Jian Ghomeshi with Sean Foley on Marshall McLuhan – Q, CBC Radio One


jian-ghomeshi-2Jian Ghomeshi is an award-winning broadcaster, writer, musician and producer. He is the host and co-creator of the national daily talk program, Q, on CBC Radio One and CBC TV. Since its inception in 2007, Q has garnered the largest audience of any cultural affairs program in Canada and has become the highest-rated show in its morning time slot in CBC history. Q is also now broadcast across the United States, on PRI.

Sean Foley is Director of CBC’s Q with Jian Ghomeshi, as well as a writer, amateur saxophonist, and a longtime fan of Marshall McLuhan.

The following is a short essay on Marshall McLuhan narrated by Jian Ghomeshi on his CBC Radio One Q program on Wednesday, October 23 as an introduction to a live debate on the question – Is the Internet making us smarter or stupider? The debaters are Clive Thompson and Steve Easterbrook and the whole debate is well worth listening to.

 Listen to the introductory essay by clicking on the link at the beginning of this sentence.


We use things to help us accomplish tasks.  

We call them tools.

And we focus mainly on how well they work, to get the job done.  

There are tools that many of us can identify at a glance; and, in our highly specialized world, there are things we suspect are tools, but we couldn’t be sure what they’re for. 

(That can trigger a particularly daunting feeling at the dentist’s office). 

And there are tools that we use all the time that we don’t even recognize as such.  

A car. Language.  Money. 

“Media” — that’s the term the late, visionary social critic and philosopher, Marshall McLuhan, used for all of these things, and much more.  

Here’s a question about tools.  

When we’re using one, do we ask, ‘how is this working …ON ME?’ 

We know what the tool is supposed to be doing FOR us…

….but what about what it does TO us?  

That question was a huge part of Marshall McLuhan’s thinking.  

The effect of various media on humankind.  

And I quote:  “We become what we behold.  We shape our tools, and thereafter, our tools shape us.'”  

That quote is often misattributed to McLuhan…

…and the error can be found many times over, if Google is your tool. 

In fact, it was coined by a close associate of McLuhan’s…John Culkin, a former Jesuit priest, author, and teacher. With some help from William Blake.

But McLuhan said it often. The effect of our tools on us was something McLuhan constantly strove to point out. 

He saw himself as a person who studied the transformational effects of communication. 

...’How people are changed by the instruments they employ.’ 

He said that.  In 1974. You can see him saying it, on the internet.  

For McLuhan, this work seems to have been deeply personal. 

He admitted he sought understanding in a world of innovation so that he could neutralize its effects…

‘So then you know where to turn off the button’, as he put it….back in 1966.

Now, our communication is as immersive and immediate as ever.

And whether you love being online, or hate it…

…whether you find the internet disconcerting, or a source of community and connection…

Whether you think it’s making us smarter….or …stupider…

It’s probably a good idea to bring awareness to the tools we use.

To pay attention to how they shape us….individually, and collectively…

….as we use them to do what we need to do.


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