“The electronic media haven’t wiped out the book: it’s read, used, and wanted, perhaps more than ever. But the role of the book has changed. It’s no longer alone. It no longer has sole charge of our outlook, nor of our sensibilities.” As familiar as those words may sound, they don’t come from one of the think pieces on the changing media landscape now published each and every day. They come from the mouth of mid-century CBC television host John O’Leary, introducing an interview with Marshall McLuhan more than half a century ago.

McLuhan, one of the most idiosyncratic and wide-ranging thinkers of the twentieth century, would go on to become world famous (to the point of making a cameo in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall) as a prophetic media theorist. He saw clearer than many how the introduction of mass media like radio and television had changed us, and spoke with more confidence than most about how the media to come would change us. He understood what he understood about these processes in no small part because he’d learned their history, going all the way back to the development of writing itself.

Writing, in McLuhan’s telling, changed the way we thought, which changed the way we organized our societies, which changed the way we perceived things, which changed the way we interact. All of that holds truer for the printing press, and even truer still for television. He told the story in his book The Gutenberg Galaxy, which he was working on at the time of this interview in May of 1960, and which would introduce the term “global village” to its readers, and which would crystallize much of what he talked about in this broadcast. Electronic media, in his view, “have made our world into a single unit.”

With this “continually sounding tribal drum” in place, “everybody gets the message all the time: a princess gets married in England, and ‘boom, boom, boom’ go the drums. We all hear about it. An earthquake in North Africa, a Hollywood star gets drunk, away go the drums again.” The consequence? “We’re re-tribalizing. Involuntarily, we’re getting rid of individualism.” Where “just as books and their private point of view are being replaced by the new media, so the concepts which underlie our actions, our social lives, are changing.” No longer concerned with “finding our own individual way,” we instead obsess over “what the group knows, feeling as it does, acting ‘with it,’ not apart from it.”

Though McLuhan died in 1980, long before the appearance of the modern internet, many of his readers have seen recent technological developments validate his notion of the global village — and his view of its perils as well as its benefits — more and more with time. At this point in history, mankind can seem less united than ever than ever, possibly because technology now allows us to join any number of global “tribes.” But don’t we feel more pressure than ever to know just what those tribes know and feel just what they feel?

No wonder so many of those pieces that cross our news feeds today still reference McLuhan and his predictions. Just this past weekend, Quartz’s Lila MacLellan did so in arguing that our media, “while global in reach, has come to be essentially controlled by businesses that use data and cognitive science to keep us spellbound and loyal based on our own tastes, fueling the relentless rise of hyper-personalization” as “deep-learning powered services promise to become even better custom-content tailors, limiting what individuals and groups are exposed to even as the universe of products and sources of information expands.” Long live the individual, the individual is dead: step back, and it all looks like one of those contradictions McLuhan could have delivered as a resonant sound bite indeed. (Source: https://goo.gl/3TteV6 )


About the author of this article: Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog.

Douglas Coupland on Marshall McLuhan, based on his biography Marshall McLuhan (2009), published in Penguin Books Canada’s Extraordinary Canadians short biographies series is scheduled for transmission on CBC TV on Friday, July 28 at 8:30 PM with a repeat on August 25 at 8:30 PM (but check scheduling on the latter to be sure). As far as I know, this will be viewable on the CBC network across Canada as well as adjoining border states in the USA. Coupland’s somewhat controversial biography was published in the USA under the title Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!

About the Extraordinary Canadians TV Series

An innovative series of portraits pairing Canada’s most distinguished writers with great Canadians who have shaped our thinking. Based on Penguin Canada’s Extraordinary Canadians collection, the series provides deeply personal takes on the lives of eminent Canadians from the perspective of celebrated contemporary writers.

Unique among television biography series, Extraordinary Canadians captures the relationship between writer and subject, and probes the distinctive link between the two. As each writer chronicles the life of a Canadian from whom they have drawn inspiration, we are treated to insights into the lives of both biographer and subject. (https://goo.gl/wfhZeY where a short trailer for the series can be seen)

Marshall McLuhan / Douglas Coupland

Marshall McLuhan

Prophet and leading philosopher of the electronic age Marshall McLuhan was born in Edmonton in 1911. He studied English at the University of Manitoba and at Cambridge before becoming a professor himself, positioning himself as a star academic, writer and speaker at the University of Toronto, where he remained until 1979. McLuhan pondered the nature of the electronic world and was the first to discuss the relationship between humans and the media – computers, televisions, radios and advertisements – that surround us. In fact it was McLuhan who coined the term ‘media’. He published several books, his most widely-read study being Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), where he proposed that the media themselves, not the content, should be the focus of intellectual attention – a thought which prompted the famous McLuhan phrase: the medium is the message. Decades ahead of his time, McLuhan’s numerous analyses of media and their effects are still pertinent today, particularly as we become increasingly engulfed by the digital age.

Douglas Coupland

In many ways a successor to McLuhan and his message, Vancouver author and visual artist Douglas Coupland explores the cultural changes brought on by new technology, in particular the growing separation between religious and secular ideals, the effects of the super-saturation of media, and the younger generations’ increasing resistance to grow up. Born on a Canadian military base in Germany in 1961 and raised in West Vancouver, Coupland briefly studied physics at McGill before returning to British Columbia to study sculpture and design at the Emily Carr School of Design, and later in Japan, Milan and Hawaii. His first novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (1991), not only created the terms ‘Generation X’ and ‘McJob’, it also received wide critical praise for capturing the spirit of his time. Coupland has since followed up with nine novels, several non-fiction books, and wrote a television series for CBC based on his 2006 darkly comic novel JPod, which aired on the network in early 2008. ( https://goo.gl/4ws7xw )

(Click on the image to expand the view and start the animation)

For journalism students at New York’s Fordham University, the shadow of Marshall McLuhan looms large. A media theorist and digital visionary, McLuhan taught at Fordham during its 1967-68 academic year, overseeing an alternative curriculum of lectures, film screenings, and independent study. His philosophies still inform the school’s journalism program, and why wouldn’t they? McLuhan effectively predicted the internet 35 years before it was a thing.

On July 21 Google honored what would have been McLuhan’s 106th birthday with a Doodle highlighting his ideas about the evolution of media. During McLuhan’s heyday, those ideas could be hard to grasp: “There were times when I couldn’t understand a word he said,” recalled Anthony Perrotto (Fordham class of ’69) during a 2011 luncheon that brought together a group of McLuhan’s former students to recognize what would have been his 100th year (McLuhan died in 1980). Still, history has proven McLuhan eerily prescient: He predicted an age characterized by people forming communities through technology (dubbed the “global village”) and posited that the method of communication would become more influential than the information itself (“the medium is the message”).

It was Fordham’s emphasis on McLuhan that actually fostered my own love of digital media (“You found out where journalism is going,” a ’56 alum told me when I won a scholarship in 2006. “This new medium of the internet.”) Ever the faithful alumnus, I reached out to Paul Levinson, professor of communication and media studies at Fordham, and author of dozens of books and articles on McLuhan, including Digital McLuhan and McLuhan in an Age of Social Media. I asked Levinson to break down Google’s Doodle, which he says “captures McLuhan’s thinking about the evolution of media perfectly,” frame by frame:

“Frame 1 shows the origin of humanity, communicating around the fire in prehistoric times, by the only medium available at that time: speech. Word of mouth was and continues to be our most fundamental mode of discourse. McLuhan referred to this as the ‘acoustic mode.'”

“Frame 2 shows a civilization-making game change: writing. With the written word, ideas of any kind can be communicated without the creator of the ideas present. You can even communicate about things that have no physical existence—abstractions, such as freedom and love. Democracy, science, and of course written history all owe their origins to the written word. McLuhan called this the ‘visual mode.’”

Frame 3 shows the height of written civilization: the invention of the automobile, produced on the assembly line. In this part of our history, both speech and writing were enhanced by transportation. McLuhan looked at transportation as, in effect, another kind of communication, or an amplifier of media. In the case of the car, its interchangeable parts were the physical equivalent of the visual letters of the alphabet, and the way they can be put together to make different words.

“Figure 4 of course shows television. McLuhan correctly pointed out that, although we watch television, it’s actually an acoustic medium more than a visual medium. Everyone who watches the same channel on television sees the same thing at the same time, just as is the case when everyone listens to one person talking. This is unlike the written word in a book or even in a newspaper, which is read at different times by each person reading. When McLuhan said electronic media are turning the world into a global village, he was referring to everyone watching the same thing on television at the same time, just as people who are gathered around a speaker in the village square would all hear the speaker at the same time.

“And finally, Figures 5 and 6 should be taken as a couplet: McLuhan’s  

global village was not only about television but, presciently, about the internet. The television global village was actually incomplete in two ways: It was national, not global (there was no international television in the 1960s when McLuhan came up with this term) – [Editorial comment: The first international satellite TV transmission happened in 1967 (see “Our World – The World’s First Ever Live Satellite TV Broadcast (1967) Included The Beatles & Marshall McLuhan” on this blog at https://goo.gl/qzXHQF ) – and the communication was one-way—unlike a village, in which everyone can be both a sender and a receiver of information, the television audience can only receive information. But the internet has changed all of that: It was truly global, and anyone on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat can just as easily create and send content as receive it. The people at Google are keenly aware that McLuhan foresaw their very existence, which is why they devoted this day to bringing word of his thinking to the world at large via this Doodle.” (Source: https://goo.gl/Eaakgo)

(Note about the last 2 links: If you want to access the sites they lead to you will have to copy-and-paste them to a new window.)

 Paul Levinson

Herbert Marshall McLuhan is famed for having one of the most poignant predictions of the 20th century. The philosopher and intellectual foresaw the birth of the internet 35 years before it happened. 

On the day that would have been McLuhan’s 106th birthday [July 21, 2017] he is being honoured with a Google Doodle. This is a graphic image of the McLuhan Golden Doodle followed by the text that will accompany it on Google’s search page, being posted just after midnight on July 20, 2017. Go to Google Search after midnight tonight for a look.

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One of the most charismatic, controversial and original thinkers of our time whose remarkable perception propelled him onto the international stage, Marshall McLuhan is universally regarded as the father of communications and media studies and prophet of the information age.

Marshall McLuhan’s 106th Birthday

Long before we started looking to our screens for all the answers, Marshall McLuhan saw the internet coming – and predicted just how impactful it would be. A Canadian philosopher and professor who specialized in media theory, McLuhan came to prominence in the 1960s, right as TV was becoming part of people’s everyday lives. At the center of his thinking was the idea that technology and the way information is shared are what ultimately shape a society.

Today’s Doodle, which celebrates the visionary’s 106th birthday, illustrates this theory by showing how McLuhan viewed human history. He saw it through the lens of 4 distinct eras: the acoustic age, the literary age, the print age, and the electronic age. His first major book, The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), explored the advent of the printing press and popularized the term “global village,” representing the idea that technology brings people together and allows everyone the same access to information.

In Understanding Media (1964), he further examined the transformative effects of technology and coined his famous phrase, “The medium is the message.” He believed that the way in which someone receives information is more influential than the information itself. Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, McLuhan amassed both followers and skeptics, making frequent TV appearances to speak about his theories.

Now, decades later, we honor the man whose prophetic vision of the “computer as a research and communication instrument” has undeniably become a reality.

Who was Marshall McLuhan?   (By Telegraph Reporters)

Born in Canada in 1911, McLuhan studied at the University of Manitoba and University of Cambridge before becoming a lecturer at the University of Toronto. He rose to prominence in the 1960s for his work as a media theorist and for coining the term “global village”, which was a prescient vision of the internet age.

His theories were met with controversy in academic circles throughout the 1970s and after his death in 1980. Then in 1989, the internet was born, and McLuhan was looked upon with renewed interest.

How did McLuhan predict the internet age?

McLuhan’s preeminent theory was his idea that human history could be divided into four eras: the acoustic age, the literary age, the print age and the electronic age. He outlined the concept in a 1962 book called The Gutenberg Galaxy, which was released just as the television was starting to become popular.

He predicted the world was entering the fourth, electronic age, which would be characterised by a community of people brought together by technology.

He called it the “global village” and said it would be an age when everyone had access to the same information through technology. The “global village” could be understood to be the internet.

In his follow-up book, Understanding Media, he expanded the theory to show the method of communication rather than the information itself would come to be the most influential fact of the electronic age.

He soon became a TV personality, making regular appearances to explain his theory of why “the medium is the message”.

He became the most publicised English teacher of the 20th century, a prestige that only grew with the realisation of his vision of the “computer as a research and communication instrument”. 

In the 21st century people have a world of information at their finger tips on smartphones, tablets and laptops. The internet has facilitated a breaking down of global barriers and the democratisation of knowledge.

McLuhan’s predictions caused a frenzy in the US, with high profile magazines and authors rallying around him. He was the subject of a Tom Wolfe article titled “What if he is right?” that was published in New York Magazine. 

His theory influenced the likes of French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister’s father, and artist Andy Warhol.

Source: https://goo.gl/LAHYN8. See also The history of | The Google Doodle directly below the article.

Guest editors: Phil Rose (Canada), Varvara Chumakova (Russia)
— Deadline September 4th —

This year marks 50 years since the publication of Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore’s book The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (1967), which sought to popularize McLuhan’s central theses about the environmental changes that new media help to bring about. In Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), McLuhan originally proposed the formula “the medium is the message“, but the error that appeared in the former book’s title became a catalyst for considerable discussion within media studies. This formula has been interpreted in different ways, but it primarily highlights that the very form of communication influences certain patterns of reality construction encoded within the message itself: that is, the form and content of communication are inextricably linked. The medium as “massage“, however, indicates that media have direct effects on their users as well. Other variants of this formula have appeared. “The medium is the mass age” and “the medium is the mess age” refer us not only to the problems of mass culture, which flourished in the middle of the 20th century; but also to various criticisms of this development, including the cultural problems associated with symbol drain and information overload. “Mess“, after all, is a sort of rubbish, clutter, or disorder.

The formula proposed by McLuhan has become a cliché, which various authors fill with their own meaning. Neil Postman, for example, in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985), proposed the formula “the medium is the metaphor“. For Postman, specialist in linguistics, general semantics, and the philosophy of symbolic form, the information environment’s signs and symbols were of paramount interest, and akin to the Lothmannian semiosphere. Postman’s student, Lance Strate, in turn, suggested in an essay of the same name that “the medium is the memory“, developing the idea that archival media expand our collective memory, as well as the ability to have vivid ideas about historical events and our own past. A recent article in the journal Computers and Society appeared with the same formula in its title, and Paul Grosswiler’s The Method is the Message (1998) should also come to mind. Undoubtedly, McLuhan’s formula continues to allow us to talk about modern culture and, accordingly, Lev Manovich, in his article for the 2014 special issue of Visual Culture dedicated to the 50th anniversary of McLuhan’s Understanding Media, proposed the formula “the software is the message“, in order to accentuate how software now participates in the reality construction of technology users.

In this regard, the editors invite submissions that speculate about the modern digital environment, using the formula “the medium is the message” and its variations. We propose to think about:
– How this formula is implemented today in its classical form or already existing variations
– How this formula is presently changing in connection with the changes that have occurred within the digital environment.

Articles of 4000-8000 words (20,000-40,000 characters) will be accepted in both Russian and English. “Communications. Media. Design” follows the rules and guidelines of Scopus and Web of Science. All articles will be subject to double blind peer review.

Deadline September 4th 
Send submissions to executive secretary of the journal Julia Chernenko juchernenko@hse.ru with the indication in the subject line “McLuhan2017“.

”The Medium is the Message’ – now available in/on stone tablet, clay tablet, wax tablet, papyrus, paperback, hardback, audiotape, video, CD, DVD, ipad, iphone, android and also as a whole body tattoo.’

Media Ecology: An Approach to Understanding the Human Condition provides a long-awaited and much-anticipated introduction to media ecology, a field of inquiry defined as the study of media as environments. Lance Strate presents a clear and concise explanation of an intellectual tradition concerned with much more than understanding media, but rather with understanding the conditions that shape us as human beings, drive human history, and determine the prospects for our survival as a species.

Much more than a summary, this book represents a new synthesis that moves the field forward in a manner that is both unique and unprecedented, and simultaneously grounded in an unparalleled grasp of media ecology’s intellectual foundations and its relation to other disciplines. Taking as its subject matter “life, the universe, and everything,” Strate describes the field as interdisciplinary and communication-centered, provides a detailed explication of McLuhan’s famous aphorism, “the medium is the message,” and explains that the human condition can only be understood in the context of our biophysical, technological, and symbolic environments.

Strate provides an in-depth examination of media ecology’s four key terms: medium, which is defined in much broader terms than in other fields; bias, which refers to tendencies inherent in materials and methods; effects, which are best understood via the Aristotelian notion of formal causality and contemporary systems theory; and environment, which includes the distinctions between the oral, chirographic, typographic, and electronic media environments. A chapter on tools serves as a guide to further media ecological research and scholarship. This book is well suited for graduate and undergraduate courses on communication theory and philosophy.

Publisher: Peter Lang   –   ISBN-13: 978-1433131219   –   ISBN-10: 1433131218

Peter Lang Listing: https://goo.gl/SWgFMm

Advance Reviews:

“Lance Strate’s synthetic thinking in «Media Ecology: An Approach to Understanding the Human Condition» opens up media ecology, allowing the reader to see how, as a field of inquiry, it applies to everything from language, media, and philosophy to our very understanding of what it means to be human living in a dynamic environment. Along the way Strate shows how media ecology connects with all the major approaches to communication study.”Paul Soukup, Professor and Chair, Department of Communication, Santa Clara University

“Lance Strate asks big questions―and provides a myriad of perceptive answers. This book is at once playful, poetic, and precise. The clear writing about complex ideas is a pleasure to read and offers many gifts of understanding.”Joshua Meyrowitz, University of New Hampshire

“With characteristic passion and soulfulness, Lance Strate embarks on a metatask: to synthesize thinking about ‘life, the universe and everything’ through the lens of media ecology. In the process, he locates media ecology as the dynamic shift between figure and ground and as the basis for ‘understanding the human condition.’ Writing with an almost disarming ease that belies the complexity of the ideas he communicates, Strate brilliantly and reflexively mediates media ecology itself, bringing clarity to the Kekulé-like conundrums of an immense and increasingly relevant field. Anyone who thoughtfully enters and engages the environment of Strate’s book will be rewarded with moments of profound clarity, connecting ideas typically viewed as disparate or oppositional into patterns of deep understanding about media ecology―and about the process of living.”Julianne H. Newton, Professor of Visual Communication, University of Oregon

About Lance Strate: He is a Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University and Villanova University’s 2015 Harron Family Chair in Communication. He is President of the New York Society for General Semantics, Trustee and former Executive Director of the Institute of General Semantics, Past President of the New York State Communication Association, and a founder and Past President of the Media Ecology Association. Dr. Strate is the author of Echoes and ReflectionsOn the Binding Biases of TimeAmazing Ourselves to Death: Neil Postman’s Brave New World Revisited, and Thunder at Darwin Station. He is a recipient of the MEA’s Walter Ong Award for Career Achievement in Scholarship.

A McLuhan Monday Night Seminar in 1973

In the Garden with the Guru

Adventures with Marshall McLuhan

By Bob Rodgers   –   January-February 2008

A six-foot-high hedge separated me from the garden next door but not from its voices. It was my first Sunday morning in the house I sublet on Wells Hill Avenue by Casa Loma in Toronto. I couldn’t make out what was being said but one of the voices sounded familiar. I moved closer and parted the hedge just enough for a covert glimpse of my new neighbours. A middle-aged man was lying on his back in a hammock with a book held up vertically above his head as he read aloud. Next to him a young man sat in a deck chair with a book on his lap. The young man said: “Vico’s cycles.” The older man said: “Vicious Circles.” “Viscous cyclones,“ said the young man. I was awestruck. My God, I thought, I must be the only person in the world at this moment listening to what looks like a tag team reading Finnegans Wake. Later I learned I had been witness to a regular occurrence. Eric McLuhan and his father, Marshall, were reading at each other.

I was a teaching fellow completing my graduate degree in English at the University of Toronto. A few weeks after my eavesdropping in the back garden, I found myself entering my new neighbour’s house by the front door for McLuhan’s informal (not-for-credit) Monday night seminar on communications, where I joined two dozen others crammed into the far from capacious front room of the family home. McLuhan’s kids, ranging from 15 on down, kept popping up and disappearing like a colony of gophers. We didn’t look to me much like a graduate seminar.

McLuhan, a stringy but handsome man at six foot two, with a literary moustache, could also have passed for a movie cowboy. He invited us to introduce ourselves. Anthropologist Ted Carpenter, notorious advocate of deinstitutionalized education and a long time cohort of McLuhan, muttered his name and gave a folksy wave. Three beatniks made no response. A sallow young man wearing a guitar gave a drowsy nod. A man in long short pants with knee socks who looked like an Eagle Scout, gave a perky salute and announced he was seeking transformation. Wilfred Watson, the poet and academic, was there, and his wife, Sheila Watson, author of The Double Hook. A dapper little man from an advertising firm reported he had come because he was looking for a fresh idea. A well-known announcer, Stanley Burke, who read the TV news on CBC, was there; also a professional magician wearing a cape, a dark-haired, bespangled fortune teller, an Inuit carver from Igloolik and a popular wrestler called Whipper Billy Watson. I and two others like me wore tweed jackets and ties, the standard garb of graduate students at the time.

McLuhan opened with a riff about movies. “Film is high-definition pictures. You don’t have to fill in the blanks, so you’re detached and can think critically. Radio, telephone—they give you less to go on, and you have to fill out the message with your own story. But they’re still relatively hot. At the far end of the gamut is TV. It’s cool, low definition; you get completely absorbed in processing the bombardment of dots, hypnotized. It’s also non-sequential, like newspapers. Movies flow narratively, sequentially, the way we see. TV throws everything at us holus-bolus like sound. We can see only one thing at a time, but we can hear many things at once, even around corners. That’s why film is an eye medium and TV an ear medium.”

Looking around I noticed eyes widening and perplexity come over some of the faces. What surprised me was that many of the faces glowed with excitement, and I too felt I was hearing something fresh and challenging. Before anyone could butt in too much, McLuhan went on to talk about tools. Fragments of ideas drifted over us like flakes of an early snowfall.

The phonetic alphabet fell like a bombshell on tribal man. The printing press hit him like a hydrogen bomb. Now we’ve been blitzkreiged by TV.

The horseless buggy was the only way people could describe the automobile. Families whose wealth was based on carriages and buggy whips soon went bankrupt. Horsepower moved from animals into cars.

The wheel extends the foot in an automobile. In this way the wheel amplifies the power and speed of the foot, but at the same time it amputates. In the act of pressing the gas peddle, the foot becomes so specialized it no longer performs its original function, which is to walk.

If the wheel is an extension of the foot, then money is an extension of muscle, radio an amplification of the human voice, and the hydrogen bomb an outgrowth of teeth and fingernails.

Why should the sending or receiving of a telegram seem more dramatic than even the ringing of a telephone?

What do you think Hitler meant when he said: “I go my way with the assurance of a sleepwalker?”


This is a much longer Literary Review of Canada essay about Marshall McLuhan and the University of Toronto in the late 1960s. Follow this link to read the rest https://goo.gl/4gE2Zo 

About Bob Rodgers: Bob Rodgers taught English at McGill and the University of Toronto before moving into film and television. As executive producer at the U of T Media Centre he wrote, produced, and/or directed more than 100 educational programs, among them a 30 part series: “The Bible and Literature, a Personal View by Northrop Frye”. Later as a freelance filmmaker, he made documentaries for the NFB (“Fiddlers of James Bay”) and the CBC National Network (“NWT: One-third of Canada”). In 2001 Bob self-published a short story collection, “Secrets From Home”. He has since written two novels: “Hot Ice”, about diamonds, ecology, and caribou in NWT; and “The Devil’s Party”, his take on the 1960s among the fledgling literati of the counter-culture.

Bob Rodgers later incorporated this personal account of attending a McLuhan Monday Night Seminar into a fictionalized account of student life in Toronto in the 1960s titled The Devil’s Party: Who Killed the Sixties? Read a description of the book here https://goo.gl/r3Y2qB

ADDENDUM: Bob Rodgers passed away on January 15, 2017. His Globe & Mail Obituary can be found at https://goo.gl/9Qmheh . “We are such stuff/ As dreams are made on, and our little life/ Is rounded with a sleep”. RIP

A Visualization of the Internet

There has been a recent discussion on the MEA Page on Facebook about the authenticity of a quotation attributed to Marshall McLuhan in a 2013 article that was posted there by yours truly titled Marshall McLuhan Predicted the Internet. The author of that article, one Shane Ingram, wrote: “… it was in his ability to predict our current condition with regards to media convergence and the internet that has seen Mccluhan’s [sic] thoughts and theories remain so relevant and still essential reading.” Ingram then produced the following quotation attributed to Marshall McLuhan, which is not unfamiliar to readers sourcing McLuhan-related articles on the Internet, stating that it had first appeared in 1962:

“The next medium, whatever it is – it may be the extension of consciousness – will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organisation, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip it into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind”. (See the full article at https://goo.gl/n2FfY8 )

A vigorous objection was raised in the Facebook Group and a posting online on Medium.com, where the offending article had been published in 2013. That objection mentioned the inaccuracy of the quote, questioned its authenticity and insisted that the quote does not appear in The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), as had been cited. I could agree with that, as I had checked. The published article of objection was titled Marshall McLuhan Predicted the Internet in 1962. [Actually, no, he didn’t]. See https://goo.gl/ZVCzKV .

But the assertion that Marshall McLuhan did not predict the Internet is not supported by the evidence presented in the objecting critical posting. The quotation as it stands and has had abundant circulation online is in reality comprised of two legitimate McLuhan quotations, neither of which were published in 1962, that have been extracted from two different sources and connected by someone – in other words, a textual mashup. Though the quote has not achieved viral or meme status, it has been republished in other online articles, that sometimes attribute it as a quote from The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962). The first sentence of the quote is from a journal article written by McLuhan in 1967 and the second sentence appeared in a book written by Bruce Powers and McLuhan published in 1989, posthumously for the latter. The two separate quotes with source attributions are as follows:

“The next medium, whatever it is — it may be the extension of consciousness — will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form.” – Marshall McLuhan, “The Invisible Environment: The Future of an Erosion.” Perspecta, Vol. 11 (1967) pp. 162–167. Published by MIT Press.

“A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.” – From a 1978 dialogue between Marshall McLuhan and Bruce Powers titled “Angels to Robots: From Euclidean Space to Einsteinian Space, in The  Global Village’ (1989) by Marshall McLuhan and Bruce Powers, p. 143.

(Thanks to Paolo Granata and Amanda Sevilla for locating the correct sources of these two quotes and to Andrew McLuhan for seeking the provenance of the questionable quote.)

The assertion that Marshall McLuhan predicted the Internet is demonstrable from other valid McLuhan works in which he envisions an Internet-like technology that will act as a collective global consciousness, even though the specific technological details he offers are not correct. McLuhan was likely influenced in his thinking by the work of Teilhard de Chardin and his concept of “noosphere” (See https://goo.gl/6Xsxpf ). Even a visionary thinker can only go so far in trying to describe future technologies.

I will offer here two additional quotes from McLuhan that support the assertion that he predicted the Internet, noting that there are other quotes that could be used. The first quote is from his most important book, Understanding Media (1964)

  1. “Our new electric technology that extends our senses and nerves in a global embrace has large implications for the future of language. Electric technology does not need words any more than the digital computer needs numbers. Electricity points the way to an extension of the process of consciousness itself, on a world scale, and without any verbalization whatever. Such a state of collective awareness may have been the preverbal condition of men. Language as the technology of human extension, whose powers of division and separation we know so well, may have been the “Tower of Babel” by which men sought to scale the highest heavens. Today computers hold out the promise of a means of instant translation of any code or language into any other code or language. The computer, in short, promises by technology a Pentecostal condition of universal understanding and unity. The next logical step would seem to be, not to translate, but to by-pass languages in favor of a general cosmic consciousness which might be very like the collective unconscious dreamt of by Bergson. The condition of “weightlessness,” that biologists say promises a physical immortality, may be paralleled by the condition of speechlessness that could confer a perpetuity of collective harmony and peace.”Understanding Media (1964), p. 80, MIT Press ed.
  2. The second quote is from a CBC TV interview by the journalist Robert Fulford that was televised on Canadian television on May 8, 1966, the text of which is available in Understanding Me: Lectures & Interviews (2003), edited by Stephanie McLuhan and David Staines:

“Instead of going out and buying a packaged book of which there have been five thousand copies printed, you will go to the telephone, describe your interests, your needs, your problems, and say you’re working on a history of Egyptian arithmetic … they say it will be right over. And they at once Xerox, with the help of computers from the libraries of the world, all the latest material just for you personally, not as something to be put out on a bookshelf. They send you the package as a direct personal service. This is where we’re heading under electronic information conditions.” (p. 101)  

A segment of that 1966 televised interview is available online as a video under the title Predicting Interactive Communication via the Internet in the McLuhan Speaks section of the Official Marshall McLuhan website hosted by the McLuhan Estate, as well as on YouTube. The link for the Estate site is https://goo.gl/ABtYfx . The specifics of the technology as described by McLuhan are wrong but his vision of the services offered by the future Internet are in broad strokes accurate.

Surely the conclusion must be that Marshall McLuhan did indeed predict the Internet, which, though inaccurate in the specifics of McLuhan’s predictions, nevertheless resembles what the Internet has become in its effects and functions.

Depiction of the Noosphere Surrounding the Earth

William Hugh Kenner (1923 – 2003)

William Hugh Kenner, literary critic (born 7 January 1923 in Peterborough, ON; died 24 November 2003 in Athens, Georgia). Hugh Kenner is regarded as one of the most important commentators on literary modernism and is especially known for his revival of the reputation of American poet Ezra Pound with his definitive 1971 critical biography, The Pound Era. Kenner attended high school at the Peterborough Collegiate Institute in Peterborough, Ontario, where his father, Dr. H.R.H. Kenner, taught Latin and Greek, and his mother, Mary Kenner, taught classics. He attributed his early love of reading and passion for literature to having suffered severe hearing loss as a result of childhood influenza. He received a BA and MA from the University of Toronto, where he studied with communications theorist Marshall McLuhan. His MA work on British writer G. K. Chesterton won him a Governor General’s Gold Medal Award. (Source: https://goo.gl/fCMzXj )

Kenner’s Wake
By Jeet HeerPublished 12/3/2003

TORONTO — Hugh Kenner, who died last week at age 80, began his career as a great literary critic in a characteristically eccentric way, by reading a book smuggled in by a priest and visiting a genius locked away in a madhouse. To understand why the book and the genius changed Kenner’s life we have to return to Kenner’s formative years, in the provincial backwater that was Canada in the 1940s.

From a young age, Hugh Kenner was equally interested in the arts and the sciences. As an undergraduate entering the University of Toronto in 1941 Kenner had to decide whether he wanted to major in mathematics and physics or literary studies. Literature won out over science but Kenner would remain blissfully free of the sniffy disdain for technology that so many cultured people confuse with humanism.

Canada was an inhospitable place for a budding scholar of modernism: the University of Toronto curriculum stopped dead-cold at 1850. More contemporary books were not only disdained, they were often forbidden by the government. At Canadas skittish border, novels by Balzac, Zola, D.H. Lawrence, and James Joyce were kept out of a country that feared anything foreign and new. One modern masterpiece Kenner did have access to was Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, tolerated because it was deemed incomprehensible.

Excited by Wake, Kenner discovered that Joyce’s Ulysses, otherwise verboten in Canada, could be found in the restricted access section of the University of Toronto library. However, in order to take a look at the illicit text, Kenner needed to secure two letters of reference: one from a religious authority and one from a medical doctor. Kenner knew a priest who could vouch for his morals, but, unfortunately, was not able to find an M.D. who could attest to the fact that reading Joyce would not be corrupting. Ultimately, Kenner had a family friend, a Jesuit priest, smuggle into Canada a copy of the greatest novel of the twentieth century.

Compared to the traditional literature, pre-1850 vintage, Joyce seemed wild and chaotic. A friend of the young Kenner argued that he shouldn’t expect to find coherence in modern culture, that you can only “just let it hit you.” This despairing notion haunted Kenner, raising what he called “the generic twentieth-century problem, discontinuity.” As Kenner notes in his book Bucky, reading Joyce and the other modernists forced him to wonder whether we “still have lines of communication open with Jefferson, Socrates, Christ? Or have we spot-welded about ourselves a world we can’t think about? Must you just let it hit you?”

Kenner was never willing to write off contemporary culture as beyond understanding and he soon found a mentor who shared his hope in finding an underlying order beneath the surface chaos of modern life and literature. Marshall McLuhan, later famous as a gnomic media guru, was then a young English professor interested in the parallels between literature and mass culture.

Sharing a fascination with technology and modern culture, McLuhan and Kenner became fast friends. In the warmth of their initial enthusiasm, they had planned to co-write several books, including studies of T.S. Eliot and the cartoonist Al Capp. (Kenner would write the Eliot book alone and the Capp project never came off, although Kenner eventually wrote a book on animation director Chuck Jones.)

Both Kenner and McLuhan felt that the great modernists should not be seen as representing a permanent break from the past. Rather, writers like Joyce and Eliot helped us re-connect with tradition, but re-energizing the stories found in Homer and Shakespeare for our times.

More than intellectual interests drew Kenner and McLuhan together. Both men were born Protestants but found religious solace in Catholicism. McLuhan converted in 1937 and Kenner would do the same in 1964 (although he had clearly been within the ambit of Catholicism for many years prior). As Catholics enthusiastic about modernist culture and even some forms of lowbrow popular entertainment, Kenner and McLuhan cut against the grain of their adopted faith.

After all, Roman Catholicism at that time still lived under the shadow of Pius IXs 1864 “Syllabus of Errors, which condemned the idea that “the Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself with progress, liberalism, and modern civilization. Kenner would lament the fact that “middlebrow Catholic intellectuals” of the early twentieth century “found a facile role in condemning modernity en bloc. Alienation from the whole century could be made to seem a Catholic English layman’s moral duty.” In their own work, Kenner and McLuhan heralded a newer and more confident Catholic mood of Vatican II, where the church sought to reconcile itself with modernity.

 Ezra Pound 1963

In June 1948, Kenner and McLuhan made a fateful trip to visit Ezra Pound, then incarcerated as a mental patient St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. After his wartime support for Mussolini and alleged descent into madness, Pounds personal and literary reputation was at a low. Yet Kenner found in Pounds company a sane genius. “Enthralled by the master, I resolved that if no one else would make the case for Ezra Pound as a poet, then I would,” Kenner once recalled.

With McLuhan as an intellectual ally and Pound as a poet needing a champion, the trajectory of Kenner’s career was set. Kenner would always remain a loyal Poundian: Kenner’s book The Pound Era (1971) is by far the best tribute that poet has received and a classic in twentieth-century literary criticism. By contrast, Kenner’s friendship with McLuhan would fray. Because Kenner was always a much more facile and readable writer than McLuhan, his early essays and books got a great deal of attention. Quite unfairly, McLuhan accused Kenner of stealing his ideas.

The reality was that McLuhan was at his best as an oral thinker, rather like Socrates, who developed his sharpest thoughts in conversation with bright students. Yet when McLuhan tried to transcribe his thoughts, the results were usually a mess, half-developed notions splattered all over the page. McLuhan needed Kenner to complete his thoughts and give them form. Plato had performed a similar function for Socrates.

Unlike McLuhan, Kenner was a phrasemaker: his best expository prose hummed and sparkled with wit. Its hard to quote a small passage from Kenner to give a feel for his work, since his greatest effects were in meaty paragraphs. But consider this tribute Kenner wrote to the literary tradition of the “stoic comedian”:

Flaubert, Joyce, and Beckett are their own greatest inventions, and the books they contrived, or had their contrivances contrive, record a century of intellectual history with intricate and moving fidelity: suffering our partner the machine to mechanize all that the hand can do yet remaining obstinately, gaily, living; courting a dead end but discovering how not to die.

Here, compactly, is the essential Kenner theme: that modernists incorporated the mechanical forces of contemporary life precisely to keep the humanist heritage alive.

Kenner’s genius was always in doing the unexpected: showing that Pounds poetry illustrated the principles of fractal math, arguing that Alexander Pope anticipated the techniques of Pop Art, demonstrating that Bugs Bunny cartoons gained their speed and energy from tight-fisted economic policies at the Warner Brothers Studio.

All of these are unlikely connections, yet Kenner made them real and convincing. He never simply accepted the world as it appeared, but always looked for deeper patterns that demonstrated coherence and order. Perhaps Kenner’s Catholic faith gave him confidence to carry out his inquiries, sure in the ultimate goodness of creation. Yet even if those of us who don’t share his faith can still cherish the beautiful patterns he uncovered.

Jeet Heer is a columnist for the National Post of Canada.

Recovered via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine https://goo.gl/UDSB63

Michael McLuhan’s Graduation Address to Students of Marshall McLuhan Secondary School, Toronto, June 28, 1017

Graduands, mentors, teachers and parents,

The epitaph on my father’s grave marker is a quote from the Gospel of John: “The truth shall set you free.”

Maybe so but as Sen. Murray Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, once said, “The truth will set you free but first it will piss you off.”

I would like to start by offering all of you a heartfelt apology. As you begin to make the change to adulthood, to being taxpayers, it occurs to me that we are gifting you with a world in much worse shape than when we were born. While it is true that in my lifetime Indigenous persons have been granted the vote and are now accepted as fellow humans (sort of) and that women have been granted greater equality and opportunity (sort of), income inequality has been growing at an alarming rate since the mid eighties. This, after it had been decreasing steadily since the thirties. This is what happens when you trust old white men to run the world. Sadly, I find myself categorically in their company.

That said, I want to ask you to remember that no matter what comes to dominate your lives, caring matters. Your caring counts. If members of my generation had not fought, putting their bodies as well as their hearts on the line, for racial equality and justice, for women to have control over their destinies, their bodies, the world would be a far different place.

Contrary to the current thought rampant in the halls of power, Greed is Not Good. It puzzles me why we are supposed to accept that terribly rich people will act in our best interests if we grant them power. Is there anything in their past behaviour that would lead us to believe they would? The widening gap in income between those that have the most and those who have the least demonstrates irrevocably that the ‘trickle down’ theory of economic redistribution does not work. Whereas, (and here I will spout some heresy) when the union movement was on the rise and expanding, in the period just post war through to the Reagan Era, the income gap was at its smallest. Social programs such as universal health care, subsidized post-secondary education, the forty-hour work week and minimum wage came into being. Income taxes went up to pay for these things. Yes! Taxes increased dramatically. However, in a well governed society, corporations pay their fair share and those with more, pay more to help make the system fairer and more equitable. Taxation should be an effective if inefficient means of more fairly distributing wealth. Pay your fair share with a smile on your face. It is a sign of how well you are doing. It is your responsibility as a Canadian.

Stephen Colbert has said “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

The eminent constitutional historian Dr. Peter Russell and author John Ralston Saul have both made a strong case that Canada has not just 2 founding cultures, French and English. They strongly posit that the Indigenous peoples who occupied the land for somewhere between 13,000 and 30,000 years before the devastating European incursion, are also foundational to the very nature of our ‘Canadian-ness”.

An Odawa elder friend recently pointed out to me that to resolve differences we can either resort to negotiation or violence. (By the way, the Odawa people gave their name to our nation’s capital.) Incredibly the British utilized negotiation as the preferred path in dealing with our First Peoples. They thought that in the long run it would be cheaper but they were also motivated by the fact that, at the time, they were severely outnumbered. So in Canada, Indigenous Peoples were marginalized through a treaty process, whereas in the states blatant slaughter was the preferred method. (Anecdotally Pierre Trudeau is famous for commenting to someone who had complimented Canada on its resolving of territorial issues through non-violent means, “Yes, it is true. Where you slaughtered your Indians, we chose to starve ours to death.” But that is another story.)

Back to our brief recounting, this initiative resulted in The Royal Proclamation of 1763  which established the British definition of Indian Country. On these lands the Crown claimed sovereignty but it also decreed that the land was to be considered in the possession of the Indigenous peoples who occupied them (Wikipedia). It is this Proclamation which firmly formalizes the Nation-to-Nation relationship between the Crown and Indigenous Nations. In order to transfer ownership of the land to the Crown, the indigenous occupants had to cede it formally by way of treaty. This proclamation has been referred to as the Canadian Magna Carta.

The entire Province of British Columbia was recently confirmed to be unceded in the Supreme Court. There is much more to this story than what I am recounting here and it would serve you to read up on it for it will affect your lives increasingly in coming years. Briefly put, it is this jurisdiction over ancestral lands that will frame much of the conversation around environmental stewardship and land use. There was the belief when many of these treaties were negotiated that the First Peoples concerned would be wiped from the earth within a few short decades. Indigenous communities have been on the rebound since the twenties. These treaties are law and must be honoured even as federal governments of both Liberal and Conservative stripe would hope otherwise.

Our people, and you and yours are included in this, have violated every treaty that was made with our original inhabitants, the spiritual custodians of this land. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has made three judgements against the current government’s chronic underfunding of education to First Nation’s children and four judgements against that same government’s withholding of funding for children’s health care. These are legally binding judgments. So far the Government of Justin Trudeau has spent almost three quarters of a million dollars fighting the tribunal in court. Across Canada First Nations children are being denied access to needed medical treatment. Those same children receive sixty cents for every dollar a non-indigenous child receives for education. Here, in this great nation, there are 89 reserves without potable drinking water. Ladies and gentlemen, these actions define systemic racism. They are a blot on our collective character and I charge you to care about this. For some of you here I hope it will become your life’s mission.

Because I am addressing a predominantly Catholic audience, you must expect that I would quote Pope Francis. Here it comes…

“Racism today is the ultimate evil in the world. When Italians, Spanish or French turn back the boats of African migrants seeking a life, are they not like the inn keeper who told Mary and Joseph that there was no room for them and the infant Christ? These migrants are children of God and we are commanded to love them!”

Pope Francis went on to say “those who would dare to turn immigrants away, be they legal or undocumented, turn their backs on Christ himself! A racist is not a true Christian. A racist casts aside his humanity to become a beast, a demon! He is the embodiment and personification of evil, a Satan!”

Another quote from Pope Francis:
“Because Muslims, Hindus and African Animists are also made in the very likeness and image of God, to hate them is to hate God! To reject them to is to reject God and the Gospel of Christ. Whether we worship at a church, a synagogue, a mosque or a mandir, it does not matter. Whether we call God, Jesus, Adonai, Allah or Krishna, we all worship the same God of love. This truth is self-evident to all who have love and humility in their hearts!”

This brings me to the subject of political leaders who fan the fires of racism and xenophobia for political gain. In 1979-80 a combination of Conservative and Liberal governments encouraged citizens to sponsor what became known as Vietnamese Boat People. About 70,000 refugees were welcomed and integrated into our communities. The family who was brought to Uxbridge where I lived then, moved to a larger Vietnamese community in Toronto within two years. Their children returned though! Two are pharmacists, one is a lawyer and two are optometrists. Their parents had been tailors in Vietnam. They are ethnic Chinese. Racism drove them out of their homeland. In Uxbridge they opened a medical centre and they now employ more than a dozen local residents.

Had they been screened for Canadian Values as one recent Conservative leadership candidate suggested, they probably would not have made the cut. We would all be poorer for it.

The politics of division is racist to the core. No matter whose tongue it falls from, this attitude is not acceptable. You should not tolerate it. Take heed. A recent IPSOS Reid poll found almost 40% of Canadians they surveyed were sympathetic to screening immigrants for Canadian Values .

What to do?

Changing the world starts with the individual. Simple things. Sensible things. Be passionate!

Read a book. It is how you will learn about worlds other than your own. When you have them, read to your children. Read to them until they kick you out of their rooms and scream “NO MORE!”

Ride a bike or walk. If you must drive, drive a hybrid. Say no to fossil fuel consumption at every opportunity. Install solar panels. Support wind energy. Most of all consume less!

Volunteer. Volunteer for any cause you hold dear. Community access. LGBTQ2 rights. English as a second language courses. Your local hospital. Big Brother or Sister. Tutor needy students. A food bank or homeless persons hostel. The Canadian Cancer Society. Step out of yourselves for a few hours a week. What you will learn will astound you.

Here’s a challenge: Turn off all screens for two or three hours every day. You will be amazed what is going on in the world around you!

My friends, building a better world is your responsibility now. You are at an age where this rests on your shoulders. I started this talk with an apology. I will end it with an exhortation.

This is from the late great Jack Layton: “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world. ”

I thank you for putting up with me.

Michael McLuhan with a portrait of his father at Marshall McLuhan Secondary School in March, 2014.