How to Be as Well-Informed as Marshall McLuhan…


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Hannah Whitaker, “Barcroft Branches” & “Arctic Landscape (Trees)” (both 2014)

Excerpt from How to Be as Well-Informed as Marshall McLuhan, John Eaton, Lester Patrick Watson (Fron Macleans, September 1, 1971, pp. 38-39)

Canada lost its innocence somewhere between the time Gordie Tapp expatriated to do Hee-Haw and Pierre Trudeau discovered we were a nation of bleeding hearts. As if we hadn’t had enough with Vietnam, racism, dope and the economic imperialism of the United States. Which one of us can remember when French Canadians lived quietly in “La Belle Province’’ and Americans were our “friends and neighbors to the south’’? When King Gannon fiddled and Marshall McLuhan taught Kipling? When we all wanted to grow up rich and famous like Stafford Smythe? How can we, that is, how can you, make sense out of it all? Buckminster Fuller wasn’t kidding when he said the real pollution was information pollution. We are, all of us, cast adrift in a sea of information, some of us swimmers, some of us sinkers. Maclean’s has asked some of the country’s better swimmers to tread water long enough to tell us how they keep informed without going under. Sinkers read on. [Comment – If it was difficult in 1971 to make sense of it all, how much more difficult is it for us today by using pattern recognition in what Douglas Coupland calls this “Age of Earthquakes?]



One of my principal means of “keeping up to date” or of relating to my surround is conversation with people I encounter when I go away to give talks. This also includes the people who come to visit the Centre.

The writing of books compels a very sharp lookout for leads and guides. In the vast new information environment there are no trivial items. We have returned to the condition of the hunter who must alert all his faculties in order to dictate the moving lines of force and changing patterns of energy in the environment of the wired planet. Naturally, a “point of view” is quite inadequate as a means of relating to fast-changing processes. As regards reading materials, I find the daily work with graduate students in literature and many other fields puts me in touch with an enormous bibliography. Some access to materials on a plane, or in a dentist’s office, often serves to provide large evidence of patterns. For anybody who acquires the power of pattern recognition by the study of figure-ground gestalts, the present gives access to at least the next 30 years. That is, the present is in fact the future of the future for those who acquire the power to live in it. The power to live in the present is called “prophetic.” It is given to all major artists in any age. As a student of major contemporary forms, I enjoy a great advantage over those who merely take up a personal point of view. Understanding is not a point of view.

Hannah Whitaker, “Blue Paper (Albers)” (2014)Source:

One Response to “How to Be as Well-Informed as Marshall McLuhan…”

  1. For whatever reason, I was born with a strong sense of pattern recognition. It apparently comes from having an abnormal brain. I was diagnosed with a learning disability early on in school, but it goes way beyond learning. It is how my brain operates for everything.

    I learned to read late because of word recall issues which relates to how my memory works, more in terms of connections than factoids. At first, teachers thought I might’ve been low IQ. It turns out I was above average in IQ and, more importantly, had high fluid intelligence. I had a talent for solving visual puzzles, having measured at a 12th grade level in early elementary school.

    I see connections everywhere. I can’t help myself. And I honestly don’t understand how others don’t see connections. It seems obvious to me. Of course, I understand that there are many reasons to not see what is inconvenient. My atypical thinking style has come along with much psychological and social dysfunction. I’m hardly a successful person, according to mainstream society. The ability to see patterns is fairly useless in this society.

    For much of my life, I felt out of step with the world. It went along with severe depression. I can’t imagine being any other way, but it has come at a steep cost. When I was younger, I just wanted to fit in. I would have traded in my special abilities if it meant I could’ve been normal, My younger self just wanted to be plugged back into The Matrix. Such abilities are something you’re born with or not. There is very little incentive to try to develop them later in life. If anything, all the incentives go in the opposite direction.

    So, if you’re born that way, you simply have to deal with it. For everyone else, they can remain blissfully ignorant. Those who are talented in this area can brag about it or romanticize about it, but the reality is that it sucks. You might occasionally get praised by others, that is until you point out something that others don’t want to see, say something that is not supposed to be said. Those who manage to be successful with some amount of insight about the world typically do so by early on learning how to severely constrain themselves so as to never be offensive, to hide their light.

    It’s easier to sink, when surrounded by the crowd that is sinking with you. That way you’re not lonely. Or if you’re not sinking, it helps to splash around a bit to pretend your sinking. Otherwise, there will be plenty of others to try to pull you down.


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