Marshall McLuhan and Technoculture

12Nov14
technoculture2
What is Technoculture?
The online academic journal technoculture defines its title as “the ways in which technology impacts this (or any) society”http://tcjournal.org/drupal/about ) and Wikipedia expands the definition, explaining the term as “a neologism that is not in standard dictionaries but that has some popularity in academia, popularized by editors Constance Penley and Andrew Ross in a 1991 book of essays bearing that title. It refers to the interactions between, and politics of, technology and culture” http://tinyurl.com/olbzskw ). Although the focus of technoculture appears to be on digital and Internet technologies, in fact the term refers to all technologies, not just the kinds that plug in or run on electricity. Marshall McLuhan was in fact “a man for all media” as my late colleague Liss Jeffrey used say, even accepting human language within the boundaries of technology. That the symbiotic relationship between technology and culture was his main concern is underlined by the naming of his personal department at the University of Toronto, established in October, 1963, as the Centre for Culture & Technology. The essay below examines some of the research and ideas that have emerged from the study of technoculture……..AlexK

Technoculture And Human Relationships            June 19, 2014

 This one is an academic submission — a review of literature — to analyse the effects of technoculture in the new mediated society. – Srirekha Chakravarty

This literature review follows the critical theory of Simon Cooper who follows in the tradition of Heidegger, to posit that it is possible to say both ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ to technology (Cooper, 2002).

In his book Technoculture and Critical Theory: In the Service of the Machine, Cooper theorizes about the hesitation most of us feel towards technological progress; and the imposing nature of technology in recreating social and cultural meanings.

Cooper theorizes that in technoculture, while we welcome the social and cultural transformation, we may set limits on technological mediation (Cooper, 2002).

technoculture

Introduction:

“New media transforms all culture and cultural theory into an ‘open source.’  This opening up of cultural techniques, conventions, forms, and concepts is ultimately the most promising cultural effect of computerization”– Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (Manovich, 2001). The urgency and indeed the overbearing nature of new media technology was elucidated to rather controversial reactions by Marshall McLuhan, who set off the futuristic wheels of understanding the irrevocable relationship between man and machine way back in the 1960s. McLuhan’s practical yet paradoxically deterministic approach to technology and indeed his uncanny acceptance of its effects on human society is reflected in the McLuhanism:

“The most human thing about us is technology”  (McLuhan, 1974)[1]. The unprecedented developments in Internet-enabled information and digital communication technologies beginning in the early 2000’s, and the consequent transformation of society deepened the roots of technoculture to organically branch out into digital culture and the more punkish cyberculture.

Theorists who were still wrapping up debates on early technoculture – including the brand professed by McLuhan in the 1960s and later vilified by Neil Postman in the early 1990s – found themselves grappling with the way society, culture and technology were radically redefining each other.

Technoculture has been adopted as a construct of the new mediated world since the Internet was opened up for public use in the early 1990s, and spread its roots wider with digitization of information and communication technology over the past decade. The constantly evolving communications technology is a critical element of that culture, where, as Jean Baudrillard (Baudrillard, 1983) said in the context of the television, “our own body and the whole surrounding universe become a control screen.”

Technoculture refers simultaneously to the cultural dimensions of technology and to the technological dimensions of culture (Vannini, 2009).

Beginning with the 1990s, the confluence of computers and communication technologies where it is no longer about computers or laptops but about information appliances, interaction with technology has become as much about what people feel as it is about what they do (John McCarthy, 2004).

There is healthy interest in academia that is viewing technoculture as a contemporary reality – one that exists in a “continuous state of flux” whose transformations have been driven by human inventions (Kozinets, 2010).

And while some skeptics foresee a world inhabited by cyborgs (Haraway, 1991)enslaved by technology, there are others who see no boundaries between technology and culture in a world of cybernatics, bionics and interactive cyberspace (Gibson, 1984). The debate between technology and culture may then seem outdated because technoculture is seen as a “hybridization” of both (Berger, 1996).

The dynamic relationship between technology and culture then makes it necessary to not only keep up with new communicational vocabulary such as ‘googling’, ‘facebooking’, ‘twittering’, ‘texting’ ‘radio blogging’, ‘gaming’, etc., but also to understand the survivability of traditional local cultures against the forces of technology.

While McLuhan himself was never overtly opposed to a technology infused culture, his protégé, Neil Postman (Postman, 1993) took a critical stance on a culture that was becoming more pervasive than pop culture. This review then is a pertinent exercise in analyzing from a socio-techno-cultural perspective, what it means to live in a digital age; and understanding in that context, whether Neil Postman’s antithetical view that culture always pays a price for technology, (Postman, 1998)[2] really holds out.

Advent of technoculture

The advent of technoculture in human society may be traced back to the evolution of communications from the oral tradition to a written one and later to print, to the current day technological breakthrough with computers and mobile phones with broadband capacity.

Given the historical perspective, “technoculture” would map the technologically saturated worlds of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries (Lovlie, 2006).

Welcome to technoculture

Taking a somewhat romanticized view, Phillip Vannini and his colleagues (Vannini, 2009) believe technoculture resides in “old docks, in toy stores, in the hobbyist’s toolbox, and in the refrigerator as much as it resides in the cathodes of an electronic tube or in the chips of a personal computer.”

A clinical view suggests that as communities are increasingly finding their common ground in cyberspace rather than on terra firma (Mitchell, 1996),real world communities are more homogenized and becoming part of a “big, one-world conversation” (Robins, 1999).

What William J. Mitchell talks about is a virtual world where humans will exist as “disembodied and fragmented subjects, freed from the constraints of physical space”. He declares that the new technologically-mediated world will be a post-geographical world where humans effectively will put an end to the “tyranny of distance”.

Mitchell goes so far as to dream up a technocultural utopia of a virtual ‘transparent society’ inhabited by mutually sympathetic persons.

On a more pragmatic note, what is apparently shaping social reality is the idea that technology and culture are no longer mutually exclusive but inseparably linked in a world mediated by Internet and all the devices that allow access to it (Gibson, 1984). Read the rest of this essay and its list of References at http://tinyurl.com/pd3ot3p .

cover of book

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