Google Doodle Honours Marshall McLuhan on his 106th Birthday

20Jul17

Herbert Marshall McLuhan is famed for having one of the most poignant predictions of the 20th century. The philosopher and intellectual foresaw the birth of the internet 35 years before it happened. 

On the day that would have been McLuhan’s 106th birthday [July 21, 2017] he is being honoured with a Google Doodle. This is a graphic image of the McLuhan Golden Doodle followed by the text that will accompany it on Google’s search page, being posted just after midnight on July 20, 2017. Go to Google Search after midnight tonight for a look.

(Click on the image to expand the view and start the animation)

One of the most charismatic, controversial and original thinkers of our time whose remarkable perception propelled him onto the international stage, Marshall McLuhan is universally regarded as the father of communications and media studies and prophet of the information age.

Marshall McLuhan’s 106th Birthday

Long before we started looking to our screens for all the answers, Marshall McLuhan saw the internet coming – and predicted just how impactful it would be. A Canadian philosopher and professor who specialized in media theory, McLuhan came to prominence in the 1960s, right as TV was becoming part of people’s everyday lives. At the center of his thinking was the idea that technology and the way information is shared are what ultimately shape a society.

Today’s Doodle, which celebrates the visionary’s 106th birthday, illustrates this theory by showing how McLuhan viewed human history. He saw it through the lens of 4 distinct eras: the acoustic age, the literary age, the print age, and the electronic age. His first major book, The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), explored the advent of the printing press and popularized the term “global village,” representing the idea that technology brings people together and allows everyone the same access to information.

In Understanding Media (1964), he further examined the transformative effects of technology and coined his famous phrase, “The medium is the message.” He believed that the way in which someone receives information is more influential than the information itself. Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, McLuhan amassed both followers and skeptics, making frequent TV appearances to speak about his theories.

Now, decades later, we honor the man whose prophetic vision of the “computer as a research and communication instrument” has undeniably become a reality.

Who was Marshall McLuhan?   (By Telegraph Reporters)

Born in Canada in 1911, McLuhan studied at the University of Manitoba and University of Cambridge before becoming a lecturer at the University of Toronto. He rose to prominence in the 1960s for his work as a media theorist and for coining the term “global village”, which was a prescient vision of the internet age.

His theories were met with controversy in academic circles throughout the 1970s and after his death in 1980. Then in 1989, the internet was born, and McLuhan was looked upon with renewed interest.

How did McLuhan predict the internet age?

McLuhan’s preeminent theory was his idea that human history could be divided into four eras: the acoustic age, the literary age, the print age and the electronic age. He outlined the concept in a 1962 book called The Gutenberg Galaxy, which was released just as the television was starting to become popular.

He predicted the world was entering the fourth, electronic age, which would be characterised by a community of people brought together by technology.

He called it the “global village” and said it would be an age when everyone had access to the same information through technology. The “global village” could be understood to be the internet.

In his follow-up book, Understanding Media, he expanded the theory to show the method of communication rather than the information itself would come to be the most influential fact of the electronic age.

He soon became a TV personality, making regular appearances to explain his theory of why “the medium is the message”.

He became the most publicised English teacher of the 20th century, a prestige that only grew with the realisation of his vision of the “computer as a research and communication instrument”. 

In the 21st century people have a world of information at their finger tips on smartphones, tablets and laptops. The internet has facilitated a breaking down of global barriers and the democratisation of knowledge.

McLuhan’s predictions caused a frenzy in the US, with high profile magazines and authors rallying around him. He was the subject of a Tom Wolfe article titled “What if he is right?” that was published in New York Magazine. 

His theory influenced the likes of French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister’s father, and artist Andy Warhol.

Source: https://goo.gl/LAHYN8. See also The history of | The Google Doodle directly below the article.

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5 Responses to “Google Doodle Honours Marshall McLuhan on his 106th Birthday”

  1. 1 phil

    “. The philosopher and intellectual foresaw the birth of the internet 35 years before it happened. ”

    You mean 55. 1962 till now.

    • You are right if we accept McLuhan’s idea of the “global village” as a premonition of the global village, as it is often taken to be today. But McLuhan had in mind TV, movies, radio and global air travel as global connecting media at that time. The first satellite Tv transmission happened in 1967 (see “Our World – The World’s First Ever Live Satellite TV Broadcast (1967) Included The Beatles & Marshall McLuhan” on this blog at https://goo.gl/qzXHQF ). But the Internet prediction is made with even greater clarity two years later than 1962 in “Understanding Media” and then again in 1966 in an interview by Robert Fulford (see “Marshall McLuhan Did Predict the Internet!” on this blog at https://goo.gl/d1Nnye ). But you are right and I should have noticed the Google writer’s mistaken 35 years. Thank you.

  2. Alex – I enjoyed your piece: How did McLuhan predict the internet age?
    Let me share with your readers the following excerpt from my book McLuhan Misunderstood which may be considered a response to you question: How did McLuhan predict the internet age? – Bob Logan

    McLuhan’s Prophecies That Have Come to Pass

    So many of McLuhan’s pronouncements about the effects of electric media are prophetic because it seems as though he was aware of the coming of personal computers, the Net, the Web and other digital media long before they arrived. Not only that, whatever McLuhan observed for electric media seems to apply even more so to digital media.

    In 1959 twenty years before personal computers and 35 years before the World Wide Web he already understood that the movement of information would dominate our economy when he wrote: “The production and the consumption of information… is the main business of our time (McLuhan, McLuhan, Staines 2003, 5).”

    Although Marshall McLuhan never saw a personal computer during his lifetime he predicted their arrival as his friend and colleague, Arthur Porter, related in the following reminiscence of a 1968 luncheon with McLuhan:

    Mac Hillock, [an IBMer] arranged a lunch with half a dozen of IBM’s divisional directors. Marshall got soon tuned up and was telling them about a computer for every home, no need to visit the grocery store… Two of them said to me after lunch, “we have not heard of anything as crazy as that!” Marshall was talking about the personal computer a dozen years before they thought of it. Here was a professor of English more than a decade ahead of the technical people in computer evolution. He was thinking in terms of the user (Nevitt and McLuhan 1994, 29-30).

    Another example of his prescience is that he, through his writing, also foreshadowed the Internet. William Gibson, the author Neuromancer, certainly deserves credit for coining the term cyberspace but long before Neuromancer was written or even conceived of, McLuhan (1967b, 67) described the Internet in the following passage in response to being asked “How is the computer affecting education” McLuhan’s response was an almost exact description of the Internet:

    The computer in education is in a very tentative state but it does represent basically speeded up access to information and when it is applied to the telephone and to Xerox it permits access to the libraries of the world, almost immediately, without delay. And so the immediate effect of the computer is to pull up the walls of the subjects and divisions of knowledge in favor of over-all field, total awareness–Gestalt.

    McLuhan description of the Internet was complete if one reads for the telephone packet switching over telephone lines and if one reads Xeroxing to represent the use of a printer. And he opined this description two full years before the development of ARPANET in 1969, the forerunner of the Internet. An even earlier remark attributed to McLuhan in 1962 also foreshadows the Internet:

    A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve individual encyclopedic function and flip into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_McLuhan).

    One can also interpret without too much of a stretch the retrieval of “individual encyclopedic function” in the above quote as a foreshadowing of Wikipedia. One can also see a foreshadowing of Google if one interprets saleable data as the way Google generates advertising revenues from its searches


  1. 1 Marshall McLuhan- The Man Who Predicted Internet! - TechStory

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