A Sampler of McLuhan Quotes Related to “Surveillance,” From Bill Kuhns’ Forthcoming McLuhan Marshalling Machine: A Dictionary of Quotations


In anticipation of Bill Kuhns’ to-be-published huge compendium of McLuhan quotes in his McLuhan Marshalling Machine: A Dictionary of Quotations, where they will be categorized by the artifact or phenomenon they refer to, I have Bill’s permission to publish samples of original McLuhan quotes from his writings, lectures, and interviews, some of which will have never before been seen in a secondary publication context.
For your information, as I have been asked, the publisher is not yet known but the manuscript is near completion and publication is expected to be sometime next year.

The Panopticon

In 1785 utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham proposed architectural plans for the Panopticon, a prison Bentham described as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.” Its method was a circular grid of surveillance; the jailors housed in a central tower being provided a 360-degree view of the imprisoned. Prisoners would not be able to tell when a jailor was actually watching or not. The premise ran that under the possibility of total surveillance (you could be being observed at any moment of the waking day) the prisoners would self-regulate their behavior to conform to prison norms. The perverse genius of the Panopticon was that even the jailor existed within this grid of surveillance; he could be viewed at any time (without knowing) by a still higher authority within the central tower – so the circle was complete, the surveillance – and thus conformance to authority – total.

The social technologies we see in use today are fundamentally panoptical – the architecture of participation is inherently an architecture of surveillance. (Source: https://tinyurl.com/ozsqny)

I have been providing you with Marshall McLuhan quotes on issues that are relevant to our current precarious situation in which our health, well-being, government, environment and way of life are threatened. This post is about…


“If Big Brother is watching, it is because we insist that he do so”. 
– Brave New World of MM, Glamour, July, 1966, p 101.
“The more that the data banks record about each one of us, the less we exist.” 
– From Cliche to Archetype(1970), p 13
“Espionage is now the total human activity — whether you call it audience rating, consumer surveys and so on. All men are now engaged as hunters of espionage.”
– Table Talk of Marshall McLuhan (1971), p 45.
“What has happened since the old muckraking days of the1920s is that espionage, whether political or commercial, has become the largest business in the world, and we take it for granted that the modern newspaper depends on “buggin” the whole community. In fact, we expect the press to “bug” the world and to challenge and penetrate all privacy and identity, whether private or corporate”.
– “At the Moment of Sputnik—” (1974), typescript, p 6.
“What is the effect on a person who speaks into a phone that is bugged or tapped? Simply this, such a person speaks as if to a highly specialized audience. He ‘puts on’ his audience. He wears a corporate mask like any other speaker….. Private discourse ends. In the long run, the effect of bugging phones, like the effect of computer data banks, is to obliterate all private individuality”.
“McLuhan on Russia” 1971, p 192.
“The new human occupation of the electronic age has become surveillance, CIA-style. Espionage is now the total human activity – whether you call it audience rating, consumer surveys, and so on. All men are now engaged as hunters of espionage. So women are completely free to take over the dominant role in our society. Women’s liberation represents demand for absolute mobility, not just physical and political freedom to change roles, jobs, and attitudes, but total mobility.” 
– “Table Talk of Marshall McLuhan” (1971), p 45.
“The entire planet has become a whispering gallery, with a large portion of mankind engaged in making its living by keeping the rest of mankind under surveillance.”
– “At the Moment of Sputnik,” (1974), typescript, p 4.
“Electrical information devices for universal, tyrannical womb-to-tomb surveillance are causing a very serious dilemma between our claim to privacy and the community’s need to know.”
– The Medium Is the Massage (1967), p 12.
“Thus wire-tapping seems even more odious than the reading of other people’s letters.
– Understanding Media (1964), MIT Press Edition, p 269.
“Another strange effect of this electric environment is the total absence of secrecy. What President Nixon refers to as the confidentiality of his role and position is no longer feasible. No form of secrecy is possible at electric speed, whether in the patent world, in the fashion world or in the political world. The pattern becomes obvious before anybody says anything about it. At electric speed, everything becomes X-ray. Watergate is a nice parable or example of how secrecy was flipped into show business.”
“Living in an Acoustic World,” Lecture at the University of South Florida, 1970. “McLuhan Speaks” Transcript, p 9. [VIDEO]
Mike McManus: “The investigations now of the CIA, the FBI, and even our own, God forbid, RCMP, has this anything to do with the electronic age?”
Marshall McLuhan: Well, yes, because we now have the means to keep everyone under surveillance. No matter what part of the world they’re in, we can put them under surveillance. It has become one of the main occupations of mankind, just watching other people and keeping a record of their goings-on. This is the way most businesses are run. Every business has a huge espionage sector. This is called public relations and audience research, and this is around the clock. This has become the main business of mankind, just watching the other guy”.
– “Violence as a Quest for Identity” (1977), Interview on The Mike McManus Show (TVO), in Understanding Me (2003), pp 267-268 [VIDEO].

Surveillance Capitalism

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