Marshall McLuhan in 1973, University of Toronto Archives

By Paul Levinson

Introduction

Marshall McLuhan (b. 1911–d. 1980) burst into iconic fame in the 1960s as a scholar who could explain the revolutionizing medium of the time, television, as well as radio, motion pictures, telephone, print, and all the media that had come before and now accompanied TV in its impact. His two most important books, The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media, argued via analogy and poetic example that the dominant media of any time shaped the surrounding society—without radio there would have been no Hitler; without television, no John F. Kennedy as American President. These books were read and talked about by many, but fully understood by few. A flurry of sharply critical tracts and anthologies ensued.

At the same time, McLuhan was dubbed the “sage of Aquarius” by William Kuhns and favorably compared to Darwin, Freud, and Einstein by literary critic Tom Wolfe. McLuhan was mentioned on the TV show Laugh-In, interviewed by Playboy, and appeared in Woody Allen’s movie Annie Hall. He had begun collaborating with other thinkers as early as the 1950s, with Edmund Carpenter, and he later co-wrote important books with Harley Parker, Quentin Fiore, and Barrington Nevitt.

His former students and other disciples, most notably Walter Ong in the 1950s and Neil Postman in the 1960s, began publishing essays and books that built upon McLuhan’s work. At the time of his death in 1980, he was somewhat out of favor, but the digital revolution that his writing anticipated brought him back to public and scholarly notice by the beginning of the next decade, when Wired magazine made McLuhan its “patron saint.” Books by a new round of younger disciples, including Joshua Meyrowitz, Paul Levinson, and Robert K. Logan, followed in the 1980s and into the 21st century. The rise of social media, which further epitomized McLuhan’s 1962 notion of the global village, cemented and accentuated his preeminent position in media studies in the second decade of the 21st century. Numerous academic conferences were held to commemorate the centennial of his birth in 2011. Conferences continue to explore his work, and books and articles continue to be written about him on a yearly basis.

General Overviews

McLuhan’s two most important books—The Gutenberg Galaxy (McLuhan 1962) and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (McLuhan 1964)—provide the best general overviews of his work and an introduction to his array of ideas. Culkin 1967 offers a succinct overview of McLuhan’s media studies. Meyrowitz 2001 examines McLuhan’s migration into the 21st century.

  • Culkin, John. 1967. A schoolman’s guide to Marshall McLuhan. Saturday Review, 18 March: 51–53.

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    Explicates and evaluates McLuhan’s unique approach to understanding media and their impact on society.

  • McLuhan, Marshall. 1962. The Gutenberg Galaxy. New York: Mentor.

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    Consists of 107 brief essays with lengthy titles or glosses, such as “the electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.” This was a hallmark of McLuhan’s style, and from the vantage point of our social media age these can be seen as tweets (the titles) followed by blog posts (the short essays).

  • McLuhan, Marshall. 1964. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: Mentor.

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    Presents most of McLuhan’s key ideas, including “hot and cool” media and “the medium is the message.” As a striking example of both, McLuhan observes that “had TV come first there would have been no Hitler”—because Hitler was too “hot” for the “cool” medium of television, and the medium through which he presented his ideas (radio) made his ideas viable in 1920s and 1930s Germany.

  • Meyrowitz, Joshua. 2001. Morphing McLuhan: Medium Theory for a New Millennium. Keynote address delivered at the Second Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association, New York University, 15–16 June 2001.

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    Balanced assessment of the relevance of McLuhan’s work in the 1960s to the world of media fifty years later.

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LAST MODIFIED: 27 APRIL 2017 (Introduction republished by permission)

Source: https://goo.gl/bSrp6c

About Paul Levinson: Paul Levinson, PhD, is Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in NYC. His nonfiction books, including The Soft Edge (1997), Digital McLuhan (1999), Real Space (2003), Cellphone (2004), and New New Media (2009; 2nd edition, 2012), have been translated into twelve languages. He co-edited Touching the Face of the Cosmos: On the Intersection of Space Travel and Religion in 2016. His science fiction novels include The Silk Code (winner of Locus Award for Best First Science Fiction Novel of 1999), Borrowed Tides (2001), The Consciousness Plague (2002), The Pixel Eye (2003), The Plot To Save Socrates (2006), Unburning A lexandria (2013), and Chronica (2014). Extended biography here: https://goo.gl/U6C9xZ


In Whatcha Doin’, Marshall McLuhan? the writer Ken Hollings re-examines the man and his legacy. He talks to those who have been influenced by McLuhan as well as those who knew him well, including the celebrated novelist and journalist Tom Wolfe, and asks how and why McLuhan fits into the media narrative of the twenty-first century.

A 45-minute audio presentation available now on May 14, 2017 (Don’t know for how long). If not available when you go to the link, there should be a podcast of it available. Follow the link below.

Producer, Dan Shepherd   –   A Far Shoreline Production for BBC Radio 3

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The 1967 publication of the bestselling paperback ‘The Medium is the Massage’ confirmed Marshall McLuhan as the first mass media guru and ‘prophet’ of the electronic age. With it he achieved global fame. Newsweek even compared him to Batman.

So how did a tweedy middle-aged Professor of English literature from the plains of Canada become such an iconic public intellectual?

Throughout the ’60s McLuhan attempted to explain to its rapidly expanding audience how television’s immediacy affected people’s psychology and behaviour. Few actually understood his complex theories but he expounded them in a reassuringly authoritative manner, often using short catchy phrases. McLuhan coined the phrase ‘the medium is the message’ and was the first to talk about the ‘global village’, both flashcard maxims that helped to define the era’s thinking on electronic media.

By the time of his death in 1980, Marshall McLuhan had been all but forgotten, his theories ridiculed or dismissed. But with the rise of the internet and the rapid encroachment of social media into our lives, McLuhan’s observations on the media have recently enjoyed a critical resurgence. In explaining how television disrupts our lives he laid down a series of principles that can arguably be applied to today’s digital regime. McLuhan’s books have all been reprinted, his writings are taught on design and media courses again, whilst WIRED magazine claimed McLuhan as its ‘patron saint’.

To access go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08jfckq


McLuhan Centre for Culture & Technology with Cultural Workers Organize

Organizer of Book Launch: Culture/Work/Resistance

 LOCATION: McLuhan Centre for Culture & Technology, 39A Queens Park Crescent                       East off 121 St. Joseph St., Toronto, ON M5S 2C3
DATE & TIME: Tuesday, May 30, 6:00 – 7:30 PM 
REGISTER NOW at https://goo.gl/kHNxFZ

Mark Banks – Creative Justice: Cultural Industries, Work and Inequality, (Rowman and Littlefield) – launched by Sarah Sharma

Creative Justice examines issues of inequality and injustice in the cultural industries and cultural workplace. It first aims to ‘do justice’ to the kinds of objects and texts produced by artists, musicians, designers and other kinds of symbol-makers – by appreciating them as meaningful goods with objective qualities. It also shows how cultural work itself has objective quality as a rewarding and socially-engaging practice, and not just a means to an economic end. But this book is also about injustice – made evident in the workings of arts education and cultural policy, and through the inequities and degradations of cultural work. In worlds where low pay and wage inequality are endemic, and where access to the best cultural academies, jobs and positions is becoming more strongly determined by social background, what chance do ordinary people have of obtaining their own                                                                   ‘creative justice’?..

Enda Brophy – Language Put to Work: The Making of the Global Call Centre Workforce, (Palgrave MacMillan) – launched by Ursula Huws

This book examines the striking rise of call centres over the past quarter century through the lens of the resistance and collective organizing generated by workers along the digital assembly lines. Drawing on field research in Atlantic Canada, Ireland, Italy, and New Zealand, Enda Brophy investigates the contested making of the transnational call centre workforce and its integration into the circuits of global capitalism. Moving beyond depictions of call centre labour as either entirely liberated or utterly subordinated, Language Put to Work inquires into the forms of work refusal and insubordination provoked by the spread of these communicative workplaces …

Nicole Cohen – Writer’s Rights: Freelance Journalism in a Digital Age, (McGill-Queen’s University Press) – launched by Tanner Mirrlees

A timely study of freelance journalists’ working conditions and what is at stake for the future of journalism in precarious times.


As media industries undergo rapid change, the conditions of media work are shifting just as quickly, with an explosion in the number of journalists working as freelancers. Although commentary frequently lauds freelancers as ideal workers for the         information age – adaptable, multi-skilled, and entrepreneurial – Nicole Cohen argues that freelance media work is increasingly precarious, marked by declining incomes, loss of control over one’s work, intense workloads, long hours, and limited access to labour and social protections…

English Prof, author and poet B.W. Powe publishes compelling new book of poetry, Decoding Dust, in 2016the launching point for a must-read Brainstorm Q&A.

Esteemed Canadian poet, novelist and essayist B.W. Powe is one of York’s treasures, bolstering this University’s strong literary tradition. A prolific writer, he has produced books that were championed by Canada’s leading publishers including Coach House, Guernica Editions and Random House.

Powe, who began at York in 1995, teaches courses on Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye and on Visionaries, and has helped found the Dead Tree Medium Theatre Group through the McLuhan Initiative at York University.

Described by Toronto writer/editor Elana Wolff as “oceanic in intellectual breadth and interest, spiritual vision and pure, unshielded feeling,” Powe produced an engaging new volume of poetry: Decoding Dust (NeoPoiesis Press, 2016). It contains emotive themes of family and deep connections; it perfectly encapsulates life at a particular point in time – with grown kids and ailing parents – as well as the universal ‘stuff’ of life.

In this Q&A, he discusses his new book.

Q: Why did you write Decoding Dust?

A: The poems came from a desire to get close to the soul and sorrow, the heart of my family and heartbreak, shapeshifters and the garden of vision. I wanted the book to be a place of intensities, where many voices would speak.

Sometimes my desire was just to shape something beautiful. It may seem an odd thing to say, but if you’ve added beauty to the world, in the way a tree is beautiful, then I think you’ve done something. That’s part of what I wanted to do: leave a beautiful line on a page.

Q: What are the key ingredients to your writing process?

Decoding Dust. Reproduced with permission of NeoPoiesis Press.

A: Time, concentration, quiet, few interruptions, the cultivation of images and voices, a solitude that creates receptivity. Keeping myself open to atmospheres and the closeness of things, to the voices of soul yearning and transformation… This is what I hoped to get into Decoding Dust … an availability to dreaming true, letting the spirit speak.

One of the things I say to my creative writing students is, if you don’t like solitude, you’re in the wrong business. It’s a double-edged experience because the reverse of solitude is loneliness… and loneliness is one of the epidemics of our time. There’s loneliness and there’s heartbreak in the voices that inhabit Decoding Dust.

I call the creative environment that you need “the greening,” from Hildegard von Bingen’s word, viriditas. It means your space/time should have signals of encouragement, music, artwork, light, films, a spiritual-imaginative nourishment that allows you to make associations and imagine stories.

“I’m indebted to York’s English department for the encouragement to teach my courses – on Visionaries, on McLuhan and Frye. The courses are my children, in a way.” – B.W. Powe

Q: What writers inspired you to write?

A: When I read Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, I thought: I want to write. Then I read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River… Virginia Woolf’s The Waves… Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf… They were extraordinary books for me. I read McLuhan at an early age, and Sartre’s essays, Susan Sontag’s books. They inspired my essays.

The poets who spoke to me early on were William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Arthur Rimbaud and William Butler Yeats. And song lyrics: I was a fan of Bob Dylan and The Who’s Pete Townshend. Patti Smith became another inspiring figure.

Q: Who are your favourite poets? What are you reading now?  

A: Canadians, of course – I revere Anne Carson and A.F. Moritz – and many European, South American and Spanish poets. Rainer Maria Rilke, César Vallejo, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, Antonio Machado. I’m currently reading Rubén Darío. He’s Nicaraguan. I revere Federico Garcia Lorca and I’ve been translating his lyrics. It’s the way I teach myself Spanish. My wife is Spanish and she says that my translations are good. I think she’s being nice. I’m also reading Marilynne Robinson’s trilogy, Gilead, Home and Lila, novels I admire very much. I’m re-reading George Steiner’s After Babel on translation.

Q: Can you speak to York’s support for your work and how York fosters excellence?

A: There has been very strong support. Recently, York funded a theatre project by the Dead Tree Medium Group, which will transform Decoding Dust into works for stage and video.

A great thing York has given me is time. I’m indebted to York’s English department for the encouragement to teach my courses – on Visionaries, on McLuhan and Frye. The courses are my children, in a way. I suppose they’re a little unusual in the curriculum, but they’ve been encouraged. That kind of support on York’s part has been remarkable. I should mention that [former] Dean Bob Drummond was very keen on having a creative/scholarly mix in the English department, which has been maintained here extremely well. I’ve found fine colleagues here too.

The other great thing about being at York has been my students. I’ve been blessed in attracting extraordinary students.

“The fact that York University pays me to do this is one of the great gifts of the cosmos.” – B.W. Powe

Q: What’s the advice you would give a budding writer in your class?

A: Good luck! And courage, strength, stamina, inspirations and wisdom. Love what you do. Find the heart in it. Decoding Dust was another attempt to put the heart on the page. The first ultrasound we saw of our baby last week was of her/his heart. It was very moving. And I thought, well, that’s kind of what we’re doing here: trying to find a way to make the heart beat as loud as it can… to remind us how miraculous it all is.

I encourage students to set aside time and delve. Take a poem or a story, and read it over and over. You’d be amazed at how much awareness comes when you take time. I suggest: allow inspiration (from the Latin word inspiritus) to enter you. The second word I use is entheos, the Greek word for being filled with the Gods. It translates into our word “enthusiasm.” Another word is, again, “greening:” creating an environment in which awareness can deepen. The fourth word, duende, I’ve taken from the Spanish tradition. The word comes from Flamenco, meaning the rising to the moment.

It seems to me a spiritual crime to go into a classroom and dispirit people. You need to lift them. But it’s a two-way process: they inspire me, too. The fact that York University pays me to do this is one of the great gifts of the cosmos.

For more information about Decoding Dust, visit the publisher’s website. For more about B.W. Powe, visit his faculty profile or his blog.

By Megan Mueller, manager, research communications, Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation, York University, muellerm@yorku.ca          (Interview Source: https://goo.gl/fCpfPH )

On B.W. Powe’s latest book of poetry, Decoding Dust, see https://goo.gl/eSLDvI .


Media Theorist Marshall McLuhan & The Timothy Leary Message

In his great new book, The Attention Merchants, Tim Wu tells the story about how Timothy Leary’s famous message on LSD, “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out” became so viral during the 1960s, thanks in large part to media theorist Marshall McLuhan [1]. It provides a glimpse into how a message, even a countercultural one about LSD, might be refined by the branding techniques normally reserved for selling sugared water.

The two academics met at New York’s Plaza Hotel (think Eloise) in 1966. Leary was a 49-year-old recently-fired Harvard psychology instructor who had been had been working with another professor on using LSD as a tool to block out the manipulation of mass media on our culture. He and his colleague, Richard Alpert (also fired from Harvard, and who would later become the spiritual guru Ram Dass) experimented with drugs like LSD to free people from the tools of mass manipulation from the mainstream media and the government.

The Medium Is The Message

Marshall McLuhan was a Canadian scholar whose book Understanding Media was getting a lot of attention itself, where he famously said that “the medium is the message”. [2] His point has been often misconstrued, and that confusion was even parodied in Woody Allen’s 1977 film Annie Hall, where Allen brings over McLuhan to admonish an academic blowhard behind him in a movie line, saying “You know nothing of my work!”. But he believed that the nature of a media form has a profound influence on how that message is understood.

Different forms of media had subtle, but distinct attributes, or affordances that combine with our cultural understandings to affect what is actually being communicated. McLuhan believed that the printed word encouraged more emphasis on visual sensory input, where communication from earlier oral cultures placed more weight on our sense of hearing, and therefore fundamentally changed the nature of the communication. [That is true, but is not exactly what McLuhan meant by “the medium is the message.” See the quote/graphic below and the last two quotes for what McLuhan really meant by his most famous aphorism.]

The Message, The Slogan, The Branding

In spite of, or maybe even because of his dismissal from Harvard, Leary’s star had been rising and he sought McLuhan’s advice on how he might “reach all the disaffected”. McLuhan suggested he had his framing all wrong. Rather than considering himself a reformer or philosopher, he should take on the role of a Mad Men era advertiser, he needed a catchy hook to lure them in with. McLuhan wrote a little jingle for him right there, based on a classic Pepsi ad of the day: “Lysergic acid hits the spot / 40 billion neurons, that’s a lot”.

Leary toyed around with adapting patriotic slogans such as “Give me liberty or give me death” and “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. He even tried adapting a Lucky Strike jingle with no success. Later that day, while taking a shower, as is often the case with good ideas, Leary’s branding was born and became the inspiration for the slogan for his countercultural message as “Turn On, Tune in, Drop out”.

Like all good propagandists before and after, Leary repeated the mantra many times during a speech he gave on on January 14, 1967, at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The event was a countercultural mixture of biker gangs, students, and hippies billed as “A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-in” and Leary’s message and went viral from there.

Like McLuhan, Leary’s message was ultimately misconstrued by the public. Instead of a call to resist the various messages from business and authority, a kind of attentional revolt, as Wu termed it, Leary’s message was sometimes received as an invitation to “Get stoned and abandon all constructive activity”. In spite of this, the branding helped spread his message to a very wide audience.

Maybe the medium is the message, after all? (Source https://goo.gl/xW5J9m )

For more on McLuhan & Timothy Leary, see:-

Timothy Leary, Marshall McLuhan & Electronic Media – https://goo.gl/Dkc75i

Timothy Leary & Marshall McLuhan, turned on & tuned in – https://goo.gl/gwuNFq


The medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.” – Understanding Media,  MIT Press ed., p. 7.

“When I say the medium is the message, I’m saying that the motor car is not a medium. The medium is the highway, the factories, and the oil companies. That is the medium. In other words, the medium of the car is the effects of the car. When you pull the effects away, the meaning of the car is gone. The car as an engineering object has nothing to do with these effects. The car is a FIGURE in a GROUND of services. It’s when you change the GROUND that you change the car. The car does not operate as the medium, but rather as one of the major effects of the medium. So ‘the medium is the message’ is not a simple remark, and I’ve always hesitated to explain it. It really means a hidden environment of services created by an innovation, and the hidden environment of services is the thing that changes people. *It is the environment that changes people, not the technology*.” – Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews (2003)


Media and Formal Cause (2011) by Marshall McLuhan & Eric McLuhan
by Mark Stahlman, President, Center for the Study of Digital Life, with Deborah Newman, Doc Searls, Peter Berkman, Ben Stolz, Jeff Martineau, Scott Talkington, Adam Pugen, and Tom Lipscomb     –     May 1, 2017

McLuhan 101

What many miss about McLuhan is that his entire work was an attempt to understand how technologies have massive pre-conscious psychological effects on those who’ve been habitually using them since childhood. In his landmark Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), McLuhan described this as a process of “shaping our attitudes and behaviors.” His colleague John Culkin, in his A Handful of Postulates (1966), put this as “We shape our tools and, thereafter, they shape us.” McLuhan himself often summarized this understanding in terms of a Gestalt: figure and ground. Without this basic concept, McLuhan cannot be grasped. This is McLuhan 101.

No, this does not make McLuhan a “technological determinist.” That derogatory term is based upon an impoverished view of causality. In fact, McLuhan is widely cited for his comment, “Nothing is determined.” What McLuhan was talking about when he used the word “shaping” was a very different sort of causality. In philosophy, this is called formal cause and, as Marshall’s son and collaborator Eric has insisted, that was all his father ever cared about.

Formal cause has been largely ignored for centuries in the West, highlighting McLuhan’s own intellectual roots in the “scribal” Middle Ages, long before the printing press. McLuhan describes the effects of this in The Gutenberg Galaxy: Making of Typographic Man (1962). In modern terms, formal cause is roughly analogous to “structure” or “environment” or “paradigm.” In psychological terms, formal cause means those technological influences that condition the early-stages of learning, which substantially define the “wiring” of our initially plastic brains.

Yes, in this way McLuhan could be considered the “patron saint” of understanding how we are each “wired” by the invisible technological environment in which we live. Alas, that is not what Louis and Jane meant.

Figure – Ground Perception

The Inevitable Defeat of Memes

Communicating this notion of the unremitting “invisibility” of technological effects in our lives as they shape us in ways we deliberately refuse to acknowledge was McLuhan’s greatest contribution and — simultaneously — his greatest failure. Perhaps McLuhan should be considered as a breakthrough psychologist instead of as a “media guru.” His times were the same as those of Freud and Jung et al, and, in many ways, his goal was to provoke a widespread recognition of the need to consciously understand patterns that were being constructed in the human pre-conscious mind. Thus: Understanding (the pre-conscious effects of) Media.

In the last decade of his life, after the attention that made him a counterculture icon — and that landed him on Wired’s masthead — had faded, and his Monday Night Seminars were filling up with walk-ins, the McLuhans — father and son — devised their final contribution, which they thought so important that they described it as a “new science.” This was the Tetrad, in which these pre-conscious effects of human technological artifacts were organized into a quartet of simultaneous impacts on the human psyche: Enhance, Obsolesce, Reverse and Retrieve. Unpublished until after his death, the resulting Laws of Media: The New Science remains the most obscure of McLuhan’s works and is often ignored today by McLuhan scholars.

Laws of Media: The New Science (1992) by Marshall McLuhan & Eric McLuhan

As Wired’s patron saint, Marshall is often credited with predicting the “digital typhoon” the magazine claimed to be writing about. But did he? Buried on page 188 of Laws, unnoticed by most McLuhan scholarship, is what may have been his single greatest observation. Using his Tetrad, McLuhan specified the effects computers have upon us all. In the critical “Retrieve” quadrant (the most fundamental from the psychological standpoint), he wrote “Perfect memory — total and exact.” It is this ability to remember (which computer do to us when we habitually use them), as opposed to the ability to suspend belief over the make-believe of television and similar types of media that mark the end of the effectiveness of memes under digital conditions.

As computer architects know, digital systems are constructed as hierarchies of memories. We experience this every time we access an URL or use the Web’s domain name service — both of which are just abstracted memory addresses. Computers, as it turns out, spend little time “computing.” Instead, at the micro-level, computers are endlessly busy storing and retrieving items from memory locations that were initially found inside the machine but are increasingly found everywhere throughout the world. Totally and exactly: just as McLuhan suggested over 40 years ago.

Digital technology is all about remembering. Thus, digital technology sounded the death knell for make-believe memes. This radical shift in our psychology towards memory was what McLuhan was reaching for as evidenced by his commitment to remembering the basis of Western civilization. With our new digital environment, this process of remembering has now become the ground of our daily experiences. If, as his one-time student Walter Ong suggested, electric media (telegraph, radio, television etc) threw us into a “secondary orality,” then digital technology pushes us towards a “secondary literacy.” We are now living in the digital paradigm.

Therefore, all honors deservedly go to “Saint” Marshall McLuhan, based upon whose insights we are now compelled to understand digital life. (The full essay from which this is an excerpt can be read at https://goo.gl/EUINMP )


By Nicholas Carr   –   April 21, 2017

Nicholas Carr is the author of “Utopia Is Creepy,” “The Shallows,” and other books.  See http://www.nicholascarr.com/

WELCOME TO the global village. It’s a nasty place.

On Easter Sunday, a man in Cleveland filmed himself murdering a random 74-year-old and posted the video on Facebook. The social network took the grisly clip down within two or three hours, but not before users shared it on other websites — where people around the world can still view it.

Surely incidents like this aren’t what Mark Zuckerberg had in mind. In 2012, as his company was preparing to go public, the Facebook founder wrote an earnest letter to would-be shareholders explaining that his company was more than just a business. It was pursuing a “social mission” to make the world a better place by encouraging self-expression and conversation. “People sharing more,” the young entrepreneur wrote, “creates a more open culture and leads to a better understanding of the lives and perspectives of others.”

Earlier this year, Zuckerberg penned another public letter, expressing even grander ambitions. Facebook, he announced, is expanding its mission from “connecting friends and family” to building “a global community that works for everyone.” The ultimate goal is to turn the already vast social network into a sort of supranational state “spanning cultures, nations and regions.”

But the murder in Cleveland, and any similar incidents that inevitably follow, reveal the hollowness of Silicon Valley’s promise that digital networks would bring us together in a more harmonious world.

Whether he knows it or not, Zuckerberg is part of a long tradition in Western thought. Ever since the building of the telegraph system in the 19th century, people have believed that advances in communication technology would promote social harmony. The more we learned about each other, the more we would recognize that we’re all one. In an 1899 article celebrating the laying of transatlantic Western Union cables, a New York Times columnist expressed the popular assumption well: “Nothing so fosters and promotes a mutual understanding and a community of sentiment and interests as cheap, speedy, and convenient communication.”

The great networks of the 20th century — radio, telephone, TV — reinforced this sunny notion. Spanning borders and erasing distances, they shrank the planet. Guglielmo Marconi declared in 1912 that his invention of radio would “make war impossible, because it will make war ridiculous.” AT&T’s top engineer, J.J. Carty, predicted in a 1923 interview that the telephone system would “join all the peoples of the earth in one brotherhood.” In his 1962 book “The Gutenberg Galaxy,” the media theorist Marshall McLuhan gave us the memorable term “global village” to describe the world’s “new electronic interdependence.” Most people took the phrase optimistically, as a prophecy of inevitable social progress. What, after all, could be nicer than a village? IF OUR assumption that communication brings people together were true, we should today be seeing a planetary outbreak of peace, love, and understanding. Thanks to the Internet and cellular networks, humanity is more connected than ever. Of the world’s 7 billion people, 6 billion have access to a mobile phone — a billion and a half more, the United Nations reports, than have access to a working toilet. Nearly 2 billion are on Facebook, more than a billion upload and download YouTube videos, and billions more converse through messaging apps like WhatsApp and WeChat. With smartphone in hand, everyone becomes a media hub, transmitting and receiving ceaselessly.

Yet we live in a fractious time, defined not by concord but by conflict. Xenophobia is on the rise. Political and social fissures are widening. From the White House down, public discourse is characterized by vitriol and insult. We probably shouldn’t be surprised.

For years now, psychological and sociological studies have been casting doubt on the idea that communication dissolves differences. The research suggests that the opposite is true: free-flowing information makes personal and cultural differences more salient, turning people against one another instead of bringing them together. “Familiarity breeds contempt” is one of the gloomiest of proverbs. It is also, the evidence indicates, one of the truest.

In a series of experiments reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2007, Harvard psychologist Michael Norton and two colleagues found that, contrary to our instincts, the more we learn about someone else, the more we tend to dislike that person. “Although people believe that knowing leads to liking,” the researchers wrote, “knowing more means liking less.” Worse yet, they found evidence of “dissimilarity cascades.” As we get additional information about others, we place greater stress on the ways those people differ from us than on the ways they resemble us, and this inclination to emphasize dissimilarities over similarities strengthens as the amount of information accumulates. On average, we like strangers best when we know the least about them.

An earlier study, published in 1976, revealed a similar pattern in communities. Three professors from the University of California at San Diego studied a condominium development near Los Angeles, charting relationships among neighbors. They discovered that as people live more closely together, the likelihood that they’ll become friends goes up, but the likelihood that they’ll become enemies goes up even more. The scholars traced the phenomenon to what they called “environmental spoiling.” The nearer we get to others, the harder it becomes to avoid evidence of their irritating habits. Proximity makes differences stand out.

The effect intensifies in the virtual world, where everyone is in everyone else’s business. Social networks like Facebook and messaging apps like Snapchat encourage constant self-disclosure. Because status is measured quantitatively online, in numbers of followers, friends, and likes, people are rewarded for broadcasting endless details about their lives and thoughts through messages and photographs. To shut up, even briefly, is to disappear. One study found that people share four times as much information about themselves when they converse through computers as when they talk in person.

BEING EXPOSED to this superabundance of personal information can create an oppressive sense of “digital crowding,” a group of British scholars wrote in a 2011 paper, and that in turn can breed stress and provoke antisocial reactions. “With the advent of social media,” they concluded, “it is inevitable that we will end up knowing more about people, and also more likely that we end up disliking them because of it.”

If social media brings out the misanthrope in us, it can also unleash darker impulses. In a 2014 article in Personality and Individual Differences, three Canadian psychologists reported on research that found that people with sadistic tendencies tend to be among the most active commenters in online forums. Like other sadists, so-called trolls are motivated by the anticipation of pleasure, the study revealed; they take joy in inflicting psychic pain on others. Although it’s not clear whether the Internet breeds cruelty or just encourages it, the findings “add to accumulating evidence linking excessive technology use to antisociality,” the researchers wrote. “Sadists just want to have fun . . . and the Internet is their playground!”

Despite his occasional utopian rhetoric, Marshall McLuhan himself harbored few illusions about life in a global village. He saw villages as inherently tribal, marked by mistrust and friction and prone to viciousness and violence. “When people get close together, they get more and more savage and impatient with each other,” he said in a 1977 television interview. “The global village is a place of very arduous interfaces and very abrasive situations.” That’s a pretty good description of where we find ourselves today.

Still, the yearning to see communications technology as a remedy for social ills remains strong, as Zuckerberg’s February missive underscores. Despite Facebook’s well-publicized recent struggle to control hate speech, propaganda, and fake news, Zuckerberg seems more confident than ever that a “global community” can be constructed out of software. The centerpiece of his new project is a computerized “social infrastructure” that will use artificial-intelligence routines to manage information flows in a way that makes everyone happy. The system will promote universal self-expression while at the same time shielding individuals from “objectionable content.”

The problem with such geeky grandiosity goes beyond its denial of human nature. It reinforces the idea, long prevalent in American culture, that technological progress is sufficient to ensure social progress. If we get the engineering right, our better angels will triumph. It’s a pleasant thought, but it’s a fantasy. Progress toward a more amicable world will require not technological magic but concrete, painstaking, and altogether human measures: negotiation and compromise, a renewed emphasis on civics and reasoned debate, a citizenry able to appreciate contrary perspectives. At a personal level, we may need less self-expression and more self-examination.

Technology is an amplifier. It magnifies our best traits, and it magnifies our worst.

What it doesn’t do is make us better people. That’s a job we can’t offload on machines. Source: https://goo.gl/A7VX5i

See also – The “Global Village” is Never Harmonious, According to Marshall McLuhanhttps://goo.gl/x9NcMk


Marshall McLuhan’s influence has reverberated through all of the arts, but especially visual arts, literature and music to some degree. The following is an academic article analyzing the staging of the Multi-media Alt-Rock Opera  The Illumination of Marshall McLuhan, Music by Baffin Island Party, Script by Michael Charrois, first staged April 27, 2000 in Edmonton, Alberta. The video of one of the performances follows immediately below:-

Robin C. Whittaker, University of Ottawa
Abstract

Creatively commingling the life and theories of Canadian media icon Marshall McLuhan may yield robust material for negotiating and staging postmodern performance. This article considers certain of McLuhan’s theories that have parallels to influential postmodern theoretical constructions and the ways in which these parallels are ripe for performance. It considers the uneasy relationship between dramaturgies and dialectics, and deals with frequent criticisms leveled at postmodern thought, including a hectic rejoicing over consumerism, a cacophony of signs, and the dangers of incorporating into performance the mixed-media environments inherent to McLuhanism and postmodernism alike. Finally, the article considers the potential for mixed-media performance to engage with social objectives linked to producing alternative theatre. But it begins and ends by asking the question: Do artists who attempt to stage theory risk allowing the theory to distract from and overwhelm the performance? In order to probe these effects, the sprawling Edmonton science-fiction “Alt-Rock Opera,” The Illumination of Marshall McLuhan, is offered as a case study.

Just two paragraphs of the essay are reproduced below, specifically the 3rd and 5th. Read the full article at https://goo.gl/R6qWts .

3 It is the intention of this paper to “probe” the display of inherent theatrical elements behind the theories of Canada’s eminent media icon, Marshall McLuhan, with special attention to post-modern and mixed-media production aesthetics.4 Michael Charrois and The Baffin Island Party Band’s”Alt-Rock Opera,”The Illumination of Marshall McLuhan, provides a test case for the display of theory and performance. It is my contention that in drawing from relations between McLuhan’s theories and theories of postmodernism as they relate to issues of “human performance” and “mediatized performance,” an improved understanding will arise with respect to how postmodern theatre presences (and absences) its own conceptions, performances and receptions; that is, how postmodern theatre displays. By way of conclusion, co-op and “low budget” mixed-media performance in the postmodern context are considered as potential forms of material protest against the theatre”establishment.” Illumination serves as a particularly apt test case for exploring “McLuhan” in performance because it represents him biographically and through his theories, both in the play’s dramaturgical structure and in the production’s mise en scène.

Character: “McLuhan” and His Potential for and in Postmodern Performance5

5 McLuhan’s work had, for some time, fallen off the map of “legitimate” scholarship. During much of the 1970s and even into the 1980s, many scholars shunned McLuhan’s writing as trivial, misguided and worse.6 But as poststructuralist criticism gained greater prominence, some scholars began to see McLuhan—in the rear-view mirror—as one who, as Glenn Willmott vigorously attests,“provides a precedent” to the “more performative, subjective, and textual-poetic critical practices”of postmodern scholarship, with his “ongoing critique of abstraction or generalization from particularity” (xii). In situating McLuhan as (the) one who is “valuable to critical ideology today as an unprecedented and unrepeated experiment—a self-experiment—in the postmodern powers of criticism, and the search for a historically adequate form or medium for those powers” (xv), Willmott argues that McLuhan was not only a pre-postmodern critic, but in fact was the postmodern experiment personified. Theory was more than an abstract structuring principle in his life: theory was embodied in the lived life of the man himself.


He was the original Mansplainer, one who believed his insights had “well, a great deal of validity.”

The unnamed blowhard in 1977’s Annie Hall prattles on so endlessly about director Federico Fellini and media philosopher Marshall McLuhan that Woody Allen can barely focus on his own squabble with Diane Keaton.

Eventually the loudmouth chases Allen’s narrator through the fourth wall to join him in addressing the audience, only to up face to face with the real McLuhan, who demolishes him with a snorted: “You know nothing of my work.”

Now, the “Man in Theater Line” gets to tell his side of the story, and he reveals that one of the most perfect scenes in movie history was a disaster to shoot. 

Meet Russell Horton

“Part of the reason the scene works is because I am such an a–hole and I actually believe what I’m doing, you know?” says Russell Horton, now 75, a lifelong character actor who is actually nothing like his insufferable Annie Hall character.

He’s boisterous for sure, but also fun and sweet — a laid-back grandfather of four kids, one a newborn less than a month old. The other three call him “GrandDude.”

Horton is married to actress Diana Kirkwood and has two daughters. “The older one is a good-guy lawyer at legal aid, who helps abused children,” he says. “And I’ve got a younger daughter who’s in the acting business named Olivia Horton. She had a really nice part as a possessed girl in a movie called Deliver Us from Evil.”

Watching Annie Hall is a right of passage for any movie fan as they grow up, but anyone who was a kid over the past three decades also knows him from another major role.

“You probably grew up with me,” says Horton, who has voiced the Trix Rabbit in breakfast cereal commercials for 35 years. “Trix are for kids…,” he says wistfully. “That’s a gig that put my kids through college, I’ll tell you.”

Back in the 1970s, when Allen’s casting director, Juliet Taylor, selected Horton as the Man in the Theater Line, he was in his mid-30s and a Los Angeles transplant to New York City. “I’m your basic workaday actor. I was doing a lot of TV. I was doing Broadway shows,” he says. “You know, the big problem about being the kind of actor I am, you’re sort of stuck with the way you look, and so I’m always playing professors or nerds.”

He wasn’t sure he got the part until a strange, abrupt encounter with Allen.

“I got a call and they just said, ‘Go meet Mr. Allen,’ and they were shooting on a street in New York,” Horton recalls. “The assistant director brought him over, and he looked at me, up and down, he said, ‘Man in the movie line?’ and the AD said yes, and he walked away. I said, ‘What was that?’ The AD said, ‘Well, that was it. He just wanted to check you out.’ He apparently had great confidence in Juliet Taylor.”

That faith has never wavered – the filmmaker and Taylor are still working together, most recently on last year’s Café Society.

“Now the second thing that’s very strange about him is, at that period, I don’t know if it’s true now, but he never let anybody see the whole script,” Horton says. “I got the scene, but I had no idea where it fit in or how it related to anything that was going on. I didn’t even have the ending.”

As fond of analysis as Allen may be in real life, there was none on set. No deep discussions about the scene, no scraps of background information about the Man in Theater Line’s motivation. Instead, Allen expected the actors to just sort of grasp it intuitively. “He gives you very little direction. He just said, ‘You know what’s going on?’” Horton recalls. “I said, ‘I think so.’ And he said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Horton tried to evoke a little sympathy for the Man in Theater Line (whom he named “David,” even if the script never identifies him). He felt this night out was David’s first date after a long dry spell. He’s trying hard. Too hard. And getting desperate now that his date’s eyes are rolling up like the reels on a slot machine.

‘The Medium is the, uh… Line, Please?’

The person who wasn’t trying at all: McLuhan. “I guess he didn’t take it terribly seriously because he couldn’t remember his line,” Horton says. “He had one line and he kept blowing it. It was a two-and-a-half-minute take. It was one of the longest, uncut, comedy sequences, up to that time, and Woody wanted it that way because when he pulled [McLuhan] out, he wanted it to be a total shock.”

It wasn’t an easy scene to perform. Horton’s character isn’t supposed to be aware of Alvy and Annie’s conversation as he rambles, but the actor had to be acutely aware of it, getting quieter for their lines and filling the quiet spaces with his own improvised bloviating.

“Some of the stuff I came up with on my own, like there was the word weltanschauung, you know, which means a worldview,” Horton says. “That wasn’t in the script, but they had stopped talking. I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to do something,’ so I said, ‘It’s a weltanschauung!”

Online versions of the script, which attempt to transcribe the dialogue, never get that line right.

It got to be demoralizing as they did a dozen takes of this complicated verbal dance, only to have it ruined at the end by an ill-prepared McLuhan. “Woody would pull him out and he’d say something like, ‘Well you’re wrong, young man.’ Or, ‘Oh, gee, I don’t know what to say.’”

Even when McLuhan finally got it right … he really didn’t. “We did like 17 or 18 takes, and if you look at it carefully in the movie, McLuhan says, ‘You mean my whole fallacy is wrong,’” Horton says, starting to laugh. “Which makes no sense. How can you have your fallacy wrong?”

They did a few more tries after that, but it never got any better.

Blame Fellini

In the late academic’s defense, he was actually the understudy for that role. Most of the Man in Theater Line’s dialogue is about the director Federico Fellini, who had agreed to play himself as the icon who emerges from nowhere to stifle this stranger’s pomposity.

When the Italian filmmaker dropped out a few days before shooting, McLuhan was recruited in a scramble. “If you look at the scene, [my dialogue] is essentially all about Fellini, and there’s only one last thing about McLuhan because they suddenly had him,” Horton says….

He is seldom recognized for his role in Annie Hall, retaining his anonymity despite being a key component in a scene known to pretty much every film fan.

The pompous and pathetic Man in Theater Line, getting his comeuppance, has endured for a simple reason.

“It’s very human,” Horton says. “There really are people like that.”

Source: https://goo.gl/daHyPP


Elisha Otis free-fall safety demonstration in 1853

Posted to the MEA listserv on March 23, 2017 by Robert Logan:-

“Here is an item that appeared in this morning’s Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada: 
‘MOMENT IN TIME

The first elevator installed

March 23, 1857: Like most entrepreneurial inventors, Elisha Otis was a bit of a showman, too. Otis had invented an automatic safety device – a wagon spring, really – to keep an elevator from falling if its cable broke. With few orders, he took his “safety hoist” to New York’s Crystal Palace in May, 1854, and rode a platform high into the air – then ordered the rope cut. As people gasped, his assistant swung an axe, the hoisting line was severed, the spring snapped into place and grabbed the rails on either side – and the platform came to a sudden stop. His first safety elevator for passengers was for a building just five storeys high, the E.V. Haughwout & Co. store in New York. But his invention would make the skyscraper possible, transforming skylines around the world. – Massimo Commanducci’   (From the Toronto Globe & Mail at https://goo.gl/8yFsjx )                   – Bob

I share it because it illustrates McLuhan’s idea of the reversal of cause and effect. The effect of the Otis safety elevator was the cause of the skyscraper”.

New York City skyscrapers, 1883

 Paul Levinson replied later the same day, March 23, 2017, with the following related observation:-

“Great example – and it’s also an example of soft determinism, or necessary conditions.  The elevator was a necessary (not sufficient) condition of the skyscraper – part of the skyscraper’s ground.  Media determinism is a soft determinism, or a determinism of necessary conditions.  (Without radio there would have been no Hitler [Understanding Media] – without Twitter, no Trump [McLuhan in an Age of Social Media].)” – Paul

Otis Elevator Passenger Car, 1850s

Marshall McLuhan discusses this reversal of cause and effect idea in Chapter 1 of Understanding Media (The Medium is the Message):-

 Such economists as Robert Theobald, W. W. Rostow, and John Kenneth Galbraith have been explaining for years how it is that “classical economics” cannot explain change or growth. And the paradox of mechanization is that although it is itself the cause of maximal growth and change, the principle of mechanization excludes the very possibility of growth or the understanding of change. For mechanization is achieved by fragmentation of any
process and by putting the fragmented parts in a series. Yet, as David Hume showed in the eighteenth century, there is no principle of causality in a mere sequence. That one thing follows another accounts for nothing. Nothing follows from following, except change. So the greatest of all reversals occurred with electricity, that ended sequence by making things instant. With instant speed the causes of things began to emerge to awareness again, as they had not done with things in sequence and in concatenation accordingly. Instead of asking which came first, the chicken or the egg, it suddenly seemed that a chicken was an egg’s idea for getting more eggs”. (pp. 11-12)