Did Marshall McLuhan Write in Tweets?


My colleague Robert Blechman quotes on his Model Media Ecologist blog from Paul Levinson’s just published New New Media, 2nd Ed:

But we may already have a glimpse of one of the new new media forms that Twitter is engendering or flipping into. Robert K. Blechman’s Executive Severance (2012), described as a ‘twitstery,’ is a novel written entirely on Twitter, once a day, one tweet at a time…Twitter the new medium has engendered a genuinely new kind of novel, one that could not have existed before Twitter. The novel created in Tweets on Twitter completes the cycle started by McLuhan, who wrote in tweets before Twitter was born.” (p. 40)

Did Marshall McLuhan tweet, before Twitter, or even before the Internet was publically accessible? Pithy aphorisms like the following certainly support the idea:

“Innumerable confusions and a feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transition.” — Marshall McLuhan

 “Ads are the cave art of the twentieth century” -Marshall McLuhan

“Affluence creates poverty” -Marshall McLuhan

“American youth attributes much more importance to arriving at driver’s license age than at voting age” -Marshall McLuhan

“Diaper spelled backwards is repaid” -Marshall McLuhan

“For tribal man, space was the uncontrollable mystery. For technological man it is time that occupies the same role” -Marshall McLuhan

Jokes are grievances” -Marshall McLuhan

 “Innumerable confusion and a feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transition.” -Marshall McLuhan

“Mass transportation is doomed to failure in North America because a person’s car is the only place where he can be alone and think” -Marshall McLuhan

5 Responses to “Did Marshall McLuhan Write in Tweets?”

  1. 1 Malcolm Dean

    An aphorism is not a tweet, nor will most tweets ever be aphoristic. The wise aphorize; twits tweet.


    *Malcolm Dean* *Member*, Higher Cognitive Affinity Group, BRI *Research Affiliate*, Human Complex Systems, UCLA *Member*, BAFTA/LA


    • Of course an aphorism isn’t a tweet in its normal usage. Paul Levinson was applying the term “tweet” to McLuhan’s aphorisms and short pronouncements metaphorically. As for your last comment, you would be wise to remember McLuhan’s advice about not adopting moral judgments about emerging technologies that we do not yet understand:

      “The mere moralistic expression of approval or disapproval, preference or detestation, is currently being used in our world as a substitute for observation and a substitute for study. People hope that if they scream loudly enough about ‘values’ then others will mistake them for serious, sensitive souls who have higher and nobler perceptions than ordinary people. Otherwise, why would they be screaming? … To start announcing your own preferences for old values when your world is collapsing and everything is changing at a furious pitch – this is not the act of a serious person.” – from Sanderson, G., & Macdonald, F. (1989). Marshall McLuhan: The Man & His Message. Golden, CO: Fulcrum, Inc., p. 2-3.

      I find it eminently worthwhile to “follow” on Twitter a select number of thinkers like Sherry Turkle, Henry Jenkins, Howard Rheingold, John Postill, Margaret Atwood, Michael Wesch, Tim Berners-Lee, Lance Strate, Paul Levinson and a few others, none of whom is in any way a “twit”. I take you to be a serious learner and explorer, so your dismissal of this recent new media form seems surprising. I urge you to join with me in studying new media forms, not dismissing them before they’re understood…….AlexK


  2. Though I didn’t set out to do so, many of the tweets that make up my Twitter-composed novel, Executive Severance have been compared to aphorisms. One reviewer marveled at their economy, calling some of them “wee, tiny poems.” Perhaps Twitter is teaching us how to think in aphorisms. Or at least, how to compose them.


    • Susan Sontag on aphorisms (from As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 :-

      “Aphorisms are rogue ideas”.

      Aphorism is aristocratic thinking: this is all the aristocrat is willing to tell you; he thinks you should get it fast, without spelling out all the details. Aphoristic thinking constructs thinking as an obstacle race: the reader is expected to get it fast, and move on. An aphorism is not an argument; it is too well-bred for that”.

      “To write aphorisms is to assume a mask – a mask of scorn, of superiority. Which, in one great tradition, conceals (shapes) the aphorist’s secret pursuit of spiritual salvation. The paradoxes of salvation. We know at the end, when the aphorist’s amoral, light point-of-view self-destructs”.


      • Solomon was considered wise because he knew 3000 proverbs and aphorisms by heart and could use them in his judicial deliberations. Aphorisms were essential for an oral culture. Sontag missed the distinction between ill-formed ideas or catch phrases and ideas that had been refined and polished over a long time. Aphorisms work when they are culture bound, perhaps not when created by literary pretenders. Sontag’s was a typical literate viewpoint. As we move into the digital age, or the age of secondary literacy as I like to call it, perhaps aphorisms will regain their credibility.


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