E-books versus “Real” Books

01Jul10

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This article from Slate is essentially correct, that new technologies do not entirely replace obsolesced technologies, although there are exceptions. Marshall McLuhan argued that old technologies become art forms and are otherwise repurposed to function in new and surprising ways. And sometimes they are even retrieved from the past to be used again and to assume new functions, as for example analog LP records have recently found new life ( Another Spin for Vinyl, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/31/fashion/31vinyl.html?_r=1&oref=slogin ). However, this writer is entirely wrong in thinking that McLuhan’s idea of the “global village” was one of peace and tranquility. To the contrary, in his 1969 Playboy article he insisted that: “Uniformity and tranquility are not hallmarks of the global village; far more likely are conflict and discord as well as love and harmony — the customary life mode of any tribal people.” More on that later.

Bold Prediction
Why e-books will never replace real books.

By Jan Swafford

Posted Tuesday, June 29, 2010, at 10:12 AM ET

Because we perceive print and electronic media differently. Because Marshall McLuhan was right about some things.

In case you don’t recall one of the more influential thinkers of the late 20th century: McLuhan was an academic media theorist who ended up being called a “high priest of popular culture.” He was big enough to be a standing joke on Laugh-In (“Marshall McLuhan, what are you doin’?”) to appear in a cameo in Annie Hall, to get interviewed in Playboy. One of the fundamental things McLuhan said was that new media change us and change the world. We see that principle in every kind of technology. When films started to talk, we started to talk in their phrases and cadences. When musical notation was invented, it took music into new dimensions of complexity and length. When computers started to link up on the Internet … You get the idea.

McLuhan declared that the two epochal cultural developments of the last millennium were, first, the invention of movable type in the 15th century, which proliferated data in print and finally took humanity out of its primeval tribal culture (a culture that had already been shaken, millennia earlier, by the invention of writing). Second, the epochal change of the last two centuries was the advent of electric media, starting with the telegraph. From that point on, data started to blanket the globe at close to the speed of light.

Relatively few prophecies pan out, and plenty of McLuhan’s haven’t. His peaceful, neo-tribal “global village” hasn’t worked so well. He predicted the end of politics, parties, and elections. Yeah, right. Still, he was the first to realize the transformation TV wrought on politics. From the pioneering Kennedy/Nixon debates to rampant political advertising and the 24-hour news cycle, TV has become the strongest force in political life. It’s long been understood that a prime reason Kennedy beat Nixon for the presidency was that Kennedy looked better on TV. Now a politician’s image outstrips his or her ideas—outstrips his or her politics. Which is just what McLuhan predicted: TV is about gut feeling, not reason.

Continue article here:  http://www.slate.com/id/2258054/



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