Australian (ABC) Radio: James Gleick on Marshall McLuhan

04Aug11

Listen to the audio here: http://tinyurl.com/4yspjpf

An excerpt from the 2011 Sydney Writers Festival where author James Gleick discusses the ideas of Marshall McLuhan with Robyn Williams.

Transcript

Robyn Williams: Now a word from the media man with his massage. Some thoughts about Marshall McLuhan from the great science writer James Gleick and the flood of information.

James Gleick: The flood is the end of my book, it’s the last word of the subtitle, and it’s part of the motivation for the book. This is our modern predicament. On the one hand we are practically omniscient. Our ability to reach out and get facts is unprecedented in human history, and if you are a certain type of person, which I am partly, it makes you feel exhilarated or even powerful. And then on the other hand you very quickly might think there is too much, and it is one thing to have access to facts and it’s another thing to actually be able to find the knowledge you’re looking for. And somehow with all of this information literally at our fingertips we are not any smarter than our forefathers were.

Robyn Williams: Let me just to do a quotation, actually the end of your book, Marshall McLuhan said in 1962, ‘We are today as far into the electric age as the Elizabethans had advanced into the typographical and mechanical age. We are experiencing the same confusions and indecisions which they felt when living simultaneously in two contrasting forms of society and experience.’ 1962 he wrote that, and it’s his centenary coming up.

James Gleick: Isn’t that remarkable. It’s 1962 and he is calling it the electric age, and he became instantly famous. I don’t know how many people here even remember Marshall McLuhan…okay, a fair number of people. But he was sort of a celebrity, he was enough of a celebrity…do you remember the Woody Allen movie where he is standing in a movie line and there is a professor in the line pontificating about new media and ‘Marshall McLuhan thinks this’, and Woody Allen is thinking ‘this drives me crazy, the guy is so pretentious and doesn’t know what he’s talking about’, and they get into an argument. And then Woody Allen finally says, ‘Well, oh yeah? I happen to have Marshall McLuhan here,’ and he pulls him out for a cameo in the movie.

Marshall McLuhan in 1962 was talking about the electric age, and he felt that it was going to be the end of print and that something very fundamental about the way we think about the world was in the process of being transformed. And it’s remarkable, because in 1962 all he had was television, and it was fuzzy black-and-white television at that. He didn’t know about the internet or personal computers or the cell phones that you don’t own yet.

Robyn Williams: James Gleick at the Sydney Writers Festival talking about his book The Information and Marshall McLuhan, the star of ABC Radio National over the past week.   http://tinyurl.com/4yspjpf

 James Gleick

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