The “Global Village” is Never Harmonious, According to Marshall McLuhan



Thinking Globally, Speaking Locally – by Kurt Clausen

Abstract: Most Canadians today are familiar with the term “the Global Village”. It is a catch-phrase loaded with positive connotations of unity, familiarity, and humanity on an international scale. Through the modern miracle of electronic networks, most now believe that very personal linkages can be created between just about anyone in any part of the world, regardless of the distance. In short, it means that no-one need be a stranger anymore. However, this is a bit of an incomplete reading of what Marshall McLuhan meant when he originally coined the term. While to the modern urban-dweller a village rustles up images of tire swings, porch doors and the time to sit and talk about the “important things” of life, McLuhan would admonish this perspective as mere nostalgia from people who never actually lived in a village. To him, a village is more claustrophobic, people not as caring as one would think. Instead, it is a place where nosy parkers know your business, the crack in your drapes is a focal point for snoopy neighbors, and a non-stop stream of gossip is purveyed at the local post office. To McLuhan, life in the Global Village was a life lived vicariously. He did not condemn this, but just discussed this facet of the future with a sense of inevitability.

The full article (pdf) for which this is the abstract can be found at the Canadian Journal of Action Research at  .

Here’s how McLuhan describes his idea of the global village: 

“The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village”- The Gutenberg galaxy: The making of typographic man (1962), p. 31.

Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.”Understanding media: The extensions of man (1964), p. 3.

“… tribal people, one of their main kinds of sport is butchering each other. It’s a full-time sport in tribal societies … When people get close together, they get more and more savage, impatient with each other … The global village is a place of a very arduous interfaces and very abrasive situations.” – Violence as a quest for identity (1977). In Understanding Me: Lectures & Interviews (2003), p. 265.

I would define global village as the interconnectness and resulting mutual awareness of people around the world due to electronic communication technologies (radio, TV, movies and inexpensive global jet travel in McLuhan’s time, compounded by the Internet during ours). This awareness, arrived at because of our technologies, does NOT lead to mutual understanding, respect, and global harmony, as Marshall McLuhan (who adopted the term from the writer Wyndham Lewis) wrote in his book “War & Peace in the Global Village” (1968). The book was written during the height of the Vietnam War and Cold War, just a few years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, which almost led to global thermonuclear disaster. Today Al Queda, ISIS, Boko Haram and other terrorist tribes use the Internet to communicate and collaborate as much as we do, turning our technologies against us, as they did the airliners on 9/11.

 Cover of book by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore entitled WAR AND PEACE IN THE GLOBAL VILLAGE, 1968

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