With Canada Day occurring today, July 1, and America’s Independence Day being celebrated three days later on July 4, it might be useful to consider Marshall McLuhan’s sense of the relationship between the two neighboring countries, which took different political, social and cultural paths after 1776 and 1812. Marshall McLuhan was of course born in Canada and spent most of his life there, but he was well-informed about the USA from living and teaching there for almost a decade: 1936-37 at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, 1937-44 at Saint Louis University, and the academic year 1967-68 at Fordham University in New York. He also made frequent visits to the USA to attend conferences, give guest lectures, do occasional consulting work and, like most Canadians, for occasional holidays and pleasure trips. So his sense of the differences between the two countries is based on lived experience, plus the fact that he married an American.

 McLuhan’s views of the United States are complex and a thorough understanding would require a much longer analysis and study. This short piece focuses only on his idea of Canada as a “counter-environment” to the USA. Influenced by Edward T. Hall, McLuhan held that the “ground rules, the pervasive structure, the overall pattern eludes perception” by those living in it,“eludes perception except in so far as there is an anti-environment or counter-situation constructed to provide a means of direct attention” (The Relation of Environment to Anti-environment, 1966). In other words, those living in an environment are oblivious to it, or “the one thing you can never see is the element in which you move,” a metaphor for which is his comment that “we don’t know who discovered water, but we’re pretty sure it wasn’t a fish” (both quotes are from McLuhan’s Marfleet Lectures, 1967, see reference below).

In his 2-part Marfleet Lectures, the first of which is titled Canada, the Borderline Case, delivered in Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto on March 16, 1967, Marshall McLuhan described Canada’s role as a counter-environment to the USA thus:-

“Nature and history seem to have agreed to designate us in Canada for a corporate, artistic role. As the U.S.A. becomes a world environment through its resources, technology, and enterprises, Canada takes on the function of making that world environment perceptible to those who occupy it. Any environment tends to be imperceptible to its users and occupants except to the degree that counter-environments are created by the artist.” – McLuhan, M. (1967). Canada, The Borderline Case, Marfleet Lectures, available in McLuhan, S., & Staines, D. (2003). Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews. Toronto: McClellend & Stewart Ltd., pp. 103 – 138.

And in a letter to Claude Bissell, the President of the University of Toronto, March 4, 1965, McLuhan wrote:-

“The U.S.A. is socially and informationally the environment of Canada. Canada is, by way of being anti-environment, a prepared situation that permits perception of the environment … Canada as anti-environment to the U.S.A. is able to perceive many of the ground rules and operational effects of the American environment that are quite imperceptible to the U.S.A. If the U.S.A. has built its distant-early-warning system in Canada for military use, let us observe that we can be of far greater use to the U.S.A. as an early warning system in the social and political spheres generally”.  Letters of Marshall McLuhan, (1987), p. 319.

Arguably, that has been the case, especially in aspects of social and economic policy, where Canada has been more progressive in such areas as an inclusive not-for-profit health care system, multicultural policies rather than a social melting pot, same-sex marriage, gun control, lower incarceration rates for criminals and especially drug users, freedom of choice in childbirth, plus the fact that Canada stayed out of American wars that it perceived to be misguided, as in Vietnam, the Gulf War and Iraq, whereas it was ahead of the USA in entering those wars that it considered necessary, notably World Wars I and II. But as columnist Margaret Wente just noted in a Toronto Globe & Mail editorial titled America’s transformational moment, things are changing in the USA:

Americans have been turning more Canadian. Put another way, they’ve been catching up with the rest of the developed democracies, where the values of individual autonomy and expressiveness have swamped the old notions of tradition, patriarchy and social order. Today, even Christian evangelicals are struggling to come to terms with marriage equality. When Bruce Jenner came out as a woman, most people responded with mild curiosity and a collective shrug. As one person put it, “I don’t get it, but whatever.” (See http://tinyurl.com/oj475x6 )

If that continues, how long will Canada continue to be a counter-environment to the USA?

panoramic view of Bologna by Steffan Brinkmann

June 23-26, 2016
University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy
MEA Convention Coordinators: Paolo Granata, Elena Lamberti, Brett Lunceford
UNIBO Coordinators: Roberto Farnè, Mirco Dondi

The University of Bologna, Italy, is proud to bring the Media Ecology Association to Europe for the first time and host the 17th Annual Convention in Bologna and Rimini on June 23-26, 2016. Considered the oldest university in the Western world, the history of the University of Bologna speaks to its role as the crossroads of a variety of scholarly traditions and changes involving the broader society. The University of Bologna provides a welcoming setting for old and new MEA members, inviting scholars, professionals, and interested people to attend from different fields, as well as from different nations

The 17th Annual Convention, focusing on the theme “Interfaces of Play and Game,” invites papers, panels and creative projects exploring the topic within complex media ecosystems. We encourage participants to start from an appreciation of game and play in the broader context of media ecology, therefore overcoming too specialized understanding of both terms. Playing with Johan Huizinga’s idea that game and play are older than culture, we seek to recall the multifaceted symbolic dimensions embedded by these very terms: at its roots the word game means participation, communion, and people together; similarly, the word play introduces the ideas of cultivating, taking care of, and performing. Therefore interfaces of play and game engage us in a plurality of explorations, all placing media and media environments at the core. Lines of investigations may include but are not limited to the following:

 game/play as frames for meta-communication
 game/play as rituals
 game/play as strategies for storytelling
 game/play as self/meta-representations
 game/play as entertainment
 game/play as educational strategies
 game/play as system and complexity theories.

Although we encourage submissions that touch upon or align with the convention theme, papers, abstracts, and panel proposal submissions from all areas of Media Ecology are welcome. A maximum of two submissions per author will be accepted. Authors who wish their papers to be considered for the Top Paper or Top Student Paper award must indicate this on their submission(s). The top papers will be published in Explorations in Media Ecology. All submissions will be acknowledged. The language of the convention is English. Guidelines for Submission (Deadline: November 1, 2015).

For Manuscripts (for MEA award submissions):
1. Manuscripts should be 4,000-6,000 words (approximately 15 to 25 double-spaced pages).
2. Include a cover page (or e-submission page) with your academic or professional affiliation and other contact information.
3. Include a 150 word abstract, with the title. Use APA, MLA, or Chicago style.
4. Papers should be written in English.

For Paper and Panel Proposals:
1. Include title, abstract, and contact information with your proposal.
2. Outline, as relevant, how your paper or panel will fit with the convention theme.
3. Presenters should be prepared to deliver their papers in English.
4. Authors with papers submitted as part of a panel proposal or as a paper proposal that wish to be considered for Top Paper or Top Student Paper must send completed paper to the convention planner by June 1, 2016.
Inquiries: Contact the Convention Coordinators at MEA2016@unibo.it .

Convention Venues and Location
The University of Bologna has adopted a multicampus structure in order to permit the diffusion of educational offerings, foster research activity, and improve the functionality and quality of university community life. The MEA convention will be hosted by the University of Bologna at:

 LILEC (Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures) – UNIBO Main Campus www.lingue.unibo.it ;
 DISCI (Department of History and Culture) – UNIBO Main Campus www.storia-culture-civilta.unibo.it ;
 QUVI (Department for Life Quality Studies) – UNIBO Rimini Campus www.scienzequalitavita.unibo.it .

The University of Bologna is a city university, with the main campus in downtown Bologna. All facilities can be reached on foot easily from any hotels or university residency. We envisage a dedicated shuttle to bring MEA Convention participants from Bologna to Rimini and back. The City of Bologna and the City of Rimini will co-promote the Convention.
Travel to the Convention.

Even though there are no direct flights from North America (with some exceptions in the summer, especially from NYC), the Bologna international airport is well connected to major European hubs (several daily flights to all EU hubs and capital cities). The Railway station in Bologna is connected to all main Italian cities, hourly (e.g.: 1,05 hour to Milan; 37 minutes to Florence; 2,05 hours to Rome).

Leisure time / Excursions
Bologna is at the crossroad of many possibilities: MEA participants could easily reach many different Italian
historical places by public means of transport (Florence, Venice, Rome, Milan, Ravenna, etc.). This opens up
many possibilities for extended stays.
Similarly, from Bologna it is possible to organise short trips (about 30 minutes), also by train or bus, to such renowned cities as Ferrara (city of Bassani’s The Garden of the Finzi Contini and of Lucrezia Borgia) or Modena (city of the Ferrari team).

Bologna Tour
We would be happy to plan special guided tours within the city of Bologna, including:
 University Collections (Bologna was the home city of Galvani, Aldrovandi, Marconi, and many other illustrious men and women of science and art; the University collections include memorabilia from various historical times).
 Historical places (The “Seven Churches” and other Cathedrals; Giorgio Morandi’s studio and museum collection; The Anatomical theatre of the Archiginnasio, etc.).
 Museums (as diverse as: Museum of Music; Museum of the City of Bologna; Museum of contemporary Art; Ducati Motors Museum; Pinacoteca Nazionale, etc.).

For more information about the convention, please contact the Convention Coordinators at MEA2016@unibo.it. For more information on the Media Ecology Association and updated convention details, visit www.media-ecology.org. Convention information is also available at https://events.unibo.it/mea2016.

You can download a copy of this CFP from: http://www.media-ecology.org/activities/MEA_2016_Full_CFP.pdf .

Bologna University

Walter Ong, SJ (1912 – 2003)

Mission: The Walter J. Ong Society (WJOSOC) was founded February 8, 2014 at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA by a group of scholars interested in fostering scholarship about, with, and like that of Walter Ong, SJ (1912 – 2003).

For over 70 years, Fr. Ong studied, taught and published about a wide range of cultural and historical matters from the perspectives of many disciplines including literary criticism, the history of ideas, the philosophy of the human person, theology and religious studies, media and  communication studies, technology, psychology, and language.

Fr. Ong’s legacy persists in the form of over 400 scholarly books and articles along with hundreds of additional unpublished papers. In his long career, he developed a skilled and nuanced interdisciplinary approach that serves as an excellent model for both specialized and integrative scholarly work.

The Walter J. Ong Society seeks to extend Ong’s legacy by providing resources to foster global interdisciplinary scholarship and by facilitating conversation and collaboration among scholars, including students and younger scholars.

Interim Board of Directors: http://tinyurl.com/naff7vp

To become a member of the Walter J. Ong Society, please go to: http://wjosoc.wix.com/wjosoc


“I’m interested in language because it’s the meeting ground of… process and structure… People in English label me philosophical. The people in philosophy seem to feel I’m philosophical but I think some of them tend to resent me because I don’t do it the way some of them do. I’m constantly being misclassified. Or I’m asked to classify myself and I don’t know how. Some people think I’m an anthropologist or a sociologist or a philosopher or a theologian. Occasionally, a professor of French. In principle, I’m a professor of English, but in my own way. I don’t particularly see why a person has to first classify himself and then do something. I’ve been told I teach and practice Onglish.” – Walter J. Ong                   

[Walter Ong]


Watercolour by Joan Steacy (see http://tinyurl.com/nvx9psa )

McLuhan used the works of James Joyce extensively in his own work. This article deals with the source of many of his most startling observations regarding art, society and technology-James Joyce.  

“Nobody could pretend serious interest in my work who is not completely familiar with all of the works of James Joyce and the French symbolists.” – Marshall McLuhan

The irony of all the complex contradictions of Marshall McLuhan’s variegated career apparently is that he failed to successfully communicate the insights of contemporary poetry and art to communications researchers. Whatever else McLuhan was up to in his sometimes exasperating and, often enigmatic writings, he developed a theory of communication which he considered to be “applied Joyce,” in the same sense that he had analyzed Joyce as developing an aesthetic which was “applied Aquinas.” At one stage or another, the working title for both The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media was “The Road to Finnegans Wake”. In a certain sense, this title was McLuhan’s Work in Progress (Joyce’s own working title for Finnegans Wake).~ Consequently, it has, as McLuhan himself suggests in the epigraph, been unfortunate that many of those involved in communication and cultural studies have never read his works in relation to the history of art and literature from the 1880s to the 1960s. (Read the rest of this essay by downloading this pdf Donald Theall and Joan Theall (1989). Marshall McLuhan & James Joyce: Beyond Media from:-       cjc-online.ca/index.php/journal/article/download/531/437 .


Some examples of McLuhan’s use of Joyce, the first one from (1962) The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, p. 74.

“… the natural dichotomy which the book brings into any society, in addition to the split within the individual of that society. The work of James Joyce exhibits a complex clairevoyance in these matters. His Leopold Bloom of Ulysses, a man of many ideas and many vices, is a freelance ad salesman. Joyce saw the parallels, on one hand, between the modern frontier of the verbal and the pictorial and, on the other, between the Homeric world poised between the old sacral culture and the new profane or literate sensibility. Bloom, the newly detribalized Jew, is presented in modern Dublin, a slightly detribalized Irish world. Such a frontier is the modern world of the advertisement, congenial, therefore, to the transitional culture of Bloom. In the seventeenth or Ithaca episode of Ulysses we read: “What were habitually his final meditations? Of some one sole unique advertisement to cause passers to stop in wonder, a poster novelty, with all extraneous accretions excluded, reduced to its simplest and most efficient terms not exceeding the span of casual vision and congruous with the velocity of modern life.”


From McLuhan, M. & Watson, W. (1970). From Cliché to Archetype. New York: Viking.

“It is not insignificant that the great epics from Homer’s Iliad to James Joyce’s Ulysses have concerned the destruction a city, or the destruction which a city has brought about”. (p. 78)

“One of the most successful genres of this age is the book title itself as a “youdunit.” It involves the reader in such titles as: Time and Western Man; The Revolt of the Masses; The Managerial Revolution; The Organization Man; The Affluent Society; Time, Space and Architecture; The Impossible Theater; Management and Machiavelli; Gods, Graves and Scholars; The Hidden Persuaders; Doctors and Drugs; The Death of God; The Double Helix; The Biological Time Bomb. Replacing the encyclopedias of earlier centuries, such books are all “guides to understanding”. Jay’s Management and Machiavelli, for example, uses the same overall pattern as Joyce’s Ulysses. Retrieving the figure of Machiavelli, it uses this as a probe of modern management techniques. Its relevance with respect to managerial practices is, however, subordinated to its attack on the reader’s ego…” (pp. 90-91)

“It should be clear … that standards imposed from above have little value in relating people to one another in environments that have never existed before. The creative value of commercial stereotypes appears in the portrait of Gerty MacDowell in Joyce’s Ulysses. Gerty is a mosaic of banalities that reveals the effect of these forms in shaping and extending our lives. Joyce ebnables the reader to exult and triumph over the trivia by letting him in on the very process by which they dramatize our lives. In the same way, in the newspaper, or “Aeolus,” episode of Ulysses, Joyce deploys for us the world of verbal gimmicks as well as the mechanical operations on which they depend. He floods the entire newsmaking situation with an intelligibility that provides a catharsis for the accumulated effects of the stereotypes in our lives”. (p. 176)


From McLuhan, M., & Nevitt, B. (1972). Take Today: The Executive as Dropout. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

“… Following the nineteenth century obsession with the new “hardware” service environment of road and rail, [Marx] saw the entire historical process as a struggle between the “productive forces” of “hardware” technology and the “production relations” or social hierarchy created through the ownership of that “hardware” — the song of the “steal” men. His proposal to resolve this conflict was for the production workers to take over the production “hardware” instead of exploiting the new “software” environment and the new knowledge industries created by mobility of the nineteenth-century “hardware.” The “Rose of Castile” (the Joycean pun in Ulysses) interrelated the worlds of art and industry and the world of the press and the the book to the world of the railway. Joyce asked: “My producers, are they not my consumers?” IN THE ELECTRIC-INFORMATION AGE, EMPLOYER AND EMPLOYEE MERGE AS AUDIENCE. (p. 181)

For more examples of McLuhan’s use of Joyce’s work see Marshall McLuhan on James Joyce at http://tinyurl.com/p7olk6n .

The important first era of communication – orality – is not depicted above and it would be erroneous to think of the inventors of writing, known as cuneiform, living in ancient Sumer around 3200 BC (where modern day southern Iraq now stands), as cavemen (see http://tinyurl.com/24sq8y ).
The following excerpt is from from Logan, R.K. (2000). The Sixth Language: Learning a Living in the Internet Age. Toronto: Stoddart, pp. 14-60. It provides an overview of the Three Communication Eras: The Oral, Writing & Print, Electric & Electronic, according to Marshall McLuhan and Harold Innis.
By Robert K. Logan, PhD
McLuhan, building on the ideas of Innis, divided human history into three distinct periods based on the modes of sensibilities their media made available to them. The first era, that of the oral tradition, stretches from the time humankind first acquired speech to the beginnings of literacy five thousand years ago. The second era, the age of literacy, includes the period from the invention of writing to the discovery of electricity and its use in the form of the telegraph. The age of writing is further subdivided into three periods, the first beginning with the advent of written symbols, the second with the invention of the phonetic alphabet, and the last with the invention of the printing press. The third communication era, that of the electric flow of information, covers the period from the first use of the telegraph in 1844 to the present. “We live today in the Age of Information and Communication because electric media instantly and constantly create a total field of interacting events in which all men participate” (McLuhan 1964, 248).

Innis also divided history into periods in which different modes of communication dominated. He divided the age of literacy, however, by the nature of the medium upon which texts were written. “We can conveniently divide the history of the West into the writing and the printing periods. In the writing period we can note the importance of various media such as the clay tablet of Mesopotamia, the papyrus roll in the Egyptian and in the Graeco-Roman world, parchment codex in the late Graeco-Roman world and the early Middle Ages, and paper after its introduction in the Western world from China” (Innis 1972, 7).

During each of these three major communication eras, socio-economic and cultural life were deeply affected by the dominant medium of communication. As each new mode of communication had an impact on society, it dominated those which had preceded it, not obsolescing them, but dramatically changing their character and the use to which they were put. Speech or the oral tradition naturally survived both literacy and electricity but its function changed. It retained its dominance for conversation and everyday communication; however, it was no longer used as the repository of a culture’s traditions as it had been in Homer’s time, nor the means of spreading news from one village or country to another. The wandering minstrel who had conveyed information across both space and time was replaced by the written record which spanned space through the courier and time through the library or archive. With writing, the spoken word took on new functions, sometimes becoming an art form in the guise of poetry and theatre.

Writing also underwent enormous changes with the advent of electricity. The modern newspaper, as McLuhan points out, is a product of the printing press and the telegraph. Electricity and the instantaneous flow of information changed the psychic environment of authors, causing them, in McLuhan’s words, to “live mythically and in depth” (McLuhan 1964, vii). As a consequence, writers became concerned with psychology, anthropology, and sociology. The psychological novel and stream-of-consciousness technique were born.

Electricity produced another unexpected flip that affected the spoken word, namely a revival of the oral tradition in the art, music, and literary world of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as exemplified by jazz and the use of African masks in Cubism. The structure of education also changed with the advent of each new mode of communication. With writing, education was transformed from the apprenticeship mode of learning on the job to formal schooling. The  alphabet, abstract science, formal logic, and codified law gave rise to the academies of higher learning that appeared in ancient Babylon, Egypt, and Greece. The printing press gave rise to the modern school system of mass education and the assembly-line style of mass production. The mass media of radio, television and telecommunications shrunk the world to the dimensions of a global village.

Neither Harold Innis or Marshall McLuhan lived long enough to see the two post-1980 revolutions of personal computing brought about by microcomputers or the World Wide Web made possible by the Internet. If they had had the opportunity to observe these two phenomena I believe they would have divided history in to four distinct eras rather than the three they chose. I believe, like me, they would have added a fourth era by making a distinction between the era of electric media of mass communication from the era of electronic media of mainframes, microcomputers and the Internet. While the dissemination of electronic information parallels in some ways that of electric information there is a very important difference. The users of electric media are merely passive consumers of information whereas the users of electronic media can interact actively with the information they access.


There is a rough equivalence in the 3 communication eras as defined by McLuhan-Logan, Walter Ong and Neil Postman, along with Gregory Ulmer’s tri-partite division of media competencies and Alvin Toffler’s 3 Waves of human development.




Oral Tradition

Primary Orality



1st Wave: Agricultural

Literacy Era




2nd Wave: Technological

Electric/Electronic Era Secondary Orality Technopoly Electracy

3rd Wave: Information Society

Ong, Walter J. (1982). Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. New York: Routledge.
Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York, Vintage.
Ulmer, G.L. (2003). Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy. Longman.
Toffler, A. (1980). The Third Wave. New York: Bantam.
HISTORY OF COMMUNICATION: History of Communications - Through the ages and into the next century... | Communication and technology | Scoop.it

“The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.” – Edward R. Murrow

McLuminations 15.1

Featuring Professor Elfriede Fürsich (FU Berlin) & Professor Mark Wolfe (University of  Calgary)

The Marshall McLuhan Salon of the Embassy of Canada presented a new edition of the discussion series McLuminations with Baruch Gottlieb and Steffi Winkler.

In the early 1960s McLuhan sensed the upcoming of a “global village“ as one of the big effects of the new electronic media. This idea of  a technological change fostering a social change he prefigured as a “retribalized society“  interacting within a “group consciousness“, participating in a “seamless web of interdependence“. Being essentially aware and concerned with the others was “a natural product of circuitry“ for McLuhan. So simultaneously with a common “spectator mentality“ the “feedback“ of one’s own appeal to the audience stimulates to establish an identity by merging with group or even corporate roles. Individualistic self-definition turns out as illusion in such a field of complete interrelations. Still, for McLuhan the global village makes more discontinuity, more diversity and maximum disagreement inevitable but also creative dialogue.

McLuminations, a special series of video discussion events

Initiated and directed by Baruch Gottlieb as a special series of events during the McLuhan Centennial Year 2011, McLuminations aims to elaborate in a form of lively discussions the electronic media experience. It employs archival video material of Marshall McLuhan in attempts to articulate the contours of what McLuhan calls the “in depth” participation of the inhabitants of an instantaneous electronic media environment.

McLuminations I: Outerings about the “Global Village”  –  McLuhan Salon, Embassy of Canada in Berlin

McLuminations II: Outerings about the “Global Village”  –  McLuhan Salon, Embassy of Canada in Berlin

Gallery Image

transmediale Partner Exhibition Opening: Slogans for the Early 21st Century by Douglas Coupland

I posted the 2015 Marshall McLuhan Lecture by David Orrell about a month ago, 8 or 9 postings below this one. But Douglas Coupland’s 2014 Lecture Titled Space Junk was only uploaded to YouTube in January of this year. Here it is, along with a review of the lecture below it.

2014 Marshall McLuhan Lecture – Space Junk
28 January, 2014 – Embassy of Canada, Leipziger Platz 17, 10117 Berlin

The transmediale Marshall McLuhan Lecture invites a Canadian cultural figure, whose work expands on McLuhan’s media theories in the context of contemporary culture and society. In 2014, the Canadian writer and visual artist Douglas Coupland delivered the lecture, entitled “Space Junk”. Following his iconic writings on the first digital workers “Microserfs” in the 1990s to the digital natives of “JPod” (2006) and his biography of McLuhan “You Know Nothing of my Work!” (2011), Coupland uses his unique way of expressing ideas—almost a form of stand-up comedy—to explore the ultimate fate of our junk data and where hyperdigitization will take us in the end. As he alternates between the sacred and the profane, a new form of discourse emerges that engages both academic and populist spheres.

Douglas Coupland on Marshall McLuhan & Your Digital Doppelgänger

By Charmaine Li   –   Feb. 7, 2014

“There’s an unusual situation where there’s a hair growing sideways in my left nostril and it’s driving me crazy… that’s called too much information,” remarked Canadian author, visual artist and Maisonneuve contributor Douglas Coupland during the opening of his speech at the Embassy of Canada in Berlin. Each year, Transmediale—a Berlin-based festival that explores the intersection of art, technology and culture—organizes a lecture inviting a Canadian cultural figure to speak about Marshall McLuhan’s theories in a contemporary context.  

Coupland, who wrote a biography on the Canadian media theorist titled Marshall McLuhan: You know nothing of my work!, delivered this year’s talk on the topic of digital trash—or what he referred to as the “unintended side effects of information and its delivery system.”

Appropriately, a screen above the author projected a rapid rotation of photographs from a series his 2002 series “Trash Only Canadians Will Understand”.  As the name suggests, the audience is treated with flashing agglomerations of Canadian junk gems, including a spaghetti sauce-covered Cheezies bag, a mangled Clamato container and a battered POGO box.

In many ways, Coupland is like McLuhan. Particularly, both Canadians are credited with popularizing notable cultural terms (“Generation X” and “global village” respectively) and both employ equivocal public speaking styles (read this account of Coupland at the International Festival of Authors 2013 and watch this McLuhan interview).

Throughout the lecture, Coupland skips from talking about how the internet facilitates the homogenization of human thinking to reading modified pieces from Shopping in Jail (his collection of non-fiction essays published last year) to discussing whether the internet will ultimately favour the individual or the group. But the most McLuhan-reminiscent and riveting part of the speech was when Coupland, in an attempt to illustrate how individuality can pluralize with technology’s ever-increasing speed and power, relayed a story about a hypothetical digital data doppelgänger. (Read the rest of this review at http://tinyurl.com/oblopxl ).

Words Into Objects

Photo credit: theaustralian.com.au

Continuing the theme of money as medium, the following is a review and précis of David Orrell’s 2015 Marshall McLuhan Lecture at transmediale in Berlin, presented by the Marshall McLuhan Salon of the Canadian Embassy in Berlin. Of course you can hear and view his whole lecture by scrolling down to the eighth posting below this one or clicking on http://tinyurl.com/qgxf9j9 . But if you haven’t the time, attention span and patience to sit through an hour long mediated lecture, reading this account might be an alternative.

David Orrell on Money and McLuhan

David Orrell, Ph.D. is a scientist and author of popular science books. He studied mathematics at the University of Alberta, and obtained his Ph.D. from Oxford University on the prediction of nonlinear systems.

Addendum: The whole Western world is in debt, having failed to understand the simple wisdom of Mr. Micawber in “David Copperfield”: Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery”. 

We can think of money as two things: 1. stored labor, and 2. a communication medium that conveys value; Marshall McLuhan devotes Chapter 14, the subtitle of which is “The Poor Man’s Credit Card”, to the medium of money in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964). The following paragraph discusses McLuhan’s ideas about money:-

McLuhan argues that the emergence of money as currency rather than the commodities used in trade allowed man to “…extend trading to the whole social complex.” (McLuhan, 1964, p. 132.)  Through this extension of money in trade, man was also able to exchange ideas, opinions, and theories while they were exchanging money for goods and services.  A social medium eventually evolved from the emergence of money as items began to attain a value to society.  “Money as a social medium or extension of an inner wish and motive creates social and spiritual values…” (McLuhan, 1964, p. 135).  Money/Value can be seen in items worn or used by individuals, they send a message to the rest of society; a Rolls Royce, a house in the Hamptons, Harry Winston jewelry are examples of money or what it can acquire.  If we follow McLuhan’s belief that the content of any medium is always another, the consideration of money as a medium would beget conspicuous consumption, platinum cards or the lack thereof as a medium as well.  These items show the appearance and effects of money (or poverty) and send a message to the rest to society. (Source: http://tinyurl.com/ll3r5ej )

Here are some quotes from McLuhan’s Understanding Media that illustrate his views of money as a medium:-

“Money talks” because money is a metaphor, a transfer, and a bridge. Like words and language, money is a storehouse of communally achieved work, skill, and experience. Money, however, is also a specialist technology like writing; and as writing intensifies the visual aspect of speech and order, and as the clock visually separates time from space, so money separates work from the other social functions. Even today money is a language for translating the work of the farmer into the work of the barber, doctor, engineer, or plumber. As a vast social metaphor, bridge, or translator, money—like writing—speeds up exchange and tightens the bonds of interdependence in any community. It gives great spatial expansion and control to political organizations, just as writing does, or the calendar. – UM, Ch. 14

“Money, as a social means of extending and amplifying work and skill in an easily accessible and portable form, lost much of its magical power with the coming of representative money, or paper money.”– UM, Ch. 14

“Money, like language a store of work and experience, acts also as translator and transmitter.”

“The nature of people demands that most of them be engaged in the most frivolous possible activities—like making money.”

Money “speeds up social exchange and tightens the bonds of interdependence in any community” – UM, Ch. 14

“Even today, money is a language for translating the work of the farmer into the work of the barber, doctor, engineer, or plumber. As a vast social metaphor, bridge or translator, money – like writing – speeds up exchange and tightens the bonds of interdependence in any community… In a highly literate, fragmented society, ‘Time is money’ , and money is the store of other people’s time and effort.” – 1964, Toronto

Money is just the poor man's credit card.

The final TV episode of Mad Men, set in the revolutionary decade of the 1960s, will be broadcast on AMC this evening. Whether you liked and watched it or not, as I did, since its premiere on July 19, 2007, the series received huge critical praise for its acting, writing and historical accuracy, winning 15 Emmys and 4 Golden Globes. It was also the first basic cable series to win the Emmy for Outstanding Drama series in each of its first 4 seasons.

It has been of special interest to advertising people and the article below can help the rest of us understand the program better. One mistake the article’s author makes is his comment that “I’ve always found the lack of any mention of media writer and thinker McLuhan the most inexplicable”. It’s true that McLuhan isn’t mentioned by name during the series, but his most famous aphorism “the medium is the message” is mentioned, specifically by then office manager Joan Holloway in a comment to Peggy during Episode 6 of Season One. Viewers who don’t know where that phrase comes from should. See my March 24, 2012 posting on this blog about Marshall McLuhan and the Mad Men here: http://tinyurl.com/lln38cm .

Further proof, as if any were needed, of Marshall McLuhan’s prescience. In 1964, he wrote:*

“The classified ads (and stock-market quotations) are the bedrock of the press. Should an alternative source of easy access to such diverse daily information be found, the press will fold.”

*Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (ARK edition, 1987) p.207

And, while we’re on the subject, here two more McLuhanisms on advertising:

“Ads are the cave art of the twentieth century.”

“Ads are not meant for conscious consumption. They are intended as subliminal pills for the subconscious in order to exercise an hypnotic spell, especially on sociologists.”

And finally, how about this? “I don’t necessarily agree with everything that I say.” (http://tinyurl.com/mdss6zr )

Advertising is the greatest art form of the 20th century.  - Marshall McLuhan


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