What McLuhan got right (and wrong) about the “global village”


File:Apollo 10 earthrise.jpg

Earthrise: The Earth rising above the lunar horizon photographed from the Apollo 10 Lunar Module, looking west in the direction of travel. May, 1969

By Dr. Tim Ball

We live in small individual worlds that are composites of information from our senses, societal values, and education. It is not the real world but one deliberately created in education. It is not reality, but one easily created, distorted, and controlled by exploiters.

This is not new but one made easier today in a world drawn, described, and distorted by visual and electronic images: it’s the world Marshall McLuhan described 54 years ago as the global village.

Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) was a political scientist [correction: English professor] at the University of Toronto analyzing the media. He originated two phrases that succinctly describe the modern world. The first, “the global village” appeared in the “Gutenberg Galaxy” (1962), and the second, “The medium is the message” in “Understanding Media” (1964).

In the 54 years since McLuhan introduced the idea, our view of the world has dramatically changed. It began, as it usually does, with a symbolic change, a phrase, an event, or in this case, an image.

The composite image of Earth from 22,000 miles in space taken by astronauts on Apollo 8 appeared in 1968. It reinforced the global village concept because of human connections. It was the first manned craft to leave Earth orbit and produce pictures taken with a camera held by a human. However, like everything else in the global village, nothing is as it appears.

Environmentalist used terms like “the small blue marble” or space ship earth” to create the image that we live on a small, vulnerable planet.  This reinforced the second great illusion they created of overpopulation in 1968 with the publication of Paul Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb.”

The problem is there is no evidence of people on the planet from that distance, not even the Great Wall. At the surface, 95 percent of the land is uninhabited, contrary to the belief that the world is overpopulated.

It’s easy now to understand what McLuhan meant. The village is a good analogy for the Internet world because people who live in a village think they know what is going on, and are familiar with the physical dynamics. The reality is they know very little and understand even less.

It is a “global village”, but more than McLuhan envisioned. The most destructive people in a village are the gossips. They distort information and destroy people. The mainstream media are the gossips in the global village. They are the King makers and King breakers. Edmund Burke (1729–1797) said, “there were three Estates in Parliament; but in the reporter’s gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important than them all.” It is why William Cowper wrote The Progress of Error in 1782:

How shall I speak of thee or thy power address,
Thou God of our idolatry, the Press?
By thee, religion, liberty and laws
Exert their influence and advance their cause;
By thee worse plagues than Pharaoh’s land befell,
Diffused, make earth the vestibule of Hell;
Thou fountain, at which drink the good and wise;
Thou ever-bubbling spring of endless lies;
Like Eden’s dead probationary tree,
Knowledge of good and evil is from thee.

McLuhan talked about rapid and extensive communication in a shrinking world. It is a transition similar to the one Daniel Boorstin, identified in his book “The Creators” as the written word replaced the oral tradition. Socrates held to the belief in the power of the spoken word; thankfully Plato recorded his words.

Now the communication is through a new language of computers and social mediaspeak necessary for the global village. The blog and social media are replacing the printed word and even radio and television. The problem is the volume, variety, and multiple sources of information, demand better skills at separating truth from fiction.

For example, the scientist who located, identified, and warned the world about Soviet missiles in Cuba gave another warning before he died. Asked if he would like to work with the new technologies, he said no, because it allows the creation of undetectable, unreal, data, and images. It is impossible to separate real from unreal; deception is disturbingly easy.

Author and medical doctor Michael Crichton identified the challenge in a 2003 address to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. His opening paragraph explains:

I have been asked to talk about what I consider the most important challenge facing mankind, and I have a fundamental answer. The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda. Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance.

McLuhan’s global village, the world created by electronic interdependence, is here, but it is virtual reality. It is not the real world or even a good approximation. It is the world exploiters want you to believe. The Internet makes more information available to more people but makes determining its validity more difficult. We don’t educate students in skepticism or verification.

Today’s education truly is indoctrination. Of course, the power brokers know if you educate people properly they ask questions, and that is inevitably dangerous. This is why the advice of Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta is wise but constantly discouraged:

But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it. 

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.

Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.

Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.

Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.

Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.

But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it. Source: http://goo.gl/10wTjl

7 Responses to “What McLuhan got right (and wrong) about the “global village””

  1. The fact that no one except myself has even read this let alone left a reply….is a deafening roaring “Bullseye”!


  1. 1 Marshall McLuhan and the ‘Global Village’ – Theories of Media and Communication: Blog 3
  2. 2 Global Village? Is it really? – Theories of Media and Communication: Blog 3
  3. 3 McLuhan: The Global Village | How We Know What We Know
  4. 4 How We Know What We Know
  5. 5 McLuhan’s Global Village | How We Know What We Know
  6. 6 Podcast script – Meah Barnett

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