Marshall McLuhan in 1926 Kelvin Technical High School yearbook

“Marshall McLuhan was born in 1911 and died in 1980. By the time of his death, he had been dismissed by respectable academicians, and he was known in the popular press as an eccentric intellectual whose day in the media spotlight had come and gone. By 1980, the transformation of human life catalyzed by television was taken for granted, and it no longer seemed interesting to ask where the electronic media were taking us. But in recent years, the explosion of new media – particularly the Web – has caused new anxieties. Or to put a more McLuhanesque spin on it, the advent of new digital media has brought the conditions of the old technologies into sharper relief, and made us suddenly conscious of our media environment. In the confusion of the digital revolution, McLuhan is relevant again”. 

– From  Wired 4.01: The Wisdom of Saint Marshall, the Holy Fool

Timeline: Herbert Marshall McLuhan – 1911-1980

1911 born July 21st in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
1932 B.A., University of Manitoba.
1934 M.A., University of Manitoba.
1936 B.A., Cambridge University.
1936-1937 Taught at the University of Wisconsin.
1937-1944 Taught at Saint Louis Louis
1939 M.A., Cambridge University.
1939 Married Corinne Lewis of Fort Worth, Texas.
1943 Ph.D., Cambridge University.
1944-1946 Taught at Assumption College, Windsor, Ontario.
1946-1979 Taught in the English Department at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto.
1951 The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man published.
1952 Full Professor.
1953-1955 Chairman of Ford Foundation Seminar on Culture and Communication.
1953-1959 Associate editor of the journal “Explorations” edited by Edmund S. Carpenter.
1959-1960 Director of Project in Understanding New-Media for National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB), and Office of Education, U.S.A.
1962 The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man
won the Governor General’s Award for Canadian Non-fiction for that year.
1963-1979 Appointment by the President of The University of Toronto to direct a new Centre for Culture and Technology (to study the psychic and social consequences of technologies and media).
1964 Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man published.
1965 Honorary degree from University of Windsor, D.Litt.
1966 Honorary degree from Assumption University, D.Litt. Outstanding lecture at the Second Annual A.V.B Geoghegan Lecture, University of Pennsylvania.
1967 – Marfleet Lectures, The University of Toronto.
– Purves Memorial Lecture, American Institute of Architects, New York.
– The Medium is The Massage with visual design by Quentin Fiore, produced by Jerome Agel, published.
– Honorary degree from The University of Manitoba, D.Litt.
– Honorary degree from Simon Fraser University, LL.D.
– Honorary degree from Grinnell University, Iowa, D.Litt.
– Recieved Honorary Award in Culture and Communications from Niagara University, New York. Molson Award for outstanding achievement in the Social Sciences.
– War and Peace in the Global Village, with visual design by Quentin Fiore, produced by Jerome Agel, published.
1968 Appointment to the Schweitzer Chair in the Humanities, Fordham University, New York.
1968 Relocated Centre for Culture and Technology to the Coach House at University of Toronto.
1969 Honorary degree from St. John Fischer College, Lit. Hum.
1970 Received the Institute of Public Relations President’s Award, Great Britain.
Appointment as a Champion of the Order of Canada.
Outstanding lectures at:
– Congressional Breakfast, Washington, D.C.
– Gillet Lecture Series, University of Western Ontario.
– Mary C. Richardson Lecture, State University College of Arts and Science, Genesco, New York.
1971 Honorary degree from The University of Alberta, LL.D. Received the Christian Culture Award, Assumption University, Windsor, Ontario Gold Medal Award from the President of the Italian Republic at Rimini, Italy, in recognition of original work as philosopher of the mass media.
1972 Honorary degree from The University of Western Ontario, D.Litt. Outstanding lecture, McAuley, St. Joseph College, West Hartford, Connecticut. President’s Cabinet Award, University of Detroit.
1973 Vatican appointment as consultor of the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications.
1980 Passed away peacefully in his sleep on the last day of 1980.


On July 21, 1969, people around the world crowded around their televisions to witness history in the making: astronaut Neil Armstrong taking his first steps on the moon.

The United States’ Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the moon the day before – becoming the first crewed vessel to do so.

The momentous occasion sparked a lively conversation on U.S. television network ABC’s As it Happens between U of T Professor and famed media theorist Marshall McLuhan, Scottish landscape architect and writer Ian McHarg, Newsday publisher Bill Moyers and journalist Howard K. Smith.

Watch the full conversation here:

Apollo 11: “As it happened LIVE on ABC”, Launch and TLI, July 16-19,1969, PART.1

The panel discussed the significance of the moon landing – from debating whether it was a conquest versus an exploratory mission to the space race with Russia.

McLuhan was looking to the future in order to gauge the long-term benefits of the moon landing.

“Let’s ask ourselves in long-term projects about the meteorological possibilities of the conquest of moon space,” he said. “Can we consider the possibility of space platforms that might serve the control of climatic conditions eventually on Earth?

He also predicted that transportation – from space travel to cars – will soon become obsolete in their current forms.

“We can tell by saturation and pollution that we’re reaching a terminus in many areas of use of materials,” he said.

And the biggest shift that will take place once man has explored the moon?

“The hidden change created by moonshot is a totally new environment for human knowledge,” he said.

Earthrise from the Moon

Marshall McLuhan and the author of this essay in the Valade Family Gallery at CCS (Photo: Matt Raupp).

The Medium is (is not) the Message: Marshall McLuhan and His Legacy

By Vince Carducci   –   March 30, 2019
On March 19, 2019, I gave a talk in the Valade Family Gallery on the campus of College for Creative Studies in conjunction with the exhibition “Feedback 4: Marshall McLuhan and the Arts.” I used a quote from avant-garde filmmaker and critic Jonas Mekas as a preface: “The film critic should not explain what a movie is all about, surely an impossible task; he should help to create the right attitude for looking at movies.” Similarly, my talk was not about the show, but about McLuhan as a jumping off point for subsequent developments in media theory, which would be useful in looking at the work on view. Below is the text of my talk, slightly edited for publication.

“The Medium is the Message” is perhaps one of the best known aphorisms of Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan. Among his most influential books include: Gutenberg Galaxy,a study of the influence of moveable-type printing on culture and human consciousness; Understanding Media,a more comprehensive study of the ways in which various media, especially the electronic, affect society; and The Medium is the Message,an inventory, as its subtitle suggests, of the effects of different media on the human sensorium, co-authored with graphic designer Quentin Fiore.

Media, McLuhan holds, are not just technologies that humans invent but the means by which humanity is itself reinvented. Emerging in the early 1960s, McLuhan’s understanding of media, and more particularly the condition of mediation, contrasts with most mainstream theories up to that point. (An exception was Harold Innis, a professor of political economy at University of Toronto whose books Empire and Communication and The Bias of Communication, influenced McLuhan early on.)

A good example of then mainstream thought is Harold Laswell’s famous model of communication from 1948, which understands the process of mediation with the formula: “WHO says WHAT in WHICH CHANNEL to WHOM to WHAT EFFECT?” Theories in this vein are also known as Hypodermic Models, which view the process of mediation as proceeding in one direction, from the encoder of message through the medium of communication to the receiver with the content essentially injected into the mind of the intended recipient. The Hypodermic Model sees media as transparent, i.e., a membrane to be looked through to the content, with the message being affected by the “noise” a medium might embody to distort the sender’s “true” message. This perspective often sees mass media, in particular, as a tool of indoctrination, an apparatus for, to use Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’s term, “manufacturing consent,” in modern liberal democracies as well as in authoritarian regimes.

This perspective goes back to the Greeks, particularly to Plato who in The Allegory of the Cave denigrates mimesis as an imperfect representation of the Truth of the Ideal Forms and also in Phaedrus where he quotes Socrates as being critical of writing as an interruption of the direct communication of soul-to-soul intercourse. (The irony is that we know this because Plato wrote it down.)

McLuhan’s Tetrad of Media Analysis

Where traditional theory sees media as transparent, McLuhan sees it as what Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin in their book Remediation: Understanding New Media term “hypermediated,” which is to say, a process of “looking at” vs. “looking through.” McLuhan’s Tetrad of Media Analysis proposes a multifaceted perspective that looks at what a medium (1) “enhances,” for example, a music video adds a visual narrative (sometimes for the better, sometimes not) to the performance of a song; (2) what it “reverses,” for example, painting’s reversal into its condition of flatness in the face of photography’s capture of the real; (3) what it “retrieves,” for example, radio’s recovery of the spoken word vis-a-vis print, and (4) what it “obsolesces,” the hypertext’s deconstruction of print’s linear flow…
Please read the rest of this lengthy and illustrated essay here

Click on image for expanded view.
Hannah Whitaker, “Barcroft Branches” & “Arctic Landscape (Trees)” (both 2014)

Excerpt from How to Be as Well-Informed as Marshall McLuhan, John Eaton, Lester Patrick Watson (Fron Macleans, September 1, 1971, pp. 38-39)

Canada lost its innocence somewhere between the time Gordie Tapp expatriated to do Hee-Haw and Pierre Trudeau discovered we were a nation of bleeding hearts. As if we hadn’t had enough with Vietnam, racism, dope and the economic imperialism of the United States. Which one of us can remember when French Canadians lived quietly in “La Belle Province’’ and Americans were our “friends and neighbors to the south’’? When King Gannon fiddled and Marshall McLuhan taught Kipling? When we all wanted to grow up rich and famous like Stafford Smythe? How can we, that is, how can you, make sense out of it all? Buckminster Fuller wasn’t kidding when he said the real pollution was information pollution. We are, all of us, cast adrift in a sea of information, some of us swimmers, some of us sinkers. Maclean’s has asked some of the country’s better swimmers to tread water long enough to tell us how they keep informed without going under. Sinkers read on. [Comment – If it was difficult in 1971 to make sense of it all, how much more difficult is it for us today by using pattern recognition in what Douglas Coupland calls this “Age of Earthquakes?]



One of my principal means of “keeping up to date” or of relating to my surround is conversation with people I encounter when I go away to give talks. This also includes the people who come to visit the Centre.

The writing of books compels a very sharp lookout for leads and guides. In the vast new information environment there are no trivial items. We have returned to the condition of the hunter who must alert all his faculties in order to dictate the moving lines of force and changing patterns of energy in the environment of the wired planet. Naturally, a “point of view” is quite inadequate as a means of relating to fast-changing processes. As regards reading materials, I find the daily work with graduate students in literature and many other fields puts me in touch with an enormous bibliography. Some access to materials on a plane, or in a dentist’s office, often serves to provide large evidence of patterns. For anybody who acquires the power of pattern recognition by the study of figure-ground gestalts, the present gives access to at least the next 30 years. That is, the present is in fact the future of the future for those who acquire the power to live in it. The power to live in the present is called “prophetic.” It is given to all major artists in any age. As a student of major contemporary forms, I enjoy a great advantage over those who merely take up a personal point of view. Understanding is not a point of view.

Hannah Whitaker, “Blue Paper (Albers)” (2014)Source:

The University of Windsor, Dillon Hall

Media & Space: The Regulation of Digital Platforms, New Media & Technologies
Symposium October 25, 2019
University of Windsor

Faculty of Law  –  School of Creative Arts  –  Communication, Film, and Media

Deadline to submit abstract (between 500 & 1000 words) for paper: August 8, 2019
Submit via:

We invite submissions from scholars in a broad range of disciplines, and encourage submissions from PhD students, Post-Doctoral students, and Junior Faculty (appointed in the last five years as of October 2019). Limited funding may be available for selected participants to cover some of the travel or accommodation costs.

Selected papers will be considered for publication in a special issue of an academic journal subject to the journal’s peer-review process.

Conference Synopsis: This conference seeks to bring together scholars from various disciplines including but not limited to law, communication, media, the arts, geography studies, and political science, to reflect on the challenges posed by the regulation of digital media platforms as liminal spaces that undermine clear distinctions between public and private. Topics might include social media, big data and smart cities, personal data sovereignty, algorithmic discrimination, cybersecurity, freedom of expression, and ubiquitous state and corporate surveillance. To address these disparate topics, our conference asks participants to address how the work of Marshall McLuhan on media and space —physical, virtual, public, private, borders, boundaries, environments and anti-environments— may be a point of departure and/or arrival to inform current and future regulatory/legal frameworks addressing digital media? What approaches to media and space help explain contradictions between contemporary globalization (of economies, cultures, technologies) and reassertion of national sovereignty and border controls? What is the relationship between changing media ecosystems and legal systems? Does Canada afford a unique geopolitical vantage point to explore these issues?

Keynote Speakers
Andrew McLuhan – Director of The McLuhan Institute

Special guest speaker Andrew McLuhan will trace out an exploration drawing a comparison between our past -of the regulation and creation of the pharmaceutical industry in the United States by the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906) and subsequent creation of the FDA- to our present Wild West of unrestrained technological innovation, to imagine a possible, more considered and deliberate way forward. Andrew will also discuss his family legacy as well as “The Relationship of Environment to Anti-Environment” manuscript to be donated to the University, which his grandfather Marshall McLuhan originally published in The University of Windsor Review.

Elaine Kahn – Author

In her presentation, Elaine Kahn will explore the relationship of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Marshall McLuhan through an examination of their correspondence, which has never been studied as a discrete entity. Her book “Been Hoping We Might Meet Again” collects their entire correspondence from 1968 to 1980 when television ruled and “new electronic interdependence” recreated a planet “in the image of a global village.” The two men were at the forefront of discussions about critical issues of globalization, especially the political uses of media, at a time when globalization was not yet a recognized keyword in the literature. All this is reflected in the correspondence. Both were experts at media manipulation and recognized that in the other. McLuhan was teaching the world about the global village at the same time as Trudeau was helping Canada find its place and meanings in it. Even a cursory glance at the news today shows how much their work is still relevant and needs to be built upon.

Michael Darroch – Associate Professor, School of Creative Arts, University of Windsor

Professor Darroch’s presentation, titled “Border Environments:  Theorising Media and Culture in the Windsor-Detroit Borderlands, 1943-1946” will trace Marshall McLuhan’s assertion that a border is not “a connection but an interval of resonance” to the mid-1940s, when he lived and taught in the Canadian border city of Windsor, Ontario, which sits opposite Detroit, Michigan. McLuhan corresponded and collaborated with both Wyndham Lewis, who was also lecturing in Windsor/Detroit, and Siegfried Giedion, who was touring North America. Lewis and Giedion would each have a decisive influence on McLuhan’s emergent theorisation of mediated cultural environments. McLuhan’s experience in Windsor-Detroit can be seen as providing a context in which his concept of a “global village” began to take shape, not simply as a utopian sphere anticipating a culturally
harmonious landscape, but rather a sphere in which we are increasingly involved with each other whether we like it or not. Through their capacity to cause mutual irritation, borders are collective spaces in which cultural differences must be acknowledged.

Detroit on the left opposite Windsor, Ontario

First published in Hamilton Arts & Letters, June 11, 2019
Review by J.S. Porter


“The new electric environment is a collective poem.” – Marshall McLuhan

Two implicit questions skulk around in B.W. Powe’s new book: Who are we?
Or, is the more accurate question, What are we? And: Where are we?

The short answer to the first question is: No one. No one or nothing yet. We are still under construction. We are still making our character, our identity, our destiny. And the answer to the second question is: Nowhere. ”Increasingly we reside in cyberspace – on cell phones, online, in the mediascape. We’re plugged in beings who move like ghosts through electronic membranes”. In Powe’s words, “We’re wired up, inside borderless, transnational, immediate, entangling, speeding, here-there-everywhere-now states, in an always intensifying, mutable milieu.”

C215 Annotated, Barcelona 2016. Photograph by Marshall Soules.

We have made our tools, as Marshall McLuhan said years ago, and our tools have remade us. By extending our brain into networks, no tool has so thoroughly remade us as the computer.

Antenna Head, Havana 2016. Photograph by Marshall Soules.

In Powe’s update on tools and their remaking of the human, we move from the Earth to the Global Village to the Cosmopolis to the Global Theatre or, in other words, from the first brightened cities to the Village (made possible by telephone, radio, TV and cinema) to the Theatre to Satellite Wi-fi Networks to the Membrane Cell. This new “hyper-evolution is both biological…and sensory-psychic—we’re webbed into complexity, sensation, information, imagination, emotion and soul-making.”

Powe’s words and Soules’ images take us into the post-McLuhan world with joy, fun (don’t miss Powe’s take on Trump’s Covfefe, Trudeau’s ums and Obama’s pauses) daring, alarm, wisdom, playfulness and zest. Powe and Soules are master guides of the Here and Now.

Powe tells us where we are, and maybe who we are, by sound: “All is hum, hack, flicker, tweet, leak, feed, livestream, buzz and more buzz.” Soules shows us who we are by image. The Human Face is shocked, stunned, peeling, morphing, the new not-yet born:

Future Shock, Barcelona, 2016. Photograph by Marshall Soules.

The Charge in the Global Membrane is an original, mind-stimulating, heart-expanding book and a work of great hybridity. It’s a book of epigraphs (Emily Dickinson contributes two), poems, prayers, mini-biographies (on David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen), a handwritten diary, a long letter to the Net generation (Net-gens), mini-essays, memos, proclamations, manifestoes, quotations, questions. A presence ever-powerful and lucid throughout Powe’s pages is the philosopher and mystic Simone Weil, an indispensable Elder of the Tribe.

My favourite question is Powe’s borrowing from Lama Anagarika Govinda: “Do we really know what electricity is?” The book is also an art gallery of contemporary wall art from cities in Europe and the Americas, Barcelona and Havana most prominent among them. It’s a child’s paint box with splashes of colour, variegated fonts and typefaces. It’s a snapshot of the future and the now. It’s a call for soul-making – quiet and reflection within the frenzy.

In Powe’s words, the book is “a seizing of moments/a venturing into the vibrations/ a poetry collage essay/ a journal diary/ a gathering of aphorisms/a thought experiment…” The multi-genre book flows without pagination as if it were one long breath.

You can read this book visually as well as verbally. Marshall Soules’ photographs have the freshness, punch and poignancy of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s street art. Soules often shows the emotional states of those living in the global membrane. Not since Marshall McLuhan’s and Harley Parker’s Counterblast have I seen such a close and enriching collaboration as that of Powe and Soules. Word and image mix, and sometimes meld, beautifully together.

Freefall, Barcelona 2016. Marshall Soules, Photographer.

Throughout the tumbleweed roll of language, Powe speaks in a personal voice in which he’s not afraid to confess self- ironies. The seer into the flux and flow of the cybersphere isn’t on Facebook, doesn’t tweet or use Instagram, doesn’t own an iPhone or wear a watch and stays away from e-mail for two days a week. In fact, like McLuhan, he’s a reader (as well as a teacher and a writer) who, like David Bowie, sends out a phenomenally good reading list to his readers. Don’t miss the three pages of Sources at the end of the book.

I use the phrase “don’t miss” throughout my response to The Charge quite deliberately. The book is like a river. You can step into it anywhere and you can miss things in the flow. The flow begins and doesn’t stop until you close the book or write on the last page where you’re invited to write your own future and that of the planet’s on blank paper.

The section of the book I personally found most enriching is Powe’s long address to the young, those who are often chastised for being non-readers, non-thinkers, non-participants in society. Powe encourages: “I take heart realizing that you sense how to live with unpredictability and shape-shifting” just as “cusp-artists” like Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen do, like B.W. Powe and Marshall Soules do.

In lines resembling a personal manifesto, B.W. Powe writes:

Cusp-artists find ways to live long creative lives by conjuring and configuring the ripple and rush, the wild shifts and darkening divisions. We honour them by following up with our homages, our preservations of complexity and inwardness, our pursuit of wonder, our Eros of creating, our enigmatic cultivations of beauty and spirit, our call and response to those (all of us) who are also empathic pilgrims and know wishing-wells and heartbreak.

The Charge in the Global Membrane wouldn’t be a B.W. Powe book without its also being an open and vulnerable heart (“a pasture for gazelles, and a convent for Christian monks… and the pilgrim’s Ka’ba, and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran…” from Sufi philosopher Ibn Arabi) and an exhortation to soul-making even in, especially in, Electronica. After all, “It isn’t our eyes that need to be wide awake all the time: it’s our souls” which “long for insight and vision.”

You can order The Charge in the Global Membrane (Seattle, WA: NeoPoiesis Press, 2019) on and

SEE MORE STREET ART PHOTOGRAPHS by Marshall Soules from Hamilton Arts & Letters here

J.S. Porter is Culture Critic for The Nancy Duffy Show and contributes to Hamilton Arts & Letters. Porter’s recent work includes two poetry chapbooks – Of Wine and Reading, and Small Discriminations – published by David Zieroth’s Alfred Gustav Press in Vancouver. He was shortlisted for the Vallum magazine chapbook contest for Scraps & Small Discriminations in 2017. In 2018, he co-authored, with Susan McCaslin, Superabundantly Alive: Thomas Merton’s Dance with the Feminine. He is currently at work on a new poetry collection, Reedrite.

B.W. Powe is a writer from Toronto. He is the author of The Solitary Outlaw (essay), Outage(novel), Where Seas and Fables Meet (multi-genre) and Decoding Dust (poetry), among other works. He teaches at York University, and he has taught at the University of Catalunya, in Barcelona. He lives in Stouffville, Ontario, and in Córdoba, Spain.

Marshall Soules is the former Chair of Media Studies at Vancouver Island University and author of Media, Persuasion and Propaganda (2015). He has been photographing wall art since the 1980s. The photographs included here are all from The Charge in the Global Membrane, his collaborative work with B.W. Powe.

Published by Springer Nature Switzerland AG
  • Applies the theories of Marshall McLuhan to science fiction studies, which have yet to be considered from this perspective
  • Provides concrete examples of how McLuhan’s theories find their reflection in the aesthetics of classic and new science fiction films, demonstrating that many of his observations can be practically employed in film studies
  • Includes valuable guidelines for researchers interested in conducting similar research

This groundbreaking book uses observations made by Marshall McLuhan to analyze the aesthetics of science fiction films, treating them as visual metaphors or probes into the new reality dominated by electronic media:

–          it considers the relations between the senses and sensuality in Blade Runner, the visually-tactile character of the film, and the status of replicants as humanity’s new clothes;

–          it analyzes the mixture of Eastern and Western aesthetics in Star Wars, analyzing Darth Vader as a combination of the literate and the tribal mindset;

–          it discusses the failure of visual society presented in the Terminator and Alien franchises, the rekindling of horror vacui, tribalism, and the desire to obliterate the past as a result of the simultaneity of the acoustic space;

–          finally, the book discusses the Matrix trilogy and Avatar as being deeply related in terms of the growing importance of tactility, easternization, tribalization, as well as connectivity and the implosion of human civilization.

Table of contents (5 chapters)

  • Clothes Make the Man—The Relation Between the Sensual and the Sexual in Blade Runner (1982)  –  Skweres, Artur  –  Pages 1-14
  • Star Wars as an Aesthetic Melting Pot  –  Skweres, Artur  –  Pages 15-45
  • Horror Vacui and the Critique of Visual Society in Alien and Terminator Films  –  Skweres, Artur  –  Pages 47-72

  • The Digital Natives and the Implosion of Humanity in The Matrix and Avatar  –  Skweres, Artur  –  Pages 73-99

  • Conclusion  –  Skweres, Artur  –  Pages 101-103

Artur Skweres, PhD is an Assistant Professor at the English Department of the Faculty of Pedagogy and Fine Arts, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland. His academic interests include American culture (especially literature and film), as well as theories of comedy and humor. In 2012 he published his first book, entitled Searching for Truth and Freedom: Philip K. Dick’s Works in Light of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Thought, followed by a monograph on the play principle in comedy, titled Homo Ludens as a Comic Character in Selected American Films (2017).

Marshall McLuhan

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse (1903)

On the Narcosis of Narcissus

By Christopher S. Morrissey  –  June 13, 2019

He could not go.
He wanted neither to eat nor to sleep.
Only to lie there — eyes insatiably
Gazing into the eyes that were no eyes.
This is how his own eyes destroyed him.
— Ted Hughes, “Narcissus”

Unknowingly he desires himself, and
the one who praises is himself praised, and,
while he courts, is courted,
so that, equally, he inflames and burns.
How often he gave his lips in vain to the deceptive pool,
how often, trying to embrace the neck he could see,
he plunged his arms into the water,
but could not catch himself within them!
What he has seen he does not understand,
but what he sees he is on fire for, and
the same error both seduces and deceives his eyes.
— Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book III, trans. A.S. Kline

In Chapter 4 of Understanding Media (1964), “The Gadget Lover: Narcissus as Narcosis,” Marshall McLuhan describes how technological innovations furnish us with extensions of our own selves, even though we do not realize it. McLuhan notes that narcosis is a Greek word that means “numbness.” Narcissus was so numbed by the image of himself reflected on the water that he did not realize that he was looking at himself. The same is true of us when we use our hi-tech gadgets.

It has become a cliché to say that people who take selfies are “narcissistic.” But perhaps McLuhan can help us redeem this cliché. The sort of Narcissus-narcosis that we experience when we take selfies with our smartphone cameras is significant not so much because it is evidence of vanity. It may very well be. But it need not be. In fact, the number of people taking selfies is so large that it is probably too crude and reductionistic to say that they are all “narcissistic,” as if they are all excessively vain. Rather, it is more accurate to say that everyone with a smartphone is narcissistic in McLuhan’s sense: They are so numb that they do not realize these smartphones are extensions of their own selves. We are all Narcissus now.

That is because it would be a mistake to think that these devices are mere tools, which can be used and not used at will. Rather, they have now become part of our own selves, and to discard them would be a form of total suicide. Therefore, we should turn our attention to our induced numbness instead. How is it that we have become so numb that we do not realize that these gadgets are extensions of our own bodily powers? Like Narcissus, how is that we fail to realize they have become an indivisible part of us? Moreover, they have even become part of us in ways we fail to realize. Our dependence is greater than we imagine.

“With the arrival of electric technology,” writes McLuhan, “man extended, or set outside himself, a live model of the central nervous system itself. To the degree that this is so, it is a development that suggests a desperate and suicidal autoamputation, as if the central nervous system could no longer depend on the physical organs to be protective buffers against the slings and arrows of outrageous mechanism.”

In other words, “autoamputation” is a kind of survival mechanism, by which the body tries to cope with the technological change currently transforming the environment. But the form this attempt at survival takes is the construction of idols. In fact, any use of technology is likened by McLuhan to the beholding of idols. On this point, he quotes Psalm 115, in order to suggest how humans can come to conform themselves to the idols that they behold…
Read the rest at

Christopher S. Morrissey is a Fellow of the Adler-Aquinas Institute and lectures in logic and philosophy at Trinity Western University in Canada. He is also the managing editor of The American Journal of Semiotics and author of “Hesiod: Theogony / Works and Days” (Talonbooks, 2012).

Narcissus by Caravaggio

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is a 2018 interactive film in the science fiction anthology series Black Mirror. It was written by series creator Charlie Brooker and directed by David SladeNetflix released the standalone film on 28 December 2018. In Bandersnatch, viewers make decisions for the main character, the young programmer Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) who is adapting a fantasy choose-your-own-adventure novel into a video game in 1984.
See Wikipedia for additional explanation:

Bandersnatch… McLuhan was right. Again.

 January 5, 2019  –  By Siobhan Oflynn

Having spent about two hours playing through Netflix’ Bandersnatch, what I found really interesting was the hand-holding, what that said about the presumed audience, and how that telegraphed a set of mental model references to that ‘new’ audience for interactive on a Netflix platform.

McLuhan’s argument also seems relevant – that the content of any new medium will be that of an established medium until it develops its own aesthetic language.

“The instance of the electric light may prove illuminating in this connection. The electric light is pure information. It is a medium without a message, as it were, unless it is used to spell out some verbal ad or name. This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the “content” of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph.” – Marshall McLuhan. “The Medium is the Message.”

So, no surprise here, initially evoking very clear familiar genres / plot arcs & characters to ease you in. Granted interactive cinema has been around for decades (Bandersnatch solved a bunch of tech challenges we had mid-2000s with Late Fragment), however, my guess is this will be novel to millions on Netflix who get the gamer references (don’t necessarily have to be gamers) and those who will find the progression from intro cues to meta-references engaging.

AND – last thought – Bandersnatch is an experiment generating a massive amount of organic viewer / player behaviour data. What you choose, how long you play, whether you return to it, etc etc. All that user data will feed decisions as to what to do next. It’s a calling card for Netflix & for interactive producers. Does Netflix have a Director of Interactive? Who do you pitch to? I’m guessing there’s an online scramble to figure that out right now.

Read the full article at

Click on the image to enlarge for an expanded view.

Designer Scott Boms recently donated designer Quentin Fiore’shand-annotated mechanical (in publishing, a mechanical is like a prototype for the book) of Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage to Letterform Archive in San Francisco and let us all have a look:

“I acquired this after the passing of Marshall’s wife Corinne as we were cleaning out the McLuhan home in Wychwood Park in Toronto. It was stuffed in a cardboard box in the basement and long forgotten…. The story goes that Marshall made barely any edits to Fiore and Agel‘a proposal, including the typo in the name of the book itself, though there are a handful of written annotations through this mechanical”.

Designer Kelli Anderson posted a video on her Instagram stories of Boms flipping through:

Kelli added a bit more background to the famous story about the title (from the McLuhan estate’s website):

“Why is the title of the book The Medium is the Massage and not The Medium is the Message? The title is a mistake. After the book came back from the typesetter’s, it had on the cover ‘Massage’. The title was supposed to read The Medium is the Message, but the typesetter made an error. After McLuhan saw the typo, he exclaimed, ‘Leave it alone! It’s great, and right on target!’ Thus, there are four readings for the last word of the title, all of them accurate: Message and Mess Age, Massage and Mass Age.”

(As the Oblique Strategies tell us: “Honor thy error as a hidden intention.”)

Read the rest at:

The Medium is the Massage original cover (1967)