Paul Levinson: A Tetrad on the Selfie (& An Explanation of McLuhan’s Tetrads)

14Apr14

From Paul Levinson’s Infinite Regress blog (by permission): https://goo.gl/aE2G7Z

I [Paul Levinson] just had an exchange with Ian Bogost over on Twitter, after I posted the above photograph of me, Marshall McLuhan, and Eric McLuhan, taken at the “Tetrad Conference” I organized at Fairleigh Dickinson University in March 1978.
Ian aptly said that I needed a “4th” (the “tetrad” has four components).
I replied that the 4th person pertaining to the photograph was the photographer*, which has flipped into the selfie.
Here, then, is a full tetrad on the photograph, and it’s flipping into the selfie:

The photograph enhances capture of literal images.

The photograph obsolesces portrait painting.


The photograph retrieves memory, looking at images in pools of water, etc.


And the photograph flips into the selfie.


And it’s a physical flip of the camera in the phone, as well as a philosophic flip.
*photographer was my student, Mary Lou Bale

For more on the tetrad …  Digital McLuhan [electronic resource] : a guide to the information millennium /

See also http://tinyurl.com/3xkfgh from which this is extracted:

 The Process of Tetrad Creation

The tetrad is arrived at through a process of asking questions, based on historical, social, and technological knowledge of the subject:

  • What does any artifact enlarge or enhance?
  • What does it erode or obsolesce?
  • What does it retrieve that had been earlier obsolesced?
  • What does it reverse or flip into when pushed to the limits of its potential?

These questions result in a set of four effects, namely: enhancement, obsolescence, retrieval, and reversal. These four elements are in a resonant relationship (or “interchange”) with one another; the parts of the tetrad are in a complementary relationship:

An example for the cellphone:-

“Laws of Media: Mobile Phone”, Marshall McLuhan, from Laws of Media, 1988, page 153.

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