Marshall McLuhan Retrospective: A Global Village On Its Wayby greenspacewriter 09/03/2012
And a vital point I must stress again is that societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media with which men communicate than by the content of the communication”
-Marshall McLuhan from “The Playboy Interview: Marshall McLuhan,PlayboyMagazine (March 1969)
McLuhan was forward thinking. His publications rode the sea change. In the early 60s McLuhan wrote two books “The Gutenberg Galaxy” (1962) and “Understanding Media”(1964). These were impactful and in many cases revolutionary. He challenged the media, defined communications, and made deep and often uncanny observations about the contemporary state of electronics and the future of technology and man.
A lot was happening—- Jim Crow was ending, communism was on the decline, Eastern Europe was in flux. DARPA had been formed 4 years prior to “The Gutenberg Galaxy” and Bob Dylan had just changed his name to Bob Dylan. People were feeling open-minded. The rebellious state of mind permeated the air and communities all over the world clamored for new ideas as existing infrastructure was breaking down. Nobody wants to feel empty. Fill the emptiness with newness. McLuhan was positioned at a time when the public was open to his new ideas as other ideologies were in flux.
McLuhan understood that new technologies would have a profound cognitive impact. We would be reconfigured. He observed the effect of media having “deep and lasting changes”. To propose that the Age of Electronics would psychologically infuse human beings and become an everlasting extension of ourselves must have sounded ghastly to many. Like science fiction fantasy! Today we accept these extensions, gross or not, they are here. And for the digitally divided who live without the power of fiber optic cables that extend from sea floor to sea floor—- well those people are essentially in the dark. McLuhan understood that these instantaneous communications were different than the mediums of media before it. He had foresight. His prediction for real-time communications has taken hold, as has the “numbing” of our senses or significant losses we have taken in replacing person-to-person interactions with communication via digital communications. Technological advancement has brought us a wealth of knowledge yet also a significant cognitive loss.
McLuhan also observed the Electronic Age as homogenizing, especially for those in social upheaval. In a time when African Americans and marginalized groups of people were in the fight for social equality, the Age of Electronics offered a segway path to become more equalized.
A strange relationship though it may be, the digital/electronic/information age has brought us autonomy, equality, homogeny, and the rise of ministration. It’s almost unfathomable to think that this one individual, Marshall McLuhan, was able to have so much insight into what was happening and the global village that was readily on its way.