Organization in the Biosphere, the Symbolosphere, the Technosphere and the Econosphere (Logan 2014). Attendees at the talk will be offered a free copy of the digital version of this book.
About the book:

What is Information?: Propagating Organization in the Biosphere, Symbolosphere, Technosphere and Econosphere

So, what is information? And why is it such an enormously difficult question to answer with any clarity and thoroughness? It is an ambitious book that sets out to answer this question, much less present an elaborate theory of how it has morphed into a seemingly independent universe of meanings, rituals, art-forms, values, and technologies since our ancestors first learned to talk. Who would attempt such a challenge? —from the Foreword by Terrence Deacon

What is Information? is a unique title within information studies. It is strongly interdisciplinary, crossing information theory, systems theory, new media and cognitive linguistics. Therefore, it may carry provocative themes and insights that require of the reader a broader frame of reference than the known, narrow path. Among these themes is Bob’s notion of different forms and frames of information in ecological contexts. With help from Stuart Kauffman, he shows that biotic information – the instructions of life and reproduction – requires a different theory of information entirely from bit-oriented signal processing (Shannon-Weaver hypothesis).

The book takes on the complex issue of defining information as a carrier of meaning vs signals processed by meaning-makers. Recovering the importance of MacKay’s original contribution of the “distinction that makes a difference,” Logan bridges information and media theory. If meaning is the coherence of organization, then information as meaning remains consistent with the notion of negative entropy. While media may shape the expression and meaning of meaning, it is information that signals the meaning of the medium. The power of language in developing symbols generates a constant source of meanings through information.

To better distinguish these functions of “information” Dr. Logan relates information as a functional power of organization within four ecosystems: Biosphere, Symbolosphere, Technosphere, and Econosphere. The Biosphere gives rise to human cultures through information, and culture gives rise to the other three spheres. Information is the media-tor of these spheres. (Source: http://slab.ocadu.ca/publication/what-is-information-by-robert-k-logan )

Portrait of Robert K. Logan

Robert K. Logan is Chief Scientist and a co-founder of Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab) at OCAD University. Dr. Logan’s work at sLab follows a luminous career as Professor of Physics at University of Toronto. Bob’s academic research bridges complexity science, information theory, biology, environmental studies, linguistics, design and media studies. Dr. Logan is the author of a dozen books, and twice-recipient of awards from the Media Ecology Association (MEA).


This new edition is in paperback format and is published by Wipf & Stock of Eugene, Oregon, with a Foreward by Eric McLuhan. This is from the Author’s Note to the original edition, published by McGraw-Hill in 1970 in hardcover:

This book is not about ads, but about our time. However, if some archaeologist in some remote future were to get access to the ads that appear in this book, he would consider himself very fortunate. Ads are the cave art of the twentieth century. While the Twenties talked about the caveman and people thrilled to the art of the Altamira Caves, they ignored (as we do now) the hidden environment of magical forms which we call “ads”. Like cave paintings, ads are not intended to be looked at or seen, but rather to exert influence at a distance, as though by ESP. Like cave paintings, they are not means of private but of corporate expression. They are vortices of collective power, masks of energy invented by new tribal man. 


Culture Is Our Business is Marshall McLuhan’s sequel to The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man. Returning to the subject of advertising newly armed with the electric sensibility that informed The Gutenberg Galaxy, Understanding Media, and The Medium Is the Massage, McLuhan takes on the mad men (a play on the ad men of Madison Avenue) of the sixties. Approaching commercial messages as unacknowledged art forms and cultural artifacts, McLuhan delivers a series of probes that pick apart their meanings and underlying values, their paradoxes and paralogisms, and their overt function as persuasion and propaganda. Through humor, satire, and a poetic sensibility, he provides us with a serious exploration of the consumer culture that emerged out of the electronic media environment. In keeping with the participatory ethos of the Internet that McLuhan so clearly anticipated, this is a book that is meant to open the door to further study, reflection, and discussion, and to encourage the development of critical reception on the part of the reader.

Imprint: Wipf and Stock   –   ISBN: 9781625648280   –   Paperback   –   336 Pages   –   Publication Date: 2/12/2015   –   Retail Price: $37.00   –   Publishers Listing http://wipfandstock.com/culture-is-our-business.html

Endorsements & Reviews

“Culture Is Our Business represents an essential component of McLuhan’s body of work and provides an important contribution to media ecology, cultural studies, and media literacy. As with most of McLuhan’s scholarship, its value and relevance has only increased since its initial publication.” – Lance Strate, Professor of Communication and Media Studies, Fordham University, and author of Echoes and Reflections, On the Binding Biases of Time, and Amazing Ourselves to Death

“Here is an interactive playground a la McLuhan that takes you on a hilarious and revealing journey across Western, or better, ‘American Civilization.’ Reading this book is rediscovering the brave new world of (electric) advertising in its prime; most incisively, it suggests a tactic to escape the enchanting songs of corporate art to fully see the Emperor’s new clothes.” – Elena Lamberti, Professor of North American Studies, University of Bologna, and author of Marshall McLuhan’s Mosaic


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