The Global Village Redux: From Metaphor to Meme

27Aug14

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A recent online article provides a short history of metaphors for the Internet ( http://tinyurl.com/pnofxro ) and offers an incomplete list of Net metaphors, which includes: information superhighway, infobahn, cyberspace, web, cloud and yes – global village. Metaphors are figures of speech that are especially useful to help us understand new phenomena, especially new technologies, but their usefulness often wanes over time, as familiarity either confirms or disproves their applicability. The Internet is not at all like a superhighway, and so that metaphor has lost its usefulness.

In The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) Marshall McLuhan provided this definition of global village“The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village” (p. 31). And Marshall McLuhan’s “global village” metaphor has been used with increasing frequency since the arrival of the Internet and especially its social media like virtual communities, Facebook and Twitter. Indeed, arguably the phrase global village has transcended its metaphoric status and has become a meme, which, as applied to the Internet, the OED defines as “an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations” ( http://tinyurl.com/ndthm2x ).

 The following article by Dr. Adam Earnheardt is republished here by permission:-

Realizing the global village

Published Sun, August 24, 2014

It’s difficult for me to imagine life without the Internet and social media. While it’s not the same as looking someone in the eye and having a conversation, in a broader way, I feel more connected to people from all over the world.

After all, we live in a global village.

At some point in your life, you’ve probably heard or used that phrase “global village.” You may have heard it used in reference to the Internet.

The first email you sent must have been exciting. You didn’t have to wait days for someone to get a letter in the mail. And more importantly, the response was usually a lot quicker.

More recently, you may hear “global village” used at the launch of a new social-media app, or in reference to being able to have real-time video chats with people in different countries.

What might surprise you, however, is that the person who is credited with coining “global village” did so in the 1960s — decades before the Internet and social media.

How could he have possibly known about a global village in the 1960s?

Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian philosopher who became a bit of a social icon in the mid-20th century (he had a cameo in the movie “Annie Hall”), predicted this brave new world of email, websites and social media long before the first computers were linked.

“Global village” was a way to explain the extensions we have to other people all over the world through various channels and technologies. In 1962, he said: “The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.”

OK, I know this sounds like something some old, boring, stodgy professor-type would say. But underneath all of this is a prediction. In a sense, he predicted the Internet and, more specifically, social media.

The thought was that all the different technologies and mediums we use to connect with others and learn about the world would eventually exist in one place. He saw the telephone, television, radio, books, newspapers, and primitive versions of the computer as the heart of the global village.

McLuhan knew what was coming next. We’re used to hearing predictions of doom and gloom (see Nostradamus), but McLuhan’s predictions were (and are), for the most part, hopeful and exciting.

For example, he once said, “The next medium … will transform television into an art form.”

Now think about the way television has evolved in the past five years. Think of the volumes of videos we now access on Facebook, Twitter, Vine and other social-media apps that serve entertain and educate us.

Think of binge-watching and streaming TV shows that features rich characters and complex stories. This is yet another of his predictions in the process of being realized through the creation of new technologies.

Of course, we’re still witnessing McLuhan’s predictions. And although he died in 1980, I wish he were here to tell us what was next.

Maybe he has.

If you’re brave enough and have the time to wade through his dense yet artful prose — it took me five weeks to read McLuhan’s “Understanding Media” — maybe you’ll find the next great prediction. And maybe that prediction will lead you to create the next great invention, and create stronger connections for the global village.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chairman of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. (Source: http://tinyurl.com/q8ar3dj )

The Internet is the town square for the global village of tomorrow.

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3 Responses to “The Global Village Redux: From Metaphor to Meme”

  1. 1 Bob logan

    Other metaphors for the Internet off the top of my head: cyberspace town square; cyber market place; Global Brain (From Wikipedia: The global brain is a metaphor for the planetary ICT network that interconnects all humans and their technological artifacts… An idea developed by Francis Heylighen and Johan Bollen in 1996, two years after the Net went public)

  2. Yes, Bob, the metaphors morph and proliferate as the Internet or Net evolves and becomes increasingly ubiquitous.


  1. 1 Internet is growing up and so is the world – MDIA5003 XVI

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