Marshall McLuhan in the Context of the Culture & Technology of the 1960s Decade

31Dec16

rockin-the-1960s

Culture & Technology in the 1960s Decade

The Sixties are especially significant in the kind of art-media-cultural developments we are cataloging here in this timeline. Essentially because during the 1960s, we began to develop most of the technologies that underpin our 21st century media-space. And it was the American Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) that really kick-started the building of the basic infrastructure that we inherited. ARPA’s enlightened, State-funded research programmes spanned computer-science, networking, human-computer interface design, computer-graphics, modelling and simulation at the same time that aerospace and telecoms engineers were building the communications satellite infrastructure glimpsed as early as 1945-46 by Arthur C. Clarke and the scientist/engineers at RAND Institute. In the 1960s the US Military completed several versions of the SAGE early-warning air-defense networks, and by the late Sixties, ARPA had initiated a inter-computer network in the USA that resulted in the Internet in the early 1970s. By 1968 an ARPA-funded researcher, Douglas Engelbart, using a mainframe computer linked to a dumb-terminal demonstrated how a networked personal computer might work in the 1980s… As early as 1961, the computer-pioneer Jay Wright Forrester had shown that complex systems – like factories and businesses could be modelled in a computer, and simulations created to improve management strategies. By 1971, Forrester’s Systems Dynamics approach was applied to creating World Dynamics a computer-model of the entire World and its resources. And apart from these media-technology innovations, the decade established Britain as a vibrant source of cultural content-invention – in popular music, fashion, fine arts, design, and life-style, and even more radical – the 1960s was the decade during which the counter-culture and avant garde became a dominant influenThe Sixties are especially significant in the kind of art-media-cultural developments we are cataloging here in this timeline. Essentially because during the 1960s, we began to develop most of the technologies that underpin our 21st century media-space. And it was the American Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) that really kick-started the building of the basic infrastructure that we inherited. ARPA’s enlightened, State-funded research programmes spanned computer-science, networking, human-computer interface design, computer-graphics, modelling and simulation at the same time that aerospace and telecoms engineers were building the communications satellite infrastructure glimpsed as early as 1945-46 by Arthur C. Clarke and the scientist/engineers at RAND Institute. In the 1960s the US Military completed several versions of the SAGE early-warning air-defense networks, and by the late Sixties, ARPA had initiated a inter-computer network in the USA that resulted in the Internet in the early 1970s. By 1968 an ARPA-funded researcher, Douglas Engelbart, using a mainframe computer linked to a dumb-terminal demonstrated how a networked personal computer might work in the 1980s… As early as 1961, the computer-pioneer Jay Wright Forrester had shown that complex systems – like factories and businesses could be modelled in a computer, and simulations created to improve management strategies. By 1971, Forrester’s Systems Dynamics approach was applied to creating World Dynamics a computer-model of the entire World and its resources. And apart from these media-technology innovations, the decade established Britain as a vibrant source of cultural content-invention – in popular music, fashion, fine arts, design, and life-style, and even more radical – the 1960s was the decade during which the counter-culture and avant garde became a dominant influence on mass culture. The Beatles Sgt Pepper and Beach Boys Surfs Up, the 1969 Woodstock and Isle of Wight Festivals established this – and the new Hollywood adventures of Dennis Hopper, Arthur Penn, Robert Altman, Stanley Kubrick, Doug Trumbull and others proved it at the box office. Echoing the rapidity of technical developments (cataloged in Gene Youngblood’s book Expanded Cinema in 1970), and the burgeoning cultural changes of the 1960s, the arts were evolving into a kind of celebration of mixed-media as we experienced concrete poetry, happenings (algorithmic theatre), auto-destructive art, pop-art, performance art, rock music, and the rest of the counter-culture impact (drugs/long hair/burning bras etc) on mass culture. (See the Mediainspiratorium at https://goo.gl/3WIzEB )

There are 3 entries about Marshall McLuhan in this timeline:-

Herbert Marshall McLuhan: The Gutenberg Galaxy 1962

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 I discovered Elizabeth Eisenstein’s encyclopedic book on the impact of Print (The Printing Press as an Agent of Change 1980) twenty years after I read McLuhan’s Gutenberg Galaxy – but this was the book for this time, reminding us not only of the many physical cultural changes wrought by Print, but of the psychic re-orientation and wholly new methodology of thinking that it precipitated – as McLuhan explains in his Prologue, the reorientation from oral society to typographic society had profound effects, the idea of rote learning, the development of linear step by step logic, – creating the modern scientific revolution; and the leap into someone-else’s personal perspective fostering individuality, the system of visual (vanishing-point) perspective, the Renaissance as books spread knowledge throughout the West in the vernacular, outside the control of State or Church. The Gutenberg Galaxy itself provides the prologue for an understanding of how electronic media is impacting on all these aspects of our culture and our psyche. Read McLuhan’s final section: The Galaxy Reconfigured, then go on to read his Understanding Media (1963).

Herbert Marshall McLuhan: Understanding Media – The Extensions of Man 1964

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“After three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the Western world is imploding. During the mechanical ages we had extended our bodies in space. 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. Rapidly we approach the final phase of the extensions of man – the technological simulation of consciousness, where the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society, much as we have already extended our senses and our nerves by the various media. Whether the extension of consciousness, so long sought by advertisers for specific products, will be a ‘good thing’ is a question that admits of a wide solution. There is little possibility of answering questions about the extensions of man without considering all of them together. Any extension, whether of skin, hand or foot, extends the whole psychic and social complex.” – Marshall McLuhan from the Introduction, Understanding Media, 1964, p11)

Marshall McLuhan + Quintin Fiore: The Medium is the Massage – An Inventory of Effects 1964

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