Distant Early Warning Line Card Deck (1969)

Photo courtesy of Eric McLuhan
Is it possible to train the way that you think, the same way you might prepare for a sporting event or study for an exam? Is it possible to improve the way that you think or are we simply born into one pattern of thought? As a graphic designer, there’s bound to be a point in your process where thinking creatively becomes a challenge or you simply want to push beyond your comfort zone.

I first became interested in thinking as a focused subject when I joined Project M in the summer of 2007. John Bielenberg, Project M’s founder, is notorious for “thinking wrong,” a method for breaking heuristic bias within a person’s thought process. He introduced me to Edward de Bono, who originated the term “lateral thinking” and was a proponent of teaching thinking as a subject in schools. DeBono’s Thinking Course was one particular book that John recommended, and it’s kept me interested in the subject ever since.

I recently stumbled upon a deck of cards that were dedicated to creative thinking. Marshall McLuhan’s “Distant Early Warning” card deck was released in 1969 as part of McLuhan’s “DEW-Line Newsletter.” 

“The card deck was intended to stimulate problem-solving and thinking, in a manner that later came to be known as ‘thinking-outside-the-box,’” says Scott Boms, spokesperson for the McLuhan estate. The newsletter was initiated by New York publisher Eugene Schwartz, at the height of “McLuhan-mania.” The cards were designed by McLuhan, his eldest son Eric, Harley Parker and George Thompson, long-time family friend and assistant to McLuhan at the Center for Culture and Technology. The deck perfectly reflects McLuhan’s vision of the artist in a time of rapid social and technological change:  

“I think of art, at its most significant, as a DEW line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it,” stated Marshall McLuhan in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.

The DEW Line was a real thing. Stretching 3,000 miles across Arctic Canada at approximately the 69th parallel sat a chain of 63 integrated radar and communication stations. Completed in 1957 during the height of the Cold War, the DEW Line was intended to provide advance warning of imminent air attacks on Canada and the United States. While McLuhan’s views were often very academic, he certainly had a sense of humor.

 The DEW Line
Published through the Human Development Corp., the “DEW-Line Newsletter” came in different forms, like a record or slides, often including pre-released chapters from McLuhan books.  Each card deck comes in a slipcase and includes instructions for use. (Source: http://tinyurl.com/k5m7jru ) . The cards can be purchased at: http://ericmcluhan.com/bookshop .
Eric McLuhan
The language and typography of the cards worked with the existing graphics of playing cards

See also The Distant Early Warning Line (DEW) Card Deck (1969) – http://tinyurl.com/qbu88d2

Artists as “the Antennae of the Race” – http://tinyurl.com/nqtt32z

See all the cards here: http://tinyurl.com/pwwjj9q

4 Responses to “Distant Early Warning Line Card Deck (1969)”

  1. It’s a delight to see the DEW Line re-viewed!! I subscribed to it. I still have half-a-dozen decks of the cards along with assorted booklets and posters.



  2. An opportunity for the first McLuhanGalaxy app!! The start of a McLuhanGalaxy app store. Or Library, actually, given that in IT now, libraries are collections of functionality.
    These cards could be converted into online “flip cards” (how appropriate). Many (most) come from illustrated sources, in fact, ones in my hard copy library!! The front of the card could be the illustration, the back of the card the quip. For those who are WordPress-oriented, there are add-ins that will handle this.
    More interestingly, maybe…
    Background. I worked with Eric, very briefly, early 90s I think, during an involvement I had with the start of the McLuhan Journal thing.
    We talked about creating an app (pre Web) to help a writer respond to Writer’s Block, using a spinning Dice and/or Help Ball to generate ‘random’ impulse ideas following a rhetorical schema for generating ideas. Needless to say, the coding was a tad too complicated for a then non-existent market, so the idea languished.
    Oops I’m an IT consultant, should have offered due diligence up front. Plus met Marshall a few times, became a fan back in the early 60s at a Bet Tzedec presentation he made… Whatever.
    Back to the point. The McLuhanGalaxy app shows the card fronts. User clicks on one. The back shows up, like a tarot card. Unlike a tarot card, critical terms that have refs on the Web, via a Google API, are highlighted. User clicks on highlighted ref, randomized micro-search/select happens, a la Google “I feel lucky”. Level two shows more detail from the McLuhans or external archives, or offers a poll to respond to, or asks a question to get better understanding of the target or ??? (maybe offers entree into a community asking the same question).
    I can demo this via Powerpoint/Javascript using existing material from the Web and my book library.
    Any interest??



  3. Sorry for the delay in replying. I’ll pass your offer on to Eric and Michael and let you know if they’re interested. Thanks for your interest…….AlexK


  1. 1 Marshall McLuhan’s 1969 Deck of Cards, Designed For Out-of-the-Box Thinking – Mr. Remi Pulwer

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