Has the Electronic Image Supplanted the Written Word?


On the eve of our Media Ecology Association convention in Toronto, here’s a timely NY Times Sunday Book Review piece addressing a fundamental media ecology concern……..Alex

Has the Electronic Image Supplanted the Written Word?

JUNE 17, 2014

 Each week in Bookends, two writers take on questions about the world of books. Fifty years ago, Marshall McLuhan suggested that the electronic image had supplanted the written word. This week, Dana Stevens and Rivka Galchen discuss whether we are living in a new revolutionary age, or just a continuation of the old one.

By Dana Stevens

What would the creator of the phrase “global village” have to say about its current incarnation, the Internet?

To read “Understanding Media” in 2014 is to wish McLuhan, who died in 1980 at the age of 69, were still available in theater lobbies for consultation. The book is a structural maze whose repetitiveness, rhetorical vagueness and propensity for brazen self-contradiction will drive your inner editor to contemplate rash acts. But flashing out of the murk at regular intervals are aphoristic bursts of uncannily prescient wisdom about the history and future of the various technologies of human communication — what McLuhan refers to in the book’s subtitle as “the extensions of man.” After a while you get accustomed to the terrain of McLuhan’s mind — a place of dizzying shifts and precipitous drops, crammed to bursting with false etymologies and weirdly inapposite literary references, where making sense is less important than making big, bold connections. “The electric light is pure information.” “Print technology transformed the medieval zero into the Renaissance infinity.” “Einstein pronounced the doom of continuous or ‘rational’ space, and the way was made clear for Picasso and the Marx Brothers and Mad.” These sweeping, oracular pronouncements don’t always lend themselves to paraphrase or rational explanation. Rather, they function as invitations to readers to use these ideas as tools in their own thinking about media, which perhaps explains why McLuhan later called his mantra-like formulations “probes.”

By Rivka Galchen

The written word is dying. Even if it never entirely expires, other mediums of expression are consuming the limited oxygen.

 The written word has been dying for so long!!! Exclamation points have finally revealed themselves as the sleeper cells of Image?! Image, which is so much better at getting us to buy something? You’ve read this argument before. Then we say that kids these days, they never read — they never read! — or, kids these days, they heart reading, and their tweets are Wildean epigrams, and Kanye West is a god of language . . . although that’s not written language, it’s . . . sometimes we get lost, it’s difficult to stay on point in conversation, especially because a terrible death blow was dealt to conversation, by literacy. It’s true, literacy has made conversational dum-dums of us all. Look at how witty the dialogue is in Shakespeare . . . most everybody back then could follow that sort of thing . . . and now we can’t, not only because we don’t speak Elizabethan English, but because we spend so much time reading . . . time that could be spent conversing, bantering . . . and that’s why the Elizabethans could have nuanced merry wars and everyone could follow and think up quick wordplay responses, because back then, talking was most all there was for most people to do . . . so we were better at it.

Those are two out of context quotes. Read the full article at http://tinyurl.com/okhnrap  .

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