Paperback editions of ‘Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.’ (photo: Andrew McLuhan)

By Andrew McLuhan

Some excerpts from and comments on Marshall McLuhan’s introduction to the second edition of ‘Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man’ (1966) with some information about The McLuhan Institute (Ted (revised) from MI). 

Something you may not know about, and I only discovered very recently, is that for the second (paperback) edition of ‘Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man’ (1966), Marshall McLuhan wrote a short new introduction.

[It was not reprinted in most subsequent editions, but is in the latest ]

This second introduction is short, only five printed pages, but it is packed with goodies directed toward criticisms and misapprehensions of the original printing, notably ‘media hot and cool,’ and ‘the medium is the message.’

A few examples:

[After several paragraphs on changes in the popular use of the terms ‘hot’ and cool.’]

“The section on “media hot and cold” confused many readers of Understanding Media who were unable to recognize the very large structural changes in human outlook that are occurring today. Slang offers an immediate index to changing perception. Slang is based not on theories but on immediate experience. The student of media will not only value slang as a guide to changing perception, but he will also study media as bringing about new perceptual habits.”
[Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Introduction to the Second Edition, p.viii]

I am struck by how often what Marshall wrote half a century ago holds up today. I am not talking about so-called prophesy or prediction. Marshall wasn’t so much ahead of his time as ahead of contemporaries who were behind their time. As he said ‘I’m very careful to only predict things which have already happened.’

A technique such as this — studying slang as a guide to changing sensibility in individuals and cultures — is still worth employing if one is interested in noting change. This tool is one of many Marshall gives “the student of media” who cares to take it.

“The section on “the medium is the message” can, perhaps, be clarified by pointing out that any technology gradually creates a totally new human environment. Environments are not passive wrappings but active processes. … “The medium is the message” means, in terms of the electronic age, that a totally new environment has been created. The “content” of this new environment is the old mechanized environment of the industrial age. The new environment reprocesses the old one as radically as TV is reprocessing the film. For the “content” of TV is the movie. TV is environmental and imperceptible, like all environments. We are aware only of the “content” or the old environment. … Each new technology creates an environment that is itself regarded as corrupt and degrading. Yet the new one turns its predecessor into an art form.”
[Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Introduction to the Second Edition, pp. viii-ix]

Substitute terms and we could say today: “The new environment reprocesses the old one as radically as Netflix is reprocessing TV.”

Read the Rest here:

Panchal Mansaram

March 4, 1934 –  December 6, 2020

We are deeply saddened that Panchal Mansaram passed on from this life on Sunday December 6, 2020 in Burlington, Ontario, at the age of 86 years old, almost one year after his beloved wife Tarunika. He had a strong internal light and quiet persistence that came from a deep faith that life would lead him where he needed to go. He was born on March 4, 1934 in Mt. Abu, Rajasthan, India. He studied at the Sir J. J. School of Art, Mumbai and at the Rijks Academie, Amsterdam. In 1966, he migrated to Canada with his family. After stops in Montreal and Toronto, he made his home in Burlington, where he trained a generation of artists as a teacher in the Hamilton & Wentworth District School Board. His house and art studio on Gardenview Drive was a welcoming space where visitors from far and wide were always made to feel like family. In the last year of his life, he found a warm community at The Village of Tansley Woods. Mansaram was a visionary artist whose diverse artwork reflected his interest in the ways media and technology created a collage-like experience in daily life. He had life-long friendships with leading thinkers and artists of the 20th century [Including Marshall McLuhan], and he produced a substantial body of work ranging from painting and prints to photography, textile works, video and more. Today, his artwork is in museum collections around the world.

He was beloved husband of the late Tarunika Mansaram and loving father of Mila Mansaram. He was the brother of PratapChand Mistry, Bhagwandas Mistry, Shantiben Gehlot and brother-in-law of Anil Mehta, Dinesh Daftary, Surbhi Shah, and Mrudu Chauhan. The last rites were performed at the Bay Gardens Funeral Home, Burlington. His ashes will be scattered along with those of his beloved wife Tarunika at a later date. Due to covid restrictions, there will be no visitation or memorial service. Leave your messages in the online Book of Condolences at

Rest in peace, dear friend.

You can also sign the Guestbook here:

A poster created for an exhibition of his art where I first met Mansaram. The photo of McLuhan in the centre was taken by Mansaram. Marshall McLuhan added his name to the art work on the right side.

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, the publisher is not yet known but the manuscript is near completion and publication is expected to be sometime next year.

Marshall McLuhan on “Breakdown as Breakthrough”

“Breakdown As Breakthrough”

Culture Is Our Business (1970), p 27.
“When Jove had a migraine, it turned out to be Minerva.”

– Culture Is Our Business (1970), p 27.
“In the age of the information hunter, feed-back yields to feedforward, the point of view becomes the probe. Problems become discoveries.”
Culture Is Our Business (1970), p. 80.
“The breakdown or hang-up is always in the connection, whereas the breakthrough or discovery is inside the problem itself, not outside but “in the gap.”
– “The Argument: Causality in the Electric World” (1973) in McLuhan Unbound (2017), p. 29.
“Alexander Graham Bell, while trying to remove defects from the telegraph, invented the telephone.”
– Culture Is Our Business (1970), p. 28.
“By repetition, an archetype can become a cliché again; or an individual man a crowd (with no private, but rather corporate, identity). Breakdown becomes breakthrough.”
Laws of Media (1988), pp.  107-108.
[To a graduating class] “We will now retire from  the scene for one year, leaving  the reshaping of  it to your splendid energies. A year from now we shall inspect the fruit of your endeavors with the most benign curiosity.  It has often been said that every breakdown is a breakthrough.  We have broken down.  The breakthrough is all yours. Good luck.”
“Adopt a College,” This Magazine Is About Schools, Autumn, (1968), p. 55.
“In the same sense, by repetition an archetype can become a cliché  again, or an individual man can become a crowd. The cloned person loses his private identity, but becomes a corporate one. As we have said before, breakdown becomes breakthrough.”
– The Global Village Marshall McLuhan with Bruce Powers (1989), p. 20.
“What Illich fails to see is that when the answers are outside, the time has come to put the questions inside the school rather than the answers.”
– “The End of the Work Ethic” (1972), in Understanding Me (2003), p. 203.
“Computer programmers have also learned that “information overload leads to pattern recognition” as breakdown becomes breakthrough: from “bits” to “bytes” to “whole” again.”
– “The Argument: Causality in  the Electric World” (1973), in McLuhan Unbound (2017), p. 6.

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, the publisher is not yet known but the manuscript is near completion and publication is expected to be sometime next year.

Marshall McLuhan on Canada

Assumption [College, Windsor, Ontario] a little bay of silence – a little backwater in a stagnant stream. Oh the mental vacuum that is Canada.
– — Letter to Wyndham Lewis, December 13, (1944), in Letters of Marshall McLuhan (1987), p. 165.
…in Canada – you can never be a nation as long as we have two cultures, OK? What we need are more cultures, not fewer. It is obvious that you can not have too many cultures in an electric age. Do you think? 

– Jean Pare interview, Forces Magazine, (1973), typescript, p. 26.
“Canada Needs Three Million Jews”
Title of an unpublished essay, 1948.

“No, there is a huge inertia in Canada. I like this, because it enables me to sort of move ahead of the rest of them.”
– M
ademoiselle Interview, September, (1967), p. 128.
“Actually, the very absence of cluttering example and traditions in the arts is the main Canadian opportunity. The only possible strategy for the Canadian writer, poet, artist (as it was for Joyce, Pound, and Eliot when they found themselves in cultural backwaters) is to conquer the old traditions through the most revolutionary artistic techniques suggested by the current modes of science and technology. This is the really great advantage enjoyed by any provincial in a time of rapid change.”
“Defrosting Canadian Culture,” American Mercury, Vol. 74, No. 339, (1952), p. 11.
“But as a counter environment, Canada has the opportunity to achieve a kind of artistic awareness of the United States and typically Canadians have shown considerable aptitude in making ironic and comic and humorous observations about the United States.”
– CBC TV show, Fletcher Markle, “Telescope 67,” (1967).
“Like Shaw, the Canadian ‘nobody’ can have the best of two worlds—on the one hand, the human scale of the small country, and on the other hand, the immediate advantages of proximity to massive power.”
The Global Village, Marshall McLuhan &  Bruce Powers, (1989), p. 151.

“…the cringing, flunkey spirit of Canadian culture, its servant-quarter snobbishness resentments ignorance penury.”
– [Quoting McLuhan] Edmund Carpenter in “That Not-So-Silent Sea,” (1992), in The Virtual Marshall McLuhan by Donald Theall, Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2001, p. 250.
“But what complete isolation governs the maturing of any thought in this country! You have had a big taste of it.”
Letter to Wyndham Lewis, January 17, 1944, in Letters of Marshall McLuhan (1987), p. 147.
“In print-oriented Toronto, poetry-reading in the public parks is a public offense. Religion and politics are permitted, but not poetry, as many young poets recently discovered”.
Understanding Media (1964), MIT Press Edition, p. 53.
“The [Canadian] Royal Commission is squarely in line with our bureaucrats and Victorian patriarchs in supposing that culture is basically an unpleasant moral duty. According to this view, everything that people do spontaneously and with gusto, everything connected with industry, commerce, sport, and popular entertainment is merely vulgar. Americans are sufficiently familiar with this attitude through the genteel tradition of New England which dominates their academic life….Who knows? Perhaps the next Royal Commission on Canadian culture may include a brief notice on Walt Disney and ice-hockey as Canada’s outstanding contributions to world culture in the twentieth century.“

– “Defrosting Canadian Culture,” American Mercury, Vol. 74, No. 339, (1952), pp. 96-97.
“A serious writer updates a culture – I don’t think there’s any serious writing going on in Canada today – by anybody”.
Interview by Linda Sandler, Miss Chatelaine, September (1974), p. 59.

“Nature and history seem to have agreed to designate us in Canada for a corporate, artistic role. As the U.S.A. becomes a world environment through its resources, technology, and enterprises, Canada takes on the function of making that world environment perceptible to those who occupy it.”
– The Marfleet Lectures (1967), in Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews (2003), p. 104.
“In the land of of rye and caution fourteen million people are stretched out thinly along a 5000-mile frontier. There is no possibility of defense in depth against the aggression of American pin-up girls. Canadians are the only people on earth who read more alien than national cultural matter”.

– “Defrosting Canadian Culture,” American Mercury, Vol. 74, No. 339, (1952), p. 91.
– “The fact that we are a counter environment, rather than an environment, is well reflected in the fact that they don’t spend any time writing about us”.
CBC TV show, Fletcher Markle, “Telescope 67,” (1967).

“Canada has no identity because it has too many borderlines. Diversity does not create identity. It creates a very low-profile thing, whatever it is. If you want a real identity then you have to close off most of the borderlines and most of the cultural situations have to be thrown away to concentrate on a few strong positions and then you get a national identity. That’s why you need a war and a great big bloodbath to create a national identity.” 
– “It Will Probably End the Motorcar” (1976), p. 27.
“So the Canadian, located between two great communities, the English and the American, is provincial to both. He would, therefore, be in a superb position to develop habits of critical insight if the developments of such habits were not paralyzed by colonial timidity or Scottish caution.” 

– “Defrosting Canadian Culture,” American Mercury, Vol. 74, No. 339, (1952), p. 95.
“As a visiting Frenchman once pointed out, the Canadian is like a poor man sharing an apartment with a rich man. He lives continually beyond his means in a state of perpetual anxiety and expediency. Just as naturally he develops a power of acute observation and the ability to comment shrewdly on the ebullient comings and goings of his rich friend to the south of him.”

– “Defrosting Canadian Culture,” American Mercury, Vol. 74, No. 339, (1952), pp. 92-93.

A Provincial Toronto in the 1950s, the tallest building Royal York Hotel, once heralded as the “tallest building in the Canada, and the British Empire.”

By Alex Danco

To really understand the impact of audio, we need to go back to basics and understand how audio works as a medium, independent of its content. What does audio have to say? What does it do to us, in plain sight, that’s gone unnoticed? We need to go deep into some Marshall McLuhan territory, and appreciate what he meant by his famous line The Medium Is the Message. 

McLuhan is one of two 20th century figures – the other is Claude Shannon – to truly grasp how and why information technology works. Claude Shannon laid the groundwork for McLuhan by discovering Information Theory, and defining information in a counterintuitive but powerful way: as resolution of uncertainty

Compare these two sentences: “Let’s meet tonight at my house at 7:30” versus “Let’s do tonight, maybe.” Which one contains more information? The first one. It resolves uncertainty to a higher degree, which is why we say it’s “higher resolution”.

If you’re told “Let’s meet tonight at my house at 7:30”, you’ve received a pretty complete, high-resolution dose of information. On the other hand, “Let’s do tonight maybe” is lower-resolution, with some gaps you’ll need to go fill yourself. It could mean yes, it could mean no. Eventually you’ll figure it out, but it requires active work on your part to interpret your friend’s communication style and understand the message correctly.

We live in a world of information, and we often think of information in terms of sensory input coming at us. But that’s not really information. Information isn’t what we’re told; it’s what we understand.

Hot and Cool Media

Now let’s add McLuhan to the picture. McLuhan’s first insight here is that different forms of media create different kinds of spaces and stages for information and understanding, regardless of whatever the content might be. You can arrange them on a spectrum, from high-resolution to low-resolution. McLuhan labeled this spectrum “Hot” to “Cool”. 

Some forms of media and communication inherently transmit information in high definition, where what’s being communicated is right in your face. Uncertainty is resolved immediately and thoroughly. The media yells at you, like a newspaper or an action movie: it doesn’t hold back. There’s no guesswork or participation required on your part. McLuhan calls this “Hot” media. 

Other forms of media and communication transmit information in lower definition. The participants have to do work to integrate several different pieces or senses, including gaps in information that must be filled in or genre conventions that must be followed, in order to complete the picture. A typical telephone conversation is lower resolution media, because a large part of the message being communicated is obscured or unsaid: it isn’t in the words, but in the gaps we must fill in. This is “Cool” media. 

The concept of Hot and Cool media took me a long time to really understand. But when it suddenly clicked, it clicked all at once. I think some people have a hard time figuring it out because McLuhan’s illustrative examples in Understanding Media are from another era. “The Waltz is a Hot dance, because it’s unambiguous mechanical mashing, whereas the Twist is a Cool dance, because you have to integrate information and fill in gaps in real time” was a great example then, but less so now. People also get thrown off by his description of TV as a “cool, tactile medium”. Remember, back then, TV was a glowing fuzz of white dots and muffled audio you had to piece together – a totally different medium than film (hot back then, and now) or TV today (which has heated up a lot since McLuhan’s day). 

So here’s an explanation in terms of media we know today: texting, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

Texting: ice cold. The entire point of texting, particularly for young people, is that it’s a way to communicate that reveals very little information. Uncertainty and ambiguity is the point. Texting, especially a group chat, is often like a game of “what’s said versus unsaid”, where gaps must be filled in. It demands active participation on your part to complete the picture of what’s being communicated. (The dreaded “…” in iMessage, which says so little but draws us in, is Cool Media.)

Twitter: cool. Twitter is tricky because there are many different ways to use it. Breaking News Twitter, for instance, is fairly hot. But Twitter the social network, the way I use it, is quite cool. It’s a low-resolution, character-limited format where the majority of what’s being communicated is actually just offscreen, out of the picture. The greatest tweets and the funniest jokes on Twitter are incomplete information: they’re pure punchline. The setup goes unsaid; you have to already know it, or go figure it out. It takes a lot of work to use Twitter successfully and you have to fluently understand its genre conventions in order for it to make sense. Twitter, when used optimally, is Cool Media.

Instagram: warm. The main content being communicated is all visual, and you don’t need to understand genre conventions as much. Instagram in its early photo filter days was fairly hot media, as is classic photography, but it cooled down when it became the de facto social status app. Now there’s interplay between what’s posted and how many likes it gets, and from whom, and other social dynamics like private versus public posting. There is still some ambiguity, but as a medium it’s more information-complete than Twitter or texting.

Facebook: hot. Unlike Twitter, which is a muttering mass of inside jokes, or Instagram, which is warmer but still has some cool elements to it, Facebook is more like a newspaper. It’s not holding anything back. It’s a patchwork mosaic of yelling: Acknowledge this! Be angry at this! Celebrate this! There’s not a lot of mystery on Facebook, and it doesn’t take much fluency to use it correctly. The information being communicated is all right there, blasted at you. Facebook may have started out cooler, back when it was college kids navigating social status (as Instagram is used now). But it’s heated up steadily since then.

YouTube: scorching hot. We’re going to talk about YouTube later.

Now, remember: when we say Hot and Cold media, we’re not talking about the content. We’re talking about the medium itself. The Medium Is the Message means is that the choice of media creates a stage for what follows. Hot media creates space for hot communication; cool media creates space for cool communication. Hot media heats things up; cool media cools things down.

Think about the difference between communicating by texting (cool) versus email (hot). Typographically, there’s no difference between the two. But email is understood to be a single-shot method of communication, which is hot and high-resolution, whereas texting is understood to be a dialogue: it’s a cool, chatty medium by nature, where little information is actually exchanged. Communicating by email, regardless of the content, will generally heat things up and force directness. Communicating by text will generally cool things down and invite ambiguity.

Meanwhile, the physical properties of the medium you choose will also influence the temperature of what’s being communicated. A photograph is hotter than a pencil: they both make pictures, but one makes low-resolution sketches and the other high-definition images.

What’s hottest? You might think that the highest-resolution format of all could be visual, typographic or video. But it’s not. It’s audio.

Neil Postman (1931 – 2003) holding a TV aerial

35 years ago, he predicted the political & social implosion we have witnessed in 2020

By Casey Chalk

Thirty-five years ago, New York University professor of communication Neil Postman predicted the political and social implosion we have witnessed in 2020. In Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Postman criticised television as a medium of information that, regardless of its content, caused Americans to understand all of public discourse through the lens of entertainment.

Postman called television a propagator of “irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence.” That seems an apt description of the first presidential debate, as well as of broader trends we have witnessed this year. Indeed, it’s pretty obvious that our digital age, in innumerable ways, aggravates our social and political distemper.

Postman the Prophet

The NYU professor was surely prophetic. “Our own tribe is undergoing a vast and trembling shift from the magic of writing to the magic of electronics,” he cautioned.

“We face the rapid dissolution of the assumptions of an education organised around the slow-moving printed word, and the equally rapid emergence of a new education based on the speed-of-light electronic message.”

What Postman perceived in television has been dramatically intensified by smartphones and social media. A videotaped confrontation between a black, male birdwatcher and a white, female dog owner in New York City’s Central Park in May was posted to Twitter and received 40 million views. The woman lost her job less than twenty-four hours later.

Postman also recognised that technology was changing our mental processes and social habits. “Television has by its power to control the time, attention, and cognitive habits of our youth gained the power to control their education.” Certainly this is truer now when our youth — many of whom are learning virtually (perhaps and oxymoron?) — are educated by the vast, untamed wilderness of the Internet and social media.

Yet all citizens are undergoing this same transformation. Our digital devices undermine social interactions by isolating us, as demonstrated by the remarkable artistic work of Eric Pickersgill. Pickersgill photographs deviceless people pretending to have mobile devices in their hands. He says:

“This phantom limb is used as a way of signaling busyness and unapproachability to strangers, while existing as an addictive force that promotes the splitting of attention between those who are physically with you and those who are not.”

Moreover, Postman worried about who most benefited from this technological revolution. He cautioned:

“Years from now, it will be noticed that the massive collection and speed-of-light retrieval of data have been of great value to large-scale organisations, but have solved very little of importance to most people, and have created at least as many problems for them as they may have solved.”

Today corporations like Google and Amazon collect data on Internet users based on their browsing history, the things they purchase, and the apps they use. When I get into my car on Sunday mornings, my iPhone, without my asking, reminds me how to get to my church. As for new problems, we have increased addictions (technological and pornographic); increased loneliness, anxiety, and distraction; and inhibited social and intellectual maturation.

Many Americans tuned in to the presidential debate looking for something substantial and meaty that might perhaps clarify and help moderate the centrifugal forces of the most chaotic year of their lives. Instead, all they got was more of the same. But what did we really expect? It was simply another manifestation of the incoherence and vitriol of cable news and our social media feeds. “When, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility,” warned Postman.

Technology Is Never Neutral

As a student of Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan, Postman believed that the medium of information was critical to understanding its social and political effects. Every technology has its own agenda. Postman worried that the very nature of television undermined American democratic institutions. He noted:

The average length of a shot on network television is only 3.5 seconds, so that the eye never rests, always has something new to see. Moreover, television offers viewers a variety of subject matter, requires minimal skills to comprehend it, and is largely aimed at emotional gratification. Even commercials, which some regard as an annoyance, are exquisitely crafted, always pleasing to the eye and accompanied by exciting music.

This is far truer of the Internet and social media, where more than a third of Americans, and almost half of young people, now get their news. All one has to do is scroll or click to move from one piece of data to the next. Moreover, with smartphones now ubiquitous, the Internet has replaced television as the “background radiation of the social and intellectual universe.”

Yet these technologies are far from neutral. They are, rather, “equipped with a program for social change.” Postman cites research conducted in the 1980s that proved that virtual learning (via television) was inferior to learning from reading and person-to-person teaching.
Read the rest of this essay at

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985)
50th Anniversary Edition

Remarkably, neurons that respond specifically to objects that are within reach of your hand will also respond to objects that are close to a tool that’s in your hand. Cognitive psychologists Jessica Witt and Dennis Proffitt found that when they asked people to use a reaching tool (a 15-inch orchestra conductor’s baton) to reach targets that were just out of range, the targets looked closer than when they intended to reach without the tool.

Even if the brain just pretends that the tool is part of its body, then the tool is part of its body.

This article is excerpted from Michael Spivey’s book “Who You Are: The Science of Connectedness“

For their study, they briefly flashed a spot of light on a table and then asked people to touch or point to where the spot had been. Interspersed among those touch/point trials were some trials where the person was simply asked to estimate how far away the spot was (in inches). There was a fair bit of variation in their guesses, but on average they were pretty close to accurate, except when they were holding the baton. When they were holding the baton and prepared to use it, a spot that had been 39 inches away was perceived as having been only 35 inches away — a 10 percent reduction in perceived distance just because they were holding a tool in their hand.

Witt and Proffitt theorized that this effect was a result of the brain generating a mental simulation of the reaching movement and thus tricking itself into thinking the object was closer and therefore more accessible when a reaching tool was held. To test this idea, they did a follow-up experiment where they showed the baton to participants and told them to merely imagine using it to reach for the spot of light. When these participants reported the perceived distance of the spot of light, once again there was a substantial compression of that estimated distance. They didn’t even have a tool in their hands. They merely imagined reaching toward the spot with the baton, and that motor simulation caused them to underestimate the distance of the spot.

Even if the brain just pretends that the tool is part of its body, then the tool is part of its body. Even if the brain just pretends that the tool is part of its body, then the tool is part of its body.

Twenty years ago, cognitive scientists Matthew Botvinick and Jonathan Cohen demonstrated that you can trick the brain into thinking a rubber hand is part of its body. They had people place their right hand palm-down underneath a table and then placed a rubber hand on the tabletop above the real hand. Then they stroked and tapped the knuckles and fingers of the rubber hand in synchrony with the stroking and tapping of the real hand, invisible under the table. When the experiment’s participants saw the touching of the rubber hand and felt the same places and timing of touching on their real hand, they began to feel a bit as if the rubber hand was part of their body.

In fact, when people are asked to indicate the location of their unseen real hand under these circumstances, their estimates are often shifted almost halfway to the location of the rubber hand. Psychologist Frank Durgin showed that it doesn’t even have to be actual touch on the hands. When a mirror is aligned just right to make the rubber hand look like it’s exactly where the real (hidden) hand is located, the light from a laser pointer traveling along the rubber hand is enough to give people an illusory sensation of warmth, and even touch, on their real hand.

This unusual observation actually has medical applications. Around that same time, neurologist Vilayanur Ramachandran was exploring this kind of phenomenon with amputees who experience phantom limb pain. Phantom limb pain is when an amputee feels excruciating pain in the limb that has been amputated. It might seem impossible, but it makes sense when you think about how the brain codes for that limb and how the brain reorganizes itself upon losing that limb. For instance, if an arm is amputated just below the elbow, groups of neurons that used to code for the hand obviously no longer receive sensory input from the mechanoreceptors in that hand. Over time, some of those neurons gradually develop connections to nearby neurons that have been coding for the elbow, which is still receiving sensory input. Sometimes those connections can cause the brain to think that the hand has somehow moved up right next to the elbow. Your brain knows full well that if your right hand were curled up so much as to be close to your right elbow, it would be incredibly painful. (Don’t try this at home.) So, the brain naturally generates a pain response. If the missing limb were still there, some movement of it would quickly allow the brain to figure out that the hand is not at all curled up like that. With the limb missing, there’s no way for the brain to use proprioception to figure this out. However, with visual input, it can.

The light from a laser pointer traveling along the rubber hand is enough to give people an illusory sensation of warmth, and even touch, on their real hand.

Ramachandran had the genius idea to place a mirror next to the amputee’s intact limb. When the patient sits in the right position and the mirror is set at the proper angle, the reflection of the intact limb looks to the patient just like a copy of the missing limb, and in a location where that missing limb would naturally be. Movements of the intact limb are visually processed by the patient’s brain as copycat movements of the missing limb as well. Thus, if a patient is feeling pain in their phantom right arm, watching a mirrored reflection of their left hand clench and unclench a fist can train their brain to realize that the (missing) right arm is not at all contorted in a manner that should cause pain. For cramping and other muscular pain in the phantom limb, Ramachandran’s procedure is remarkably effective.

Whether they are tools, toys, or mirror reflections, external objects temporarily become part of who we are all the time. When I put my eyeglasses on, I am a being with 20/20 vision, not because my body can do that — it can’t — but because my body-with-augmented-vision-hardware can. So that’s who I am when I wear my glasses: a hardware-enhanced human with 20/20 vision.

If you have thousands of hours of practice with a musical instrument, when you play music with that object, it feels like an extension of your body — because it is. When you hold your smartphone in your hand, it’s not just the morphological computation happening at the surface of your skin that becomes part of who you are. As long as you have Wi-Fi or a phone signal, the information available all over the internet (both true and false information, real news and fabricated lies) is literally at your fingertips. Even when you’re not directly accessing it, the immediate availability of that vast maelstrom of information makes it part of who you are, lies and all. Be careful with that.

Michael J. Spivey is Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of California, Merced, and the author of “The Continuity of Mind” and “Who You Are,” from which this article is excerpted.
Thanks to Derrick De Kerckhove for providing this excerpt.

Ronald J. Deibert, is a professor with the Munk School & the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto, & Director of the Citizen Lab

From November 9 to 16, 2020, Ronald J. Deibert, a professor with the Munk School and the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto, and director of the Citizen Lab, will deliver the 2020 Massey Lectures on CBC Radio’s IDEAS [at 8 PM]. His new book, Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society, explores how the expansion of society towards a system of surveillance capitalism has created and exacerbated social and political afflictions. The book is available for purchase from House of Anansi Press and Deibert will hold an online launch for the book on November 10. We asked Deibert a few questions about Reset and delivering the Massey Lectures.


You are the 2020 Massey Lecturer, joining the ranks of an esteemed group of thinkers that includes Martin Luther King Jr., Jane Jacobs, Noam Chomsky, Margaret Atwood and many other luminaries. What does this honour mean to you?

It is both a great honour and truly surreal. I grew up listening to CBC IDEAS and the Massey lectures, and the books that accompany them were foundational to me. I devoured the books of C. B. Macpherson, George Grant, John Kenneth Galbraith, Ursula Franklin, and the other luminaries you mention. It’s like a dream to be on this distinguished list.

You are a political scientist by training who started Citizen Lab in 2001. In the book, you describe the Lab’s mission as using interdisciplinary research to serve as “counter-intelligence for global civil society.” Describe the Lab’s unique approach.

As a young graduate student, I had the opportunity to do some contract work for a small unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs, Canada (as it was called then), whose focus was on verification of arms control. Through that experience, I came to recognize the value of interdisciplinary approaches to arms control verification – the combination of satellite imagery, underwater sensors, seismic monitors, and other tools all with the goal to monitor the globe for evidence of states cheating on their commitments to agreements on nuclear and chemical weapons. It dawned on me that a similar approach could be developed to uncover the abuse of power by governments and the private sector in the global telecommunications ecosystem. It took many years to develop, attract, and retain the type of skilled researchers to make this mission viable. Although the Citizen Lab’s technical work tends to get the most attention, we also make use of law and policy methods to undertake our research.

What do you count among Citizen Lab’s greatest achievements to date?

We are fortunate to have had so many great achievements over the years. I would count the work we have done on targeted espionage as our greatest – beginning with the landmark Tracking Ghostnet report in 2009 to, more recently, our reports identifying Saudi espionage against Omar Abdul Aziz and other Saudi dissidents some of whom were close confidants of the murdered journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

At the start of the book, you describe social media as “vehicles for the relentless collection and monetization of the personal data of their users.” How has the rise of social media and “surveillance capitalism” changed our digital landscape?

Well, it surrounds us all now. We can’t escape it. It’s in our pockets, even in our minds. That’s a consequence of that relentless collection and monetization of personal data. There can be no logical endpoint. Sensors are built upon sensors. One door leads to another door to be opened, only to lead to another door, and so on. The pandemic is going to give rise to an even greater level of intrusiveness with the normalization of biomedical surveillance. We are all cyborgs now.

You argue that technologies designed for one purpose often result in consequences that are far different than were originally intended. There are countless examples of technologies and platforms created to foster collaboration and communication that have been turned against civil society and used for nefarious purposes. How can civil society fight back against the constant threat of surveillance?

There is no one simple solution. Unaccountable and unlawful surveillance is spreading wildly, thanks in part to an ecosystem that is insecure, poorly regulated, invasive by design, and prone to abuse, and thanks in part to a burgeoning private sector surveillance industry. Government agencies are now equipped with sophisticated tools, products, and services that are contributing to a “great leap forward” in technologies of remote control. We now have 21st-century superpower policing alongside 20th- and 19th-century safeguards. The only solution is a comprehensive reform of safeguards to restrain governments and companies to prevent the abuse of power.

We often think of digital technology as providing ‘sustainable solutions to global problems’, but you argue that there are significant environmental harms associated with our addiction to our devices. Can you elaborate?

Early reactions among many who have read Reset is that their favourite chapter is “Burning Data,” which is about the often-overlooked ecological impacts of social media and our communications ecosystem. While we tend to imagine social media and digital tech as clean, virtual, and ethereal (an image promoted by the platforms themselves) they are far from it. There is a large ecological footprint connected to our digital consumption practices, from mining and manufacturing to energy consumption and waste. If we continue on this path of unbridled consumption and planned obsolescence, we are doomed.

One of the major aims of this book is to get us thinking about how to mitigate the harms of social media and to build a communications ecosystem that supports civil society and works to improve the human condition. Why do you think this is the once-in-a-lifetime moment to reset? How can we begin to step back, regroup, and return to first principles?

Well, time is running out. We face several existential risks that are looming on the horizon, the most important of which is climate change. Communication technologies are essential environmental monitoring and environmental rescue, and yet the current architecture of social media and digital technologies (organized around surveillance capitalism) is entirely dysfunctional to those aims. We need to step back, take stock, develop a new way forward, and make it happen – before it’s too late.

If we continue on this path of unbridled consumption and planned obsolescence, we are doomed.

After our reset, you argue, we should double down on restraint as a way forward. Can you explain why this is essential? What role does the government have to play? What role should universities play in this effort? 

I make a plea in my lectures for a single, overarching principle to guide us moving forward: restraint. The common-sense meaning of “restraint” is keeping someone or something under control, including our emotions, our habits, and our behaviours.

While seemingly simple and familiar to most, restraint is a concept with a rich historical legacy connected to a long line of political thinking and practice that reaches all the way back to ancient Greece and is typically associated with that family of theorizing known as “liberal-republicanism”… Read the rest of this interview at

Walter J. Ong was part of the English Department at Saint Louis University when I did my MA there in the early 1960s. His courses were so wide ranging that we called them “Onglish” rather than English. He was then the most published Jesuit in the U.S., and he inspired us not just to write but to write for publication, which meant exploring the present state of a question and then advancing it a little further.

The other day I was looking through what I consider Ong’s finest work, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (London, New York, Routledge, 1982), where he talks about what he calls the age of “secondary orality,” which has come about through electronic technology.

Listening to the spoken word, he says, generates a strong group sense, “But secondary orality generates a sense for groups immeasurably larger than those of primary oral culture – McLuhan’s ‘global village.’” (Ong was a disciple of Marshall McLuhan, who taught at Saint Louis University. before moving on to the University of Toronto.)

The contrast between oratory in the past and in today’s world,” Ong says, “well highlights the contrast between primary and secondary orality. Radio and television have brought major political figures as public speakers to a larger public than was ever possible before modern electronic developments.”

He goes on to describe the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. The speakers addressed an audience of 12,000 to 15,000 people, standing outdoors in the scorching summer sun, speaking for an hour and a half each, without any amplifying equipment. What really captured me, however, was this next part:

Presidential debates on television today are completely out of this older oral world. The audience is absent, invisible, inaudible. The candidates are ensconced in tight little booths, make short presentations, and engage in crisp little conversations with each other in which any agonistic edge is deliberately kept dull. Electronic media do not tolerate a show of open   antagonism … Candidates accommodate themselves to the psychology of the media. Genteel,  literate domesticity is rampant.”

Having sat through three hours of a recent presidential debate on television, I wondered what Walter Ong would have made of it. The candidates were not in tight little booths but separated by at least twenty feet or more. The presentations were meant to be brief but they were hardly crisp little conversations.

One of the candidates was antagonistic in the extreme, not accommodating himself to the psychology of the medium but reverting to something like a schoolyard shouting match, while the teacher tried to keep them from engaging each other physically. Genteel, literate domesticity was nowhere in evidence.

Perhaps Ong was thinking of the televised Kennedy-Nixon debates, which I recall one cartoonist depicting like this: The moderator asks a question, “Gentlemen, what is two plus two?” Kennedy, with his Boston accent, answers, “Foah,” and Nixon responds, “Let me say this about that.”

Commentators felt it was television that gave Kennedy the edge in the debates. His youthful good looks and his ease before the cameras were in strong contrast to Nixon’s nervousness. This cool medium, as McLuhan characterized TV, with its small screen and low definition, invited viewers into greater intimacy with the persons they were watching, perhaps again giving Kennedy the advantage.

Today television has changed – so much so that McLuhan, were he with us, might now call it a hot medium. Many homes are equipped with giant, high-definition TV screens providing us with a great deal of detail. If anyone on screen has defects they will show. In the current presidential election, defects of character are very much on display.

Though one of the candidates has had a lot of television experience, most of it was with a “reality” show in which his chief role was to sack some apprentice and shout “You’re fired!”

Meanwhile his term in office has become a kind of unreality show, with large numbers of staff quitting the oval office before they can be fired. The current pandemic may make further presidential debates impossible, at least in person, and that may indeed prove an undisguised blessing.

Republished by permission, this article was first published in igNation, a Jesuit blog at

Eric Jensen, SJ, works in the Spiritual Exercises ministry at Loyola House, Guelph, Ontario. He also paints and writes. He is the author of Entering Christ’s Prayer (Ave Maria Press, 2007)and Ignatius Loyola and You (Novalis 2018).

Marshall McLuhan (centre), Father Walter Ong, SJ (right)

Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, October 1970


The McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC) invited Jonathan Slater, a professor of public relations at State University of New York Plattsburgh (SUNY) on Oct. 14 to give a lecture exploring the influence of Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan on the role of mass media in Quebec’s Quiet Revolution and the October Crisis. The webinar was part of a formal partnership between McGill University, Bridgewater State University, and SUNY Plattsburgh.

Slater’s talk drew on research for his upcoming book on the role of mass media in Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, a period of socio-cultural change in the province. The October Crisis culminated in the Front de libération du Quebec’s (FLQ) kidnappings and attacks of two diplomats in the fall of 1970.

Slater lectured about Canadian philosopher and professor of literature Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), who is often heralded as the father of communication and media studies. During the Quiet Revolution and October Crisis in Quebec, McLuhan observed and commented on the cultural changes in Quebec from his home in Toronto, where he was director of the Centre for Culture and Technology. In her introduction of Slater, Blair Elliot, MISC Communications and Events Associate, highlighted how some of McLuhan’s contemporaries saw his role in the crisis.

“Two of McLuhan’s contemporaries, his Toronto colleague Northrop Frye and Montreal author Hugh MacLennan, accused McLuhan of stirring up trouble in Quebec,” Elliot said. “McLuhan’s open friendship with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau ostensibly was behind Frye’s assertion that McLuhan was interfering in Quebec’s affairs. MacLennan believed McLuhan’s contentions about mediated environments were abetting French nationalist sentiment in the province.”
Read the rest of this article at the McGill Tribune: