Michael McLuhan’s Graduation Address to Students of Marshall McLuhan Secondary School, Toronto, June 28, 1017

Graduands, mentors, teachers and parents,

The epitaph on my father’s grave marker is a quote from the Gospel of John: “The truth shall set you free.”

Maybe so but as Sen. Murray Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, once said, “The truth will set you free but first it will piss you off.”

I would like to start by offering all of you a heartfelt apology. As you begin to make the change to adulthood, to being taxpayers, it occurs to me that we are gifting you with a world in much worse shape than when we were born. While it is true that in my lifetime Indigenous persons have been granted the vote and are now accepted as fellow humans (sort of) and that women have been granted greater equality and opportunity (sort of), income inequality has been growing at an alarming rate since the mid eighties. This, after it had been decreasing steadily since the thirties. This is what happens when you trust old white men to run the world. Sadly, I find myself categorically in their company.

That said, I want to ask you to remember that no matter what comes to dominate your lives, caring matters. Your caring counts. If members of my generation had not fought, putting their bodies as well as their hearts on the line, for racial equality and justice, for women to have control over their destinies, their bodies, the world would be a far different place.

Contrary to the current thought rampant in the halls of power, Greed is Not Good. It puzzles me why we are supposed to accept that terribly rich people will act in our best interests if we grant them power. Is there anything in their past behaviour that would lead us to believe they would? The widening gap in income between those that have the most and those who have the least demonstrates irrevocably that the ‘trickle down’ theory of economic redistribution does not work. Whereas, (and here I will spout some heresy) when the union movement was on the rise and expanding, in the period just post war through to the Reagan Era, the income gap was at its smallest. Social programs such as universal health care, subsidized post-secondary education, the forty-hour work week and minimum wage came into being. Income taxes went up to pay for these things. Yes! Taxes increased dramatically. However, in a well governed society, corporations pay their fair share and those with more, pay more to help make the system fairer and more equitable. Taxation should be an effective if inefficient means of more fairly distributing wealth. Pay your fair share with a smile on your face. It is a sign of how well you are doing. It is your responsibility as a Canadian.

Stephen Colbert has said “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

The eminent constitutional historian Dr. Peter Russell and author John Ralston Saul have both made a strong case that Canada has not just 2 founding cultures, French and English. They strongly posit that the Indigenous peoples who occupied the land for somewhere between 13,000 and 30,000 years before the devastating European incursion, are also foundational to the very nature of our ‘Canadian-ness”.

An Odawa elder friend recently pointed out to me that to resolve differences we can either resort to negotiation or violence. (By the way, the Odawa people gave their name to our nation’s capital.) Incredibly the British utilized negotiation as the preferred path in dealing with our First Peoples. They thought that in the long run it would be cheaper but they were also motivated by the fact that, at the time, they were severely outnumbered. So in Canada, Indigenous Peoples were marginalized through a treaty process, whereas in the states blatant slaughter was the preferred method. (Anecdotally Pierre Trudeau is famous for commenting to someone who had complimented Canada on its resolving of territorial issues through non-violent means, “Yes, it is true. Where you slaughtered your Indians, we chose to starve ours to death.” But that is another story.)

Back to our brief recounting, this initiative resulted in The Royal Proclamation of 1763  which established the British definition of Indian Country. On these lands the Crown claimed sovereignty but it also decreed that the land was to be considered in the possession of the Indigenous peoples who occupied them (Wikipedia). It is this Proclamation which firmly formalizes the Nation-to-Nation relationship between the Crown and Indigenous Nations. In order to transfer ownership of the land to the Crown, the indigenous occupants had to cede it formally by way of treaty. This proclamation has been referred to as the Canadian Magna Carta.

The entire Province of British Columbia was recently confirmed to be unceded in the Supreme Court. There is much more to this story than what I am recounting here and it would serve you to read up on it for it will affect your lives increasingly in coming years. Briefly put, it is this jurisdiction over ancestral lands that will frame much of the conversation around environmental stewardship and land use. There was the belief when many of these treaties were negotiated that the First Peoples concerned would be wiped from the earth within a few short decades. Indigenous communities have been on the rebound since the twenties. These treaties are law and must be honoured even as federal governments of both Liberal and Conservative stripe would hope otherwise.

Our people, and you and yours are included in this, have violated every treaty that was made with our original inhabitants, the spiritual custodians of this land. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has made three judgements against the current government’s chronic underfunding of education to First Nation’s children and four judgements against that same government’s withholding of funding for children’s health care. These are legally binding judgments. So far the Government of Justin Trudeau has spent almost three quarters of a million dollars fighting the tribunal in court. Across Canada First Nations children are being denied access to needed medical treatment. Those same children receive sixty cents for every dollar a non-indigenous child receives for education. Here, in this great nation, there are 89 reserves without potable drinking water. Ladies and gentlemen, these actions define systemic racism. They are a blot on our collective character and I charge you to care about this. For some of you here I hope it will become your life’s mission.

Because I am addressing a predominantly Catholic audience, you must expect that I would quote Pope Francis. Here it comes…

“Racism today is the ultimate evil in the world. When Italians, Spanish or French turn back the boats of African migrants seeking a life, are they not like the inn keeper who told Mary and Joseph that there was no room for them and the infant Christ? These migrants are children of God and we are commanded to love them!”

Pope Francis went on to say “those who would dare to turn immigrants away, be they legal or undocumented, turn their backs on Christ himself! A racist is not a true Christian. A racist casts aside his humanity to become a beast, a demon! He is the embodiment and personification of evil, a Satan!”

Another quote from Pope Francis:
“Because Muslims, Hindus and African Animists are also made in the very likeness and image of God, to hate them is to hate God! To reject them to is to reject God and the Gospel of Christ. Whether we worship at a church, a synagogue, a mosque or a mandir, it does not matter. Whether we call God, Jesus, Adonai, Allah or Krishna, we all worship the same God of love. This truth is self-evident to all who have love and humility in their hearts!”

This brings me to the subject of political leaders who fan the fires of racism and xenophobia for political gain. In 1979-80 a combination of Conservative and Liberal governments encouraged citizens to sponsor what became known as Vietnamese Boat People. About 70,000 refugees were welcomed and integrated into our communities. The family who was brought to Uxbridge where I lived then, moved to a larger Vietnamese community in Toronto within two years. Their children returned though! Two are pharmacists, one is a lawyer and two are optometrists. Their parents had been tailors in Vietnam. They are ethnic Chinese. Racism drove them out of their homeland. In Uxbridge they opened a medical centre and they now employ more than a dozen local residents.

Had they been screened for Canadian Values as one recent Conservative leadership candidate suggested, they probably would not have made the cut. We would all be poorer for it.

The politics of division is racist to the core. No matter whose tongue it falls from, this attitude is not acceptable. You should not tolerate it. Take heed. A recent IPSOS Reid poll found almost 40% of Canadians they surveyed were sympathetic to screening immigrants for Canadian Values .

What to do?

Changing the world starts with the individual. Simple things. Sensible things. Be passionate!

Read a book. It is how you will learn about worlds other than your own. When you have them, read to your children. Read to them until they kick you out of their rooms and scream “NO MORE!”

Ride a bike or walk. If you must drive, drive a hybrid. Say no to fossil fuel consumption at every opportunity. Install solar panels. Support wind energy. Most of all consume less!

Volunteer. Volunteer for any cause you hold dear. Community access. LGBTQ2 rights. English as a second language courses. Your local hospital. Big Brother or Sister. Tutor needy students. A food bank or homeless persons hostel. The Canadian Cancer Society. Step out of yourselves for a few hours a week. What you will learn will astound you.

Here’s a challenge: Turn off all screens for two or three hours every day. You will be amazed what is going on in the world around you!

My friends, building a better world is your responsibility now. You are at an age where this rests on your shoulders. I started this talk with an apology. I will end it with an exhortation.

This is from the late great Jack Layton: “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world. ”

I thank you for putting up with me.

Michael McLuhan with a portrait of his father at Marshall McLuhan Secondary School in March, 2014.


Father Paul A. Soukup, S. J.

Father Paul A. Soukup, S. J. was the recipient of this year’s 7th annual Medium and the Light Award, in recognition of the religious dimensions of the life and work of Marshall McLuhan. The award was presented on Thursday, June 22 in Moraga, California at the 18th Annual Media Ecology Association Convention at Saint Mary’s College of California.  

Dr. Soukup is a media scholar, educator, practitioner, and head of the Department of Communication at Santa Clara University.  Fr. Paul has explored the connections between communication and theology since 1982. His publications include Communication and Theology (1983); Christian Communication: A Bibliographical Survey (1989); Media, Culture, and Catholicism (1996); Mass Media and the Moral Imagination with Philip J. Rossi (1994); and Fidelity and Translation: Communicating the Bible in New Media with Robert Hodgson (1999).  This latter publication grows out of his work on the American Bible Society’s New Media Bible (www.newmediabible.org).

In addition, he and Thomas J. Farrell have edited four volumes of the collected works of Walter J. Ong, S.J., Faith and Contexts (1992-1999). These volumes have led him to examine more closely how orality-literacy studies can contribute to an understanding of theological expression. Most recently, he has published a book of Biblical meditations on communication, Out of Eden: 7 Ways God Restores Blocked Communication (2006) and edited a collection of essays applying Ong’s thought: Of Ong & Media Ecology: Essays in Communication, Composition, and Literary Studies (2012). A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin (PhD, 1985), Fr. Soukup serves on the Board of Trustees of the American Bible Society. He has served on the Board of Loyola University of New Orleans, and served as a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Communication Committee.

Fr. Paul received the Medium and the Light Award particularly for his long and fruitful exploration into theology and communication that help us understand what it means to be both Christian and human in the 21st century. The Award is given annually by The Marshall McLuhan Initiative at St Paul’s College, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.  The University of Manitoba is Marshall McLuhan’s first post-secondary alma mater, where he earned the MA degree in English and Philosophy and Gold Medal in Arts for 1933 and an MA in English Literature in 1934.

Fr. Soukup receiving the award from Howard R. Engel, Director of the Marshall McLuhan Initiative at the University of Manitoba


Claude Shannon (1916-2001)

A classic film on communication finds renewed meaning in the age of memes and emojis

From personal email and texts to Facebook, Twitter and the like, the last several decades have seen an unprecedented influx of new means of human-to-human communication. So it’s a testament to the work of the US mathematician and ‘father of information theory’ Claude Shannon (1916-2001) that his model of communication, laid out in his landmark book A Mathematical Theory of Communication (1949), is still so broadly applicable.

Working from Shannon’s book, in 1953 the iconic husband-and-wife design team Ray and Charles Eames created the short film A Communications Primer for IBM, intending to ‘interpret and present current ideas on communications theory to architects and planners in an understandable way, and encourage their use as tools in planning and design’. Released at the dawn of the personal computer age, the film’s exploration of symbols, signals and ‘noise’ remains thoroughly – almost stunningly – relevant when viewed some 64 years later.

Director: Ray & Charles  Eames   –   Composer: Elmer Bernstein

Marshall McLuhan differentiated his own theory of communication from that of Shannon and others as a Transformational theory as opposed to a merely Transportation theory: 

“My kind of study of communication is really a study of transformation, whereas Information Theory and all the existing theories of communication I know of are theories of transportation… Information Theory … has nothing to do with the effects these forms have on you… So mine is a transformation theory: how people are changed by the instruments they employ.” — Marshall McLuhan  –  In McLuhan, M., Wolfe, T., McLuhan, S., & McLuhan Productions. (1996). The Video McLuhan. [Toronto, Ont.]: McLuhan Productions.

Shannon’s diagram of a general communications system, which shows the process that produces a message.

Here is how Eric McLuhan explains the differences:

McLuhan often pointed out that the West has no theory of communication. We are denied one by our visual bias. That is to say, we have no theory of change. Communication means change. If something is communicated the recipient has changed in some manner or degree. Our “common sense” idea of communication is merely one of transporting messages from point to point. Shannon and Weaver laid the foundation of all Western “theories of communication” with their model:

— Noise —
Source >>> Message >>> Channel >>> Recipient
— Noise —

But this only is a transportation theory, not a theory of communication. They are concerned merely with getting a bundle of goodies from one place to another, while keeping dreaded Noise to a minimum. Their “theory” contains no provision for change—except perhaps in Noise (which they shun as debilitating). 


“People don’t actually read newspapers. They step into them every morning like a hot bath.” — Marshall McLuhan

 

Marshall McLuhan reading newspaper (1972) – Apropos Lou Forsdale visit to Marshall McLuhan for taping piece for Electric Media volume for High Schools (Harcourt Brace)

By Peter Feuerherd, professor of journalism at St. John’s University in New York and a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.

Communication theorists don’t usually merit international celebrity, with one giant exception. During the 1960s, and until his death in 1980, Canadian professor and author Marshall McLuhan improbably became part of cocktail party discourse and a household name.

McLuhan, born on July 21, 1911, converted to Roman Catholicism in 1937. After attending Cambridge, he taught at the University of Toronto, where he began exploring the postwar world of modern communications. He was fascinated by the life of his own children, who he discovered had moved beyond the print culture he was reared in. They watched the newly-created television, listened to radio, read, and multi-tasked in ways that captivated their professor father.

McLuhan’s signature concept was that any new medium of communication alters the entire outlook of the people who use it. He saw the newly emergent medium of television transforming the world into what he called a global village, breaking down isolated pockets of racial and ethnic identities, forging new narratives shared by entire populations, who were returning to pre-print ways of hearing and experiencing stories.

McLuhan’s theories were said to explain the generation gap. Corporations paid him large sums to lecture executives on their business models (he often told them they had no idea what they were doing). He was featured in scores of magazine and newspaper articles. Intellectuals (and would-be intellectuals) bandied about McLuhan’s proverbs such as “the medium is the message.” He even discussed his theories in a cameo appearance in Woody Allen’s 1977 romantic comedy Annie Hall.                                                                                                                                                                                                

McLuhan privately expressed his debt to the Jesuit mystic, scientist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ   (1881 -1955)

But there was one portion of McLuhanism that remained hidden to the general public, according to author Tom Wolfe. McLuhan privately expressed his debt to the Jesuit mystic, scientist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin for inspiring many of his theories. McLuhan saw his theories as harkening an age in which all people would become part of the body of Christ, a unity created by technological advances. Teilhard, who died in 1955, was known for his teachings which looked towards Darwinian evolution not as an enemy of religious faith but as evidence of God’s design for the evolution of humanity.

McLuhan kept this influence out of his public writings and speeches. Wolfe says he probably did so in response to Teilhard’s regular battles with Catholic authorities, who frequently saw his views as contrary to the faith and tried to suppress them. Teaching at a Catholic college, McLuhan might have been reticent for fear for his own position.McLuhan also saw that citing a mystical Jesuit would be a dead end with secular audiences, who would be suspicious of a religious viewpoint permeating the realm of communications theory.

In any case, McLuhan enjoyed guru-like status, invoked regularly and pondered by the world’s intelligentsia. His theories were applied by the innovators of the emerging internet of the 1990s, who saw in McLuhan a vision of how their own medium was transforming the world. Years after his death, McLuhan’s photo adorned the masthead of Wired, the print Gospel of the internet, a tribute to how a formerly obscure literary professor transformed the way the world views communication. The impact of his thought, notes Wolfe, cannot be overestimated, akin to that of Freud or Einstein. (Source: https://goo.gl/KJbTWv)

See also on this blog: Teilhard de Chardin’s Concept of Noosphere & His Influence on Marshall McLuhan https://goo.gl/vGjgav 


Participants at the Toronto School Conference, 2016 (click to enlarge image)

This recently added website on the Toronto School Initiative follows upon the highly successful Toronto School Conference of 2016 at the University of Conference. It offers basic information about some of the principal figures of the original Toronto School of the 1950s and ’60s – Edmund Carpenter, Northrop Frye, Eric Havelock,  Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, Jacqueline Tyrwhitt, Walter, Ong, Jane Jacobs, Glenn Gould – plus other background information, articles, videos, resources and news.

The Toronto School of Communication

Active primarily from the 1930s to the 1970s, the so-called Toronto School of Communication Theory was instrumental in drawing worldwide attention to the provocative idea that technological engagement plays a fundamental role in the structuring of human perception and culture.

The very development of communication and media studies as academic disciplines owes much to the formative Toronto School scholars Harold Innis, Eric Havelock, Northrop Frye, and Marshall McLuhan. Moreover, the diverse intellectual lenses afforded by the ‘Toronto thought’ has attracted a great many thinkers, both domestic and international, active in a wide variety of pursuits both academic and otherwise. Such thinkers include: Edmund Carpenter, Tom Easterbrook, Jaqueline Tyrwhitt, Carl Williams, Dorothy Lee, Walter J. Ong, Sigfried Giedion, Ray Birdwhistell, Peter Drucker, Karl Polanyi, Glenn Gould, Jane Jacobs, and Buckminster Fuller.

The mosaic of methodologies employed by the Toronto School reflects the eclectic diversity of the wider cultural impact of the core intellectual movement.

First described in the 1980s as a canonized ‘school’ of thought, the Toronto School might be conceived as an ‘invisible college’, a shared intellectual and creative approach which has gone beyond academia to have a lasting impact in art and culture.

With Innis entering the study of communication from the field of political economy, Havelock from classics, and McLuhan and Frye from literary studies, the Toronto School represents an approach to the topic of culture and technology practiced by a diverse range of scholars from across the humanities.

Media theorists continue to explore the impact of Innis, Havelock, Frye and McLuhan on our understanding of the mediated world around us, and to systematize what constitutes a Canadian or Toronto-specific school of thought.

For access go to http://thetorontoschool.ca/

Download the Toronto School Conference Program Download


Click on photo for expanded view.

As of July 1, 2017, McLuhan Centenary Fellow Paolo Granata will hold a professorship in “Marshall McLuhan and Print Culture” at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto, as part of its sponsored program in Book & Media Studies within the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts and Science.

Professor Granata is joining St. Michael’s College after spending 15 years at the University of Bologna, Italy, where he almost entirely established his own academic career in research, teaching, and public engagement.

Nurtured by the century-old tradition of his Alma Mater, Professor Granata’s research and teaching interests lie broadly in the area of Aesthetics, Medium Theory, Heritage Communication, Visual Culture. He has authored a number of essays and book chapters published in Italian, English, French, and Spanish. His main books are: Arte in Rete (2001), Arte, estetica e nuovi media (2009), Mediabilia (2012), and Ecologia dei media (2015); his latest works is the upcoming Introduction to Media Ecology (2018).

Paolo may also be familiar to some at St. Mike’s – from 2015 to 2017, he was Visiting Professor and Program Curator at the McLuhan Centre for Culture & Technology, University of Toronto.

Currently, he acts as co-curator of the McLuhan Salons series (www.mcluhansalons.ca) and as Chair of the Toronto School Initiative (www.thetorontoschool.ca). He is a board member of the Media Ecology Association (www.media-ecology.org).

As a cultural strategist and champion of urban sustainable development, he is also involved in a bid to designate Toronto as UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts.

Professor Granata aims to raise public awareness about the role that Universities should play in the 21st century: to provide an environment of social cohesion; to create the conditions for human development; and to strengthen participation in cultural life.

The Book & Media Studies Program, sponsored by the University of St. Michael’s College, a Federated University of the University of Toronto, offers both major and minor programs of study within the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts and Science. It provides students with an opportunity to study within an interdisciplinary undergraduate program focusing on the history and theory of book history, print culture, broadcasting, and electronic and digital media.

St. Michael’s College


This is a list of the distinguished keynote speakers who will participate in this year’s Media Ecology Association (MEA) Annual Convention at Saint Mary’s College Of California, Moraga, California, June 22-25, 2017. Unfortunately, Stewart Brand whose name and biography were part of this posting originally had to cancel his attendance for family reasons. Kevin Kelly is replacing him and his name and bio have been substituted below. The names are listed in the order of their scheduled sessions. For information about the convention see http://www.media-ecology.org/

 Robert K. Logan – University of Toronto. A Media Ecologist / Physicist’s Take on Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si: An Ecumenical Approach to a Dialogue of Science and Religion – Robert Logan originally trained as a physicist, but he is now a distinguished media ecologist. He received a BS and PhD from MIT in 1961 and 1965. After two post-doctoral appointments at University of Illinois (1965-7) and University of Toronto (1967-8), he became a physics professor in 1968 at the U of Toronto until his retirement in 2005. He is now professor emeritus. During this period, in addition to math-based physics courses, he taught an interdisciplinary course called “The Poetry of Physics,” which led to his collaboration with Marshall McLuhan and his research in media ecology and the evolution of language. His best known works are The Alphabet Effect, based on a paper co-authored with McLuhan, The Sixth Language: Learning a Living in the Internet Age and The Extended Mind: The Emergence of Language, the Human Mind and Culture. The Sixth Language won the Suzanne K. Langer Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Symbolic Form in 2000 from the Media Ecology Association. (Source: https://goo.gl/AoEUUM )

 

Scott McCloud – He is best known as a comics theorist or, as some say, the “Aristotle of comics”, following the publication in 1993 of Understanding Comics, a wide-ranging exploration of the definition, history, vocabulary, and methods of the medium of comics, itself in comics form. He followed in 2000 with Reinventing Comics (also in comics form), in which he outlined twelve “revolutions” that he argued would be keys to the growth and success of comics as a popular and creative medium. Finally, in 2006, he released Making Comics. Following publication, he went on a tour with his family that included all 50 U.S. states and parts of Europe. (Source: https://goo.gl/gN60UD 

Kevin Kelly is Senior Maverick at Wired magazine. He co-founded Wired in 1993, and served as its Executive Editor for its first seven years. His new book for Viking/Penguin is called The Inevitable, which is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. He is also founding editor and co-publisher of the popular Cool Tools website, which has been reviewing tools daily since 2003. From 1984-1990 Kelly was publisher and editor of the Whole Earth Review, a journal of unorthodox technical news. He co-founded the ongoing Hackers’ Conference, and was involved with the launch of the WELL, a pioneering online service started in 1985. His books include the best-selling New Rules for the New Economythe classic book on decentralized emergent systems, Out of Control, a graphic novel about robots and angels, The Silver Cord, an oversize catalog of the best of Cool Tools, and his summary theory of technology in What Technology Wants (2010). (Source: http://kk.org/biography )

Eric McLuhan – Eric McLuhan received his BSc in Communications from Wisconsin State University in 1972 and his M.A. and PhD in English Literature from the University of Dallas in 1980 and 1982. In 2007, he received the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity from the Media Ecology Association. In 2011, the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, Canada awarded him an L.L.D. of Sacred Letters. Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman and Eric McLuhan together coined the term ‘media ecology ‘ during a conversation in 1967.[3] Marshall and Eric McLuhan co-authored the books Laws of Media: The New Science (1990), Media and Formal Cause (2011), and Theories of Communication (2011). According to McLuhan associate Dean Motter, Eric also collaborated with his father on some books as a ghostwriter. (Source: https://goo.gl/HQJlvF )  (Photo by Michael McLuhan) 

 Paul Heyer – After pursuing an undergraduate degree in geography at Concordia University, Paul Heyer went on to do graduate work in sociology and anthropology at The New School for Social Research in New York, and Rutgers University in New Jersey where he earned his doctorate. He’s a Professor of Communication at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. His primary research interests are media history (film, radio, and television) and nonverbal communication. He is the author of Titanic Legacy: Disaster as Media Event and Myth, and co-editor (with David Crowley) of Communication in History: Technology, Culture, Society. A lifelong fascination with radio led to his book, The Medium and the Magician, which deals with the radio legacy of Orson Welles and how Welles’s use of sound in radio influenced his motion pictures. More recently, he has begun research on a project that assess media representations of island survivor stories, from Robinson Crusoe to television’s Lost. (Source: https://goo.gl/Krvx2q ) 

Terrence Deacon – Terrence Deacon is chair of the Department of Anthropology at UC Berkeley and a researcher at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. He received his PhD from Harvard University in 1984 and has served on the faculty of Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, Boston University, and UC Berkeley. He is a biological anthropologist known for research on human brain evolution, language function, cross-species fetal neural transplantation, and complex systems approaches to evolutionary theory. His 1997 book, The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain (W. W. Norton & Company), was awarded the prestigious I. J. Staley Prize and his most recent book, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (W. W. Norton & Company), was published in 2012. (Source: https://goo.gl/tuLnSh )

 

St. Mary’s College of California, Moraga, CA


Prose Percepts, Lyric Responses by B.W. Powe, in collaboration with Marshall Soules, on NEW MEDIA, EMPATHY, IDENTITY, REFUGEES, NATIONALISM, THE DONALD TRUMP PHENOMENON, JUSTIN TRUDEAU, A-LITERACY, THE WILD INTERNET, PARANOIA, POETRY AND INTIMACY, BOB DYLAN, PATTI SMITH…

Street Art Photos by Marshall Soules

We´re experiencing the charge in the global membrane… By this I mean immersion in our electrified technological environment. All the puns in charge implied. Marshall McLuhan was one of the first to recognize we´re wired up, transformed, wholly inside borderless, transnational, instantaneous, entangling, speeding, here-there-everywhere-now states, in an always intensifying mutable milieu.

The global village became the global theatre: the theatre has become the global membrane. This phrase adapts what Teilhard de Chardin called “the noosphere,” the subliminal layering of externalized thought and emotions around our planet, in our era of apogees and abysses. The charge is the recognition of the second creation, the second Big Bang: the experience of technological expansion through electrification and the resulting accelerating streams and pulses of data-energy.

Antenna Head, Havana, 2016

The membrane is the communications’ envelope, the atmosphere of circuiting messages and vibrations.  The global membrane brings at once an Opening Time and a Closing Time.

 

The Donald Trump phenomenon is in part a reaction against the charge of the global membrane. One of its wounds is a loss of a sense of identity. All becomes amorphous when borders are fluid and homelands become unsettled or dangerous places. When identity is threatened and bruised, violent behavior and desperate responses can follow. In the refugee migrations we see people fleeing, driven to find new identities, escaping from places in vicious convulsion. They´re turning from their heartbreak, impelled to seek paths they hope lead to an opening in a new heartland. These are forced pilgrimages born out of radical political instabilities. But the refugees often find barbed wire barriers and the cry for increased border protections. This is the voice of the closing: separatist movements, whether based on ethnicity or economic concerns, are about walling out the global surges of sensational change.  Sometimes nationalist movements claim they want to rearrange trade deals, but this often cloaks an anxious urge towards insularity and grievance with the Other (someone else is to blame for the challenges of being here, in the global intricacies), a distinct status for people who regard their conditions as exceptional, under threat, besieged by waves of transformations (cultural, financial) that can´t, apparently, be shaped except by closing borders or establishing isolate regimes.

 

Expressions of nationalism are about preserving old identities and shutting down borderlines in a world that is jump-starting towards open communions of the soul. By which I mean solidarity with the experience of exile, abandonment, humiliation, and suffering; the common yearning for justice and generosity; our deep need to participate in abundance, to spread the wealth; our desire to break free from loneliness and perpetual fatigue; our sense that we´re at our best when we participate in the spirit of trust, compassion, welcome, and love. Because unstoppable information surges and blurts, in unbridled intensities, fear and anger arise: …who´s listening in? …who is in control? …who is the enemy? …who´s infiltrating our “values?” …these are some of the sensationalized responses to being wired into breaking immediacies.

Disconnected, Havana, 2016

Refugees move across the globe bringing a suffering so intense that they will move us with their pulses of grief. Injured souls tend to want to flee or withdraw. And the brutalization that comes from unlimited data, sensory input, can create “hard feelings”: thus the shouting out for tough action. The global membrane is more about ripples of sensibility than it is about ideologically determined positions. It initiates a conflict between openness, receptivity, forbearance, generosity, patience, and empathy, and set reactions, suspicion, judgment, anxiety, and intolerance.

 

Capoeira in the City, Havana, 2016

Trump’s call to “Make America Great Again” is a raging tough-line retrieval action for something that never truly existed. All identities are provisional. “How very one minute ago,” the saying goes… Meaning: the speed-effect ushers in crises of self-hood, unending feelings of displacement. Crucially, Trump uses media in an unprecedented way. We see this when we understand how he’s tuned into a-literacy, digital experience, the waves of sensation and impression, the currents of now that provoke trauma and paroxysms of reaction. Hillary Clinton, a private person, a policy wonk, aka a literate person, couldn’t counter the intuitive magic of one so connected to the a-literate waves of hearsay, “post-facts,” tweet-storming, conspiracy theories, public rambles that become abusive stand-up routines, sudden inexplicable flips in positions and stances, and show-biz. Extension, association: illiteracy means a person can’t read an alphabetic text; post-literacy means a person nostalgically recalls the act of reading a book or a printed page; a-literacy means a person has no interest at all in reading.

 

Block Head and Funnel, Havana, 2016

 

Former President Obama showed that he could speak to both the waves of emotion and to the intellect during his two election campaigns. And Michelle Obama can also do so now–she should run in the next American federal election: she’d likely soundly defeat Trump. During the 2016 campaign, Trump was “out of his mind” (great copy), the reckless outsider who relished audience (public and virtual) responses to evermore spectacular, extremist claims. Hillary Clinton seemed at times to embody common sense and the insider´s view: too cautious and careful for the prickling of incessant stimulation; secretive, because uncomfortable in the spotlight, therefore a person “under suspicion.” Any identification of a middle way will likely be unpopular when the pull of extremism takes hold.

Giving Voice (Julier), Havana. 2016

The fierce debates in the media about Trump manifest a civil war of sensory bias. The print media is ganging up on the electronic media. Print media demand historical verifications (fact checks), research confirmations, descriptive consistency, and cultural memory. Newspapers and journals thrive on steady editorial points of view. The electronic media thrive on orality, rumor, reverberations, echoes, icon and image, quick access at your finger-tips (being in touch), headline prompts, confrontational blogs, and avatar (or troll) identities: the speeding cubist expression of an everything-at-once experience. Print works on lag-time, gradually catching up to events. Contexts and situations are shifting so fast that no essaying can truly keep track. Images are instantaneous X-rays which enhance both scrutiny and blurring. Blurbs can be memorable and transient. Print may allow for contemplative attention and concentrated analyses: you need time and space (privacy) to read. E-connectivity grows with snapshots (Instagramming) that simultaneously encourage snap protests, spontaneous flash-risings that strike back at the hunger for authoritarianism that is rapidly re-appearing in North America, South America (Venezuela), and Europe (especially in Hungary and Poland). The ideal for the sensorium is a gestalt of print and e-media, in a fearful symmetry.

City on My Mind, Havana, 2016

 Justin Trudeau is the positive mirror image of the dark negating Trump. Justin uses the electronic media effectively, too. We can see how intertwined he is with net sensation when he strays from prepared speeches: he’s often incoherent (lots of “ums” and “uhs”). He massages the media to encourage us with “sunny ways”–-lightness; when he falters, the lightness becomes shallow. He has charm (magic): beyond ideological, he nevertheless tries to steer a wary way through the middle of our global epic of extremism.  It remains to be seen whether either the Conservatives or the NDP in Canada will be able to counter his authentic hopeful tone: and whether his photo-op charisma will be enough to counter Trump´s unhinged corporatism and contempt for letters. Justin’s charisma differs from that of his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. He was a literary person, a private sensibility with considerable gravitas, who nevertheless could, paradoxically, flippantly play with what was the new media then. Trudeau Sr. opposed militant nationalism in all its guises. Would such a politician be electable in our entrancing, inter-connective, anxious, shimmering, supra-attentive atmosphere?

 

Advice to readers (a pause for a thought). People are told not to post long, complex writings on the net because no one will read them. Attention spans are drawn to the brief interval, the turn to screen magnetism, its ionic agitations. ADD has become a natural state of reception. Nevertheless, let´s go on:

 

Conspiracy theories swarm in the gaps between the print medium and the electronica of sensation and over-heated, transforming story-head-lines. There is necessary fictionalizing in print and electronica: it´s necessary because we must tell stories. Still, descriptions that match facts are almost impossible outside of science and mathematics. Not even Quantum Mechanics, with its strange evocations of subatomic realities, truly has a language that can map what we can´t fully envision. Imagination and opinion must play a part: we´re always making. Now we´re making in conditions of I-cloud and access overdrive…

Terror TV, Havana, 2016

 

“Shifts Happen,” the wry graffiti announces. But what happens when a political leader insists that his take on things is the only “real” one? This is how a leader or a movement turns authoritarian. “I alone…” Trump repeatedly announced during his election campaign. “In the end you will thank me…” Trump said during the first months of his presidency after another magnetizing and demagnetizing act (the meaning of polarization). Remember Groucho Marx´s prophetic gloss: “Who are you going to believe–-me, or your own eyes?” Data bubbles insulate users, habituating them to closed circuits. This provokes hyper-states of awareness that ramp up assent and anxiety.

Cartoon-like conspiracy theories become frenzied when people think there´s a subterranean order lurking in the static, vibrations, dash, and blur, the immediate press of data. The visible is being shadowed by an order not apparent to everyone else. Vast networks sending-receiving information must traffic in weird, dangerous intentions (it seems). The gaps invite conspiracy theorizing, the mind operating “outside of itself.” This is pattern-recognition flipping into paranoia. Some claim they have special second-sight (insight, foresight)–-an occult seeing into the gaps of static where things seem hidden. Sleeplessness and panic, bombast and insensitivity, incite internet alternative worlds, in which destabilizing threats and accusations run rampant. Philip K. Dick´s sci-fi visions now seem routine. Democracies become deeply vulnerable in the skittish conditions. People feel harassed and battered. Who’ll stop the reign of speed? The faster things go the more events and ideas flip into caricatures. Those who make alarming twitter claims often see themselves as searing leaders of mass movements, welcoming the formation of cult-like followers and rallies.

 

Seers and Followers, Havana, 2016

Everyone feels the static cling and so we become “touchy.” Tempers flare, grievances spill over, nerve-ends jump, emotions frazzle; positions become inflexible, crudity and cynicism become habitual; debates turn unforgiving and accusatory. The pulsations of the membrane amplify irritabilities but also the desire for easing and peace. Notice the proliferation of yoga studios in cities and towns, places where people stretch out their bodies to calm down. “Show your heart,” yogis say.  A planet of excited messaging concentrates billions of eyes and ears, scoping, scanning, listening in, eaves-dropping. “Don’t become de-sensitized…,” editorialists and reporters say. It’s an apt warning, after the global village and global theatre were subsumed into the vibrant membrane.

 

In this sense-surround, empathy and impressionability must stay alive by listening to differing voices, by cultivating spaces of inwardness and contemplation, by finding time for reflection and intuition, by practicing restful periods, by dialing down the noise, by piecing together the news from many sources, by a healthy dissent to counter the unfettered cravings and nihilistic lies of many leaders, by developing the skill to recognize patterns with compassion and good will, by meeting people directly who are suffering (being at the side of the Other). We´ll know truth by comparing fictions. This helps to slow down the pulse rate in our jittery fervors and soul exposures.

 

Social Networking, Havana, 2016

 And if you’re still reading this:

Note how many literary people opt out of the wired wireless, avant-garde spectacle–-Alice Munro, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy, Anne Carson, Marie-Claire Blais, Marilynne Robinson–sometimes eluding, if not trying to evade, the effects of Big Media. Ironically, this becomes a media tale, too. Pynchon’s refusal to be photographed is legendary. Munro and McCarthy give rare, prized interviews that reveal almost nothing about themselves or their craft. This is solitude’s rebellion against noise, mobbing data. Writers turn to the margins, going underground, where they can work slowly, preserving their sense and sensibility. Privacy has come to mean turning within, becoming inward. Authors often seem to call out for quiet, stillness, meditative time, sustained attentiveness to the beautiful ambiguities of words and the shapes of sentences, so we can concentrate and listen to the elusive spirit on the page. The literary space becomes smaller and smaller: observe the obsession in contemporary fiction with rooms, little towns, interior monologues, family breakdowns, individual hurts and crack-ups, trekking alone through a wilderness. But this is, quixotically and paradoxically, a privacy that hides in the open: the margins are a vulnerable place in the intimate throb of our cellular conditions.

 

Dreaming of Home, Havana, 2016

The doors of perception have been ripped off their hinges in our data-ion saturations. Meaning: we´re not standing on one side of the door or the other: all is hum, hack, flicker, tweet, leak, skype, livestream, buzz and feed; all is permeating turbulence, engulfment of the senses–a dynamo that generates ecstasy and a shrinking (or shuddering) from the impact.

 

Our immersion in the global systole and diastole is a universal experience–not happening to you or me, to us or them, but wholly to we. Moments of receptivity and grace; and linked impulses that can lead to shut-down. We may say, “It´s not clear enough” (bring on more transparency), and we may say, “It´s too much” (tilt). Selfies are like birth-certificate and passport images in the borderless-ness of the membrane. They confirm we exist–we´re in a digital archive–living now here and there (nowhere and everywhere). IMs… This is what techies call Instagram Messaging. A translation of that acronym: I am plural; I am multitudes. Each person is a mediator of the one and the many; each of us a part of the beat and the chorus, both a wave and field.

 

Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith are cusp figures: in the inter-phase of book culture and electronic musical reach, adeptly moving between communicating domains, songs and poetry. Dylan´s interviews can be put-ons of insolent eloquence; they´re often rich with storytelling and gracious tributes to fellow musicians. Chronicles Volume 1 is an indispensable work that reveals how attuned Dylan is to environments (attentive to influence). It also shows how masked a personality he is; he gives little away about his soul´s state. Will there be a Volume 2?  Maybe. Maybe not. Evasion and ambiguity are his ways of staying alive artistically. Cohen over the years cultivated a courtly, often priestly public persona that shrouded his practiced ironies and his obsession with slippery sex. Beautiful Losers, his best book, moves into hallucinatory, shape-shifting spheres. Chants, omens, rituals, orgasms and longings haunt the shadowy speaker in this prose poem. It remains a hermetic work of holy aspirations and erotic visions, with its roots in the Book of Ezekiel and Henry Miller´s Tropic of Cancer.  Depths require patient exegesis. Curiously, Patti Smith rarely mentions music in her meditative book, M Train. She mostly cites novelists and poets; and she makes detailed references to detective shows (about private eyes) on TV. Nevertheless, her contemplation exalts a reverent personal space. It’s an elegy for the passing of the people she loves and a reverie-like contemplation of stillness and silence. Her tone in M Train is steeped in mourning and loss, a sense of the dearness of things.

 

Water Everywhere…(Julier), Havana, 2016

 

Dylan, Cohen, and Patti Smith began their work in the thrall of the teenage visionary iconoclast Arthur Rimbaud. They shared the early intuition that his alphabet of the soul, the universal symbolic language, had arrived in the miraculous ability to commune 24-7-52-365 with everyone and all via the wirings of the global village. Van Morrison recognized this pressing of the charge when he sang, “It´s too late to stop now,” in his spiritual crisis song, “Into the Mystic.” We can also see now that Rimbaud´s prophetic demand that we live in continual crisis through “the deliberate derangement of the senses” is the new normal of the global membrane.

La Sirène Urbaine, Paris, 2016

 

These cusp-artists found ways to live long productive lives by conjuring and configuring the ripples and rush, the wild shifts and darkening divisions. We honor them by following up through our homages, our preservations of complexity and inwardness, our pursuits of wonder and awe, our Eros of creating, our enigmatic cultivation of beauty and spirit, our call and response to those (to all of us) who are also pilgrims and know wishing wells and heartbreak.

 

Pattern Recognition, Havana, 2016

 

It´s not our eyes that need to be wide awake all the time: it´s our souls. We can close our eyes but our souls will still hunger for insight and vision…

 

The global membrane can be a great heart, its effects like tides in our ears, felt on our skin. Simultaneously, its effects can be like noisy, invasive drives that incite a need to arrest and even kill its pull. Opening Time… Closing Time… Will one effect prevail over the other? I pray for the courageous heart. I hope for the language of the open communion.

 

Heart of the City, Havana, 2016

 

We´re turning and turning in this whorl, this planetary emergence: the time of the galvanized atmosphere of thought and feeling, the momentum and pressure of vast meaning.

 

Does it matter if any of us like these processes of transformation?

 

The evolutionary pulse beats on, in hyper-speed.

 

B.W.P. 2017


Marshall McLuhan in 1973, University of Toronto Archives

By Paul Levinson

Introduction

Marshall McLuhan (b. 1911–d. 1980) burst into iconic fame in the 1960s as a scholar who could explain the revolutionizing medium of the time, television, as well as radio, motion pictures, telephone, print, and all the media that had come before and now accompanied TV in its impact. His two most important books, The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media, argued via analogy and poetic example that the dominant media of any time shaped the surrounding society—without radio there would have been no Hitler; without television, no John F. Kennedy as American President. These books were read and talked about by many, but fully understood by few. A flurry of sharply critical tracts and anthologies ensued.

At the same time, McLuhan was dubbed the “sage of Aquarius” by William Kuhns and favorably compared to Darwin, Freud, and Einstein by literary critic Tom Wolfe. McLuhan was mentioned on the TV show Laugh-In, interviewed by Playboy, and appeared in Woody Allen’s movie Annie Hall. He had begun collaborating with other thinkers as early as the 1950s, with Edmund Carpenter, and he later co-wrote important books with Harley Parker, Quentin Fiore, and Barrington Nevitt.

His former students and other disciples, most notably Walter Ong in the 1950s and Neil Postman in the 1960s, began publishing essays and books that built upon McLuhan’s work. At the time of his death in 1980, he was somewhat out of favor, but the digital revolution that his writing anticipated brought him back to public and scholarly notice by the beginning of the next decade, when Wired magazine made McLuhan its “patron saint.” Books by a new round of younger disciples, including Joshua Meyrowitz, Paul Levinson, and Robert K. Logan, followed in the 1980s and into the 21st century. The rise of social media, which further epitomized McLuhan’s 1962 notion of the global village, cemented and accentuated his preeminent position in media studies in the second decade of the 21st century. Numerous academic conferences were held to commemorate the centennial of his birth in 2011. Conferences continue to explore his work, and books and articles continue to be written about him on a yearly basis.

General Overviews

McLuhan’s two most important books—The Gutenberg Galaxy (McLuhan 1962) and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (McLuhan 1964)—provide the best general overviews of his work and an introduction to his array of ideas. Culkin 1967 offers a succinct overview of McLuhan’s media studies. Meyrowitz 2001 examines McLuhan’s migration into the 21st century.

  • Culkin, John. 1967. A schoolman’s guide to Marshall McLuhan. Saturday Review, 18 March: 51–53.

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    Explicates and evaluates McLuhan’s unique approach to understanding media and their impact on society.

  • McLuhan, Marshall. 1962. The Gutenberg Galaxy. New York: Mentor.

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    Consists of 107 brief essays with lengthy titles or glosses, such as “the electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.” This was a hallmark of McLuhan’s style, and from the vantage point of our social media age these can be seen as tweets (the titles) followed by blog posts (the short essays).

  • McLuhan, Marshall. 1964. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: Mentor.

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    Presents most of McLuhan’s key ideas, including “hot and cool” media and “the medium is the message.” As a striking example of both, McLuhan observes that “had TV come first there would have been no Hitler”—because Hitler was too “hot” for the “cool” medium of television, and the medium through which he presented his ideas (radio) made his ideas viable in 1920s and 1930s Germany.

  • Meyrowitz, Joshua. 2001. Morphing McLuhan: Medium Theory for a New Millennium. Keynote address delivered at the Second Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association, New York University, 15–16 June 2001.

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    Balanced assessment of the relevance of McLuhan’s work in the 1960s to the world of media fifty years later.

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LAST MODIFIED: 27 APRIL 2017 (Introduction republished by permission)

Source: https://goo.gl/bSrp6c

About Paul Levinson: Paul Levinson, PhD, is Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in NYC. His nonfiction books, including The Soft Edge (1997), Digital McLuhan (1999), Real Space (2003), Cellphone (2004), and New New Media (2009; 2nd edition, 2012), have been translated into twelve languages. He co-edited Touching the Face of the Cosmos: On the Intersection of Space Travel and Religion in 2016. His science fiction novels include The Silk Code (winner of Locus Award for Best First Science Fiction Novel of 1999), Borrowed Tides (2001), The Consciousness Plague (2002), The Pixel Eye (2003), The Plot To Save Socrates (2006), Unburning A lexandria (2013), and Chronica (2014). Extended biography here: https://goo.gl/U6C9xZ


In Whatcha Doin’, Marshall McLuhan? the writer Ken Hollings re-examines the man and his legacy. He talks to those who have been influenced by McLuhan as well as those who knew him well, including the celebrated novelist and journalist Tom Wolfe, and asks how and why McLuhan fits into the media narrative of the twenty-first century.

A 45-minute audio presentation available now on May 14, 2017 (Don’t know for how long). If not available when you go to the link, there should be a podcast of it available. Follow the link below.

Producer, Dan Shepherd   –   A Far Shoreline Production for BBC Radio 3

**********

The 1967 publication of the bestselling paperback ‘The Medium is the Massage’ confirmed Marshall McLuhan as the first mass media guru and ‘prophet’ of the electronic age. With it he achieved global fame. Newsweek even compared him to Batman.

So how did a tweedy middle-aged Professor of English literature from the plains of Canada become such an iconic public intellectual?

Throughout the ’60s McLuhan attempted to explain to its rapidly expanding audience how television’s immediacy affected people’s psychology and behaviour. Few actually understood his complex theories but he expounded them in a reassuringly authoritative manner, often using short catchy phrases. McLuhan coined the phrase ‘the medium is the message’ and was the first to talk about the ‘global village’, both flashcard maxims that helped to define the era’s thinking on electronic media.

By the time of his death in 1980, Marshall McLuhan had been all but forgotten, his theories ridiculed or dismissed. But with the rise of the internet and the rapid encroachment of social media into our lives, McLuhan’s observations on the media have recently enjoyed a critical resurgence. In explaining how television disrupts our lives he laid down a series of principles that can arguably be applied to today’s digital regime. McLuhan’s books have all been reprinted, his writings are taught on design and media courses again, whilst WIRED magazine claimed McLuhan as its ‘patron saint’.

To access go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08jfckq