The Sage of Aquarius

SAGE OF AQUARIUS – Marshall McLuhan holds court at the Centre for Culture and Technology
Photo: U of T Archives B1998-0033 [731090B-40]

While puffing on a cigar, communications guru Marshall McLuhan – once dubbed the Sage of Aquarius – holds court in April 1973 during one of his famous evening seminars at the Centre for Culture and Technology. The centre (of which he was director) was located in an architectural throwback: a coach house built in 1903. But McLuhan’s theories were forward-thinking and prophetic: he recognized that the world had become a global village in its electronic interdependence and divined the advent of the World Wide Web in The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962). And in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), he first posited that “the medium is the message,” pointing out that the medium’s structure – how it relays information, as opposed to the information itself – is what shapes society and our perceptions of reality.

Visit the McLuhan iSchool centenary site
www.mcluhan100.caWatch a 1967 interview with McLuhan

Few academics have infiltrated the collective psyche, intellectual realm and pop culture like McLuhan, who worked at U of T for more than 30 years. To celebrate the centenary of his birth (he was born July 21, 1911), the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, the City of Toronto and Mozilla have arranged a year-long series of events. In October, Nuit Blanche will contain a McLuhan component, and, in November, the university will host the international conference “McLuhan 100: Then, Now, Next” to discuss the professor’s work and influence. The events leave no excuse for anyone to be on the receiving end of the famous McLuhan line inAnnie Hall – when he dismisses a phoney intellectual with an exceedingly curt “You know nothing of my work.”

Comment from a former student posted to U of T Magazine Online, from which this article was taken:

That’s me sitting to the right of Professor McLuhan. I was a third-year English student at St. Mike’s, taking McLuhan’s Modern Poetry class, listening to stories about Ezra Pound. For some of us, it was a scary class, not only because we were in awe of this great man, but because there were always visiting scholars, and we were lowly undergrads.

I always remember the day when McLuhan was discussing his theory of extensions (when an individual or society creates something that extends the capacity of the human body and mind: for example, a chair extends our ability to sit). One of the young men, who clearly got into the idea, put up his hand and asked, “What about a basketball?” To which McLuhan shot back, “That’s an extension of our ability to dribble!”

Taking that class was a wonderful opportunity. Professor McLuhan was generous with his students, graciously welcoming us into his home for an evening party before the fall term ended.

MASSAGING THE MEDIA: Marshall McLuhan at the Centre for Culture and Technology. It was founded in 1963 by U of T as an incentive to keep McLuhan, who was being offered positions at other universities. (Photo courtesy McLuhan 100)

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