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:

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.”

Museum of Communication, Frankfurt

Feedback #5: Frankfurt, Museum of Communication
Marshall McLuhan and The Arts: Global Warning!

“The artist’s insights or perceptions seem to have been given to mankind as a providential means of bridging the gap between evolution and technology. The artist is able to program, or reprogram, the sensory life in a manner which gives us a navigational chart to get out of the maelstrom created by our own ingenuity. The role of the artist in regard to man and the media is simply survival.”
 Marshall McLuhan in Man and Media, 1979

In the context of its important collection of objects and documentation of the history of communication, the Museum of Communication Frankfurt will present the 5th edition of the traveling exhibition and symposium project. Throughout his career Marshall McLuhan worked to warn the world of the overwhelming power being unleashed by new technologies, which, as he described ‘work us over completely’ from the psychic to social dimensions, relentlessly reorganising how we live, forcing us to reevaluate our prospects and design new strategies. The title ‘Global Warning!’ brings together important drives in McLuhan’s work, the artist as sensitive ‘DEW Line’ antenna alerting society to imminent transformation, understanding environment as a technical product, ‘the planet as a work of art’ and his urgent pleas to reform the institutions so they can better prepare populations for a world in which they may not recognise themselves.

Artists: Darsha Hewitt (CA), Stephanie Syjuco (US), Christof Migone (CA), Mogens Jacobsen (DK) and others.

The project ‘Feedback #5: Marshall McLuhan and the Arts’ at Museum of Communication, Frankfurt (2020) is the fifth station of the recursive exhibition program, which includes presentations in The Hague (2017), Leipzig (2017), Berlin (2018), Karlsruhe (2018), Windsor (2019), Detroit 2019 and Paris (2021) and Toronto (2021).

Feedback: Marshall McLuhan and the Arts is conceived by West Den Haag and curated by Baruch Gottlieb in collaboration with the Embassy of Canada Germany.

Addendum: Press Release About the Feedback Series of Exhibitions

Feedback brings artists, designers, scholars and thinkers together to probe, encounter and contest the light-speed electronic information environments we inhabit today.

Exploding out of the wreckage of World War II the early cyberneticists Norbert Wiener and Claude Shannon, sketched out a future where even thinking could be automated. In the electronic information of global instantaneous mass-communication of the satellite and TV age Marshall McLuhan saw the end of the rational tradition of enlightenment Humanism, and the emergence of a ‘Global Village’ and ‘Global Theatre’ where people would be caught up in their interconnectivity and develop new social art forms.

The pace of technological transformation, automation and globalization has resulted in massive human migration, precaritization, displacement and new transitional modes of existence. The Internet, built to maintain command and control of the US military in an extreme emergency has become a commercialized infrastructure where unprecedented new forms of communication and exchange are emerging. Publics are formed and dissolved algorithmically according to need, no longer at the level of opinion or knowledge, but according to advanced social cybernetics of politics and the advertising economy. The medium is the message.

Feedback is the second in a series of projects (first was Without Firm Ground, Flusser and the Arts, March 2006), which explore the potential for a synthesis of philosophy and theory in works of arts to fathom and understand the accelerating pace of social transformation brought on by technological and scientific progress. The exhibition will feature fourteen provocative and invigorating propositions from drawing to sound sculpture, from online performance actions to obsessive hardware hackery, which grapple with the substance of the information machine we live in.

Installed across two locations visitors will discover the series of Dew-line newsletter and Explorations journals, archive materials, video documentation of McLuhan and works by young artists from all over the world.

Marshall McLuhan (CA, 1911 – 1980) had already noted in the 1960s that the speed and pervasiveness of electronic communication was superseding the rational and reflective abilities of literacy. The technologies that brought us here are built through rational disinterested scientific method, but generate an immersive environment where we lose grasp of private identity and long for a pre-literate togetherness in a ‘Global Village’. His ‘Global Village’ came to exemplify the uncritical Summer of Love communality of the Hippies, but it was a misappropriation and misunderstanding of McLuhan’s meaning. For McLuhan the ‘Global Village’ was a place of violent terror, where there was constant surveillance and where privacy was ‘merely ignored’, as he frankly describes in a famous interview with Canadian talk show host Mike McManus.

McLuhan rose to prominence as perhaps the most famous cultural critic of his age with an analysis that directly engaged with the transformations emerging with the introduction of electronic technologies. His involvement was gestural, reason alone would not suffice to grapple with the contemporary conditions, there was a techno-cultural revolution afoot, which was completely disrupting how human beings had perceived the world for hundreds of years.

Curators: Baruch Gottlieb & Marie-José Sondeijker

DEW Line Newsletter exhibit co-curated with Graham Larkin
Explorations exhibit co-curated with Michael Darroch with additional documentation from Simon Rogers.

The project Feedback #1, Marschall Mcluhan and the Arts in The Hague is the first station of the exhibition symposia and workshops touring program, which will include programs in Berlin (2018), Paris (2018), Toronto (2019)

University of Winnipeg

In McLuhan’s Techno-Sensorium City: Coming to Our Senses in a Programmed Environment, Jaqueline McLeod Rogers argues that Marshall McLuhan was both an activist and a speculative urbanist who drew from cross-disciplinary and ahistorical sources to explore constitutive exchanges between humanity and technologies to alter human perception and imagine a sustainable future based on collective participation in a responsive urban environment. This environment—a techno-sensorium—would endeavor to design and program technology to be favorable to life and capable of engaging with multiple senses. McLeod Rogers examines McLuhan’s active engagement with the vibrant art and urban design culture of his day to further understand the ways in which the links he drew between media, technology, space, architecture, art, and cities continue to inform current urban and art criticism and practices. Scholars of media studies, urbanism, philosophy, architecture, and sociology will find this book particularly useful. (Source:

Lexington Books
Pages: 192 • Trim: 6 x 9
978-1-7936-0524-5 • Hardback • November 2020
978-1-7936-0525-2 • eBook • November 2020
Subjects: Social Science / Media StudiesSocial Science / Sociology / UrbanPhilosophy / Philosophy of TechnologyPhilosophy / Individual Philosophers

Special 30% Discount Offer!
To get discount, use code LEX30AUTH20 when ordering.*May not be combined with other offers and discounts, valid until 12/31/2020.

About Jaqueline-McLeod-Rogers, Professor & Chair, Department of Rhetoric, Writing & Communication, University of Winnipeg

Journalist Christian Esguerra named as 2020 McLuhan Fellow for Excellence in Journalism

The Embassy of Canada in the Philippines presented the annual Marshall McLuhan Fellowship for Excellence in Journalism to Christian Esguerra of ABS-CBN News, in recognition of his stellar work in the past year especially in providing explanatory reporting of the day’s most important issues.

Canada’s Ambassador to the Philippines Peter MacArthur named Mr. Esguerra as the new McLuhan Fellow during the virtual Jaime V. Ongpin Journalism Seminar organized by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR).

In presenting the award, Ambassador MacArthur cited Mr. Esguerra’s professional qualities: “consistency in providing the public outstanding coverage of the most pressing stories of the day; knowledge of a wide range of issues, deftness in adapting to the changing platforms of the industry, and a desire to mold the next generation of media professionals.”
He also lauded Mr. Esguerra’s “passion for the craft (that) transcends news platforms, and whose proficient mastery to discover and explain the facts restricts the space for disinformation to thrive.”
Congratulations, Christian!

Established in 1997, the prestigious Marshall McLuhan Fellowship is awarded yearly by the Canadian Embassy in the Philippines to a recipient “embodying outstanding qualities in the field of investigative journalism.” 

The fellow will travel to universities across Canada and the Philippines to deliver lectures on a chosen topic in journalism.

Previous McLuhan fellows include Patricia Evangelista (2019), Jeff Canoy (2018), Manny Mogato (2017), Gigi Grande (2016), Joseph Morong (2015), Cheche Lazaro (2014), Eileen Mangubat (2013), Lynda Jumilla (2012), Carol Arguillas (2011), Ed Lingao (2010), Diosa Labiste (2009), Glenda Gloria (2008), Inday Varona (2007), Gerry Lirio (2006), Yvonne Chua (2000, 2005), Tess Bacalla (2004), Luz Rimban (2003), Miriam Grace Go (2002), Vinia Datinguinoo (2001), Ellen Tordesillas (1999) and Sheila Coronel (1998).

For more information, see

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 America


Americans have lost their sense of identity because of the speed of information. The American bureaucracy, political and educational, was set up for very slow speeds of the print word and for railways. At electric speeds, nothing in the USA makes sense. The most benign political democracy becomes a police state as soon as you improve the speed of communication. Everybody then becomes under surveillance, everybody is put into a data bank, and there is no freedom left.”
– “The New Majority,” Interview with Ed Fitzgerald, CBC-TV, 1970, transcript p. 6 (11:25 in the video).
“Basic modes of cognition on this continent not linguistic but technological”…
Letter to Ezra Pound, January 5, 1951, in Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 218.
“By the time of the power press in the early 19th century, the newspapers were  rapidly changing the character of politics by creating public opinion. In a new  country like America the new medium of the press created the first instance of a state founded on public opinion. English political forms, predating the press, still depend much less on public opinion, as do those of Canada.

Counterblast (1969), p. 125.
“The American image of itself, American goals, American directions, have been scrapped by electric speeds. I am not making value judgments. I am simply observing that if you accelerate any structure beyond a certain speed it collapses”.
– “The Global Theatre” (1971), p. 182.
“In the same way, the American south has a variety of traditional English dialects and an overriding rhythm that is corporate and oral.”
“Liturgy and Media: Do Americans Go to Church to be Alone?” (1973) in The Medium and the Light (1999), p. 122.
Now an American not only does not like acting or putting on a public, but he does not put on a corporate or standard voice when he speaks. He uses his private voice, and this, of course, enables the Americans to have no class consciousness and no class structure.”

– “TV News as a New Mythic Form” (1970), in Understanding Me, (2003), p. 168.
“As an example of the new relations prevailing in the English-speaking countries, a short time ago, Cyril Connolly suspended the operations of Horizon (England’s leading literary magazine) with the pronouncement that his magazine had ceased to have a function. All the best pieces he published, he said, were being sent from America. True or false, this was a revolutionary view. It amounted to saying that the cultural shadow which for centuries England cast over the arts on this side of the Atlantic has vanished. Instead, American arts are blanketing English intellectual life just as American movies have for two decades been providing English children with new speech habits. There is no longer any excuse for the immigrant humility in artistic matters which for so long pervaded American cultural life.

– “Defrosting Canadian Culture” (1952), American Mercury, Vol. 74, No. 339, p 94.
“Thus the English and American cultures in particular were overwhelmed by print, since in the 16th century they had only rudimentary defences to set up against the new printed word. The rest of Europe, richer in plastic and oral culture, was less blitzed by the printing press. And the Orient has so far had many kinds of resistance to offer”.

– “Culture Without Literacy”, Explorations #1, (1953).
“Since television America came of age, Americans got a lot of trouble, but since television they are not afraid of serious culture. Television trains everyone. It has deepened the American psyche. America is no longer that visually dominated culture. It used to be concerned with the outside appearance and the packaging. Now it does not care. The visual world is no longer dominant in America. You can tell that the moment you see the kids, dressed in their crazy way. They are not dressed for the eye.”
– Interview with J.P.M. van Santen in Toronto, October 25, 1972, Transcript, p. 2.
“America is 100% 18th century. The 18th century had chucked out the principle of metaphor and analogy—the basic fact that as A is to B so is C to D. AB:CD. It can see AB relations. But relations in four terms are still verboten. This amounts to deep occultation of nearly all human thought for the U.S.A.”
– Letter to Ezra Pound, December 21, 1948, in Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 224.
“A common observation of European visitors to America is that life here is more collectivized and stereotyped than communists have ever aimed to achieve. It was always the central theme of Marx that direct political action was unnecessary. The machine was the revolutionary solvent of bourgeois society. Allow the dynamic logic of the machine full play in any kind of society and it will, said Marx, become communist automatically. Certainly America is far more advanced on the road to a collective, centralized, consumer’s paradise than any other part of the world. May not some of the American panic about the communist threat be a dim recognition of this paradox?”
“Revolutionary Conservatism.” Unpublished typescript, 1952.

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

The Panopticon

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

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

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


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

Surveillance Capitalism

P. Mansaram: The Medium is the Medium is the Medium

September 11, 2020 – January 3, 2021
Burlington Art Gallery
Click here to view the Education Guide

Curated by Indu Vashist and Toleen Touq of the South Asian Visual Arts Centre (SAVAC), this exhibition of Burlington’s senior media artist P. Mansaram’s work thinks through the artist’s decades-long practice of repetition. For P. Mansaram, repetition is art practice, repetition is meditation, repetition is spirituality, repetition is falling in love, and as he says, repetition is a way to finding god. Strategically using recurrence and reproduction through a variety of medium including drawing, painting, collage, text, sculpture, xerox, silkscreen printmaking, and film, P. Mansaram’s work invokes unending feelings of travel: through time, dimension and territory.

“The Medium is the Message” is a quote by Marshall McLuhan, a well-known professor and thinker who was interested in media (like film, television, and photography) and communication. He became famous in the 1960s when the world was being changed by new technologies. Marshall McLuhan’s ideas inspired P. Mansaram. They even became collaborators, working on a series of paintings together! When he said “The Medium is the Message,” Marshall McLuhan was suggesting that the way we choose to communicate (email, art, text messaging, TikTok, Twitter) shapes what we say and how we say it. Imagine telling your friend about your new puppy. How would a text message you send them about it be different than a painting you make of it to show them?

Find the print in the exhibition called “The Message Man”. On it, there is a drawing of Mansaram’s famous collaborator, Marshall McLuhan.

                                          Marshall McLuhan & Mansaram 1974 

The Medium is the Medium is the Medium circulating exhibition is co-organized by SAVAC and the Art Museum at the University of Toronto and with the financial support of the Ontario Arts Council. The AGB’s presentation has been generously supported by our reopening partner and exhibition sponsor, DJB Chartered Professional Accountants, and the Government of Canada.

Location: The Art Gallery of Burlington is located on Lakeshore Road in Burlington, Ontario adjacent to Spencer Smith Park and Lake Ontario.

Please visit us at: 1333 Lakeshore Road, Burlington, ON L7S 1A9      View a map…

Parking is available on the north side of the AGB and is accessible from Elgin Street.

We are here to help at (905) 632-7796

Hours of Service: At the AGB, we believe that art experiences should be accessible to everyone, so we are open 74 hours per week, 362 days per year, and admission is always free, although donations are always welcome.

AGB Hours: 

See my essay about Mansaram and Marshall McLuhan: Collaboration in Collage Art at

Burlington Art Gallery