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Marshall McLuhan’s Maelstrom Metaphor for Our Digital World (With the Assistance of Edgar Allan Poe)

McLuhan Galaxy - Mon, 08/21/2017 - 8:23pm

Into the Maelstrom: How the Hyperconnected Age is Tearing Us Apart

By Jamie Stantonian   –   August 16, 2017

Writing during the twilight age of literature, maverick media theorist Marshall McLuhan devoted his life to the understanding of the global mass media and its effect on human behavior. He argued that by changing our sense ratios, different communication technologies altered the focus of our mental attention and affected us both on an individual and societal level. For example, the communications satellite acted as a “proscenium arch” that made the TV generation all want to be performers, which led collectively to vast shifts in the nature of society as new industries emerged in response. In contemplating the humble photocopier in the 1960s, he saw the seeds of the audience participation and self-publishing that would come to characterize the internet:

“Xerox or xerograpy enables the reader to become a publisher, and this is an important aspect of electric circuitry. The audience is increasingly involved in the process. With print, the audience was detached, observant, but not involved. With circuitry, the reader, the audience becomes involved in itself and in the process of publishing. The future of the book is very much in the order of book as information service.”

Information would become personalized, as one would “phone up” a service and say the type of subject you were interested in knowing, and you’d be sent a “xerox” bundle personally compiled and curated for you as an individual. He also could see that the mass media was making the world smaller, coining the phrase the “global village,” prophesying electronic media (as he called it) would have a “retribalizing” effect on us by shifting us back to oral rather than literate cultural patterns. While the idea of the global village has practically entered the common tongue, one lesser known metaphor ran through all of his work but perhaps summed up his thinking more totally; the Maelstrom. The term was drawn from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, A Descent into the Maelstrom in which three fishermen were sucked into a gargantuan whirlpool while out at sea, and describes how they tried to escape the monstrosity:

“At first only saw hideous terror in the spectacle. In a moment of revelation, he saw that the Maelstrom is a beautiful and awesome creation. Observing how objects around him were pulled into it, he deduced that ‘the larger the bodies, the more rapid their descent.””

 Poe 1848

For McLuhan saw the mass media as a titanic vortex pulling society towards new forms of behaviours — new ways of being — that threatened to completely overwhelm or even destroy it.

In the electric age, the fluid nature of information and the sheer amount of it thwarted our attempts at top-down classification methods so characteristic of literate culture. His hopes that like the sailor protagonist of the poem, that if we now study the perturbations and “configurations” of the mass media, we can make sense of it and devise a way escape its centripetal pull.

“The huge vortices of energy created by our media present us with similar possibilities of evasion or consequences of destruction. By studying the patterns of the effects of this huge vortex of energy in which we are involved, it may be possible to program a strategy of evasion and survival.”

At the same time McLuhan was captivating television audiences with his often cryptic prophesies and ideas, the political scientist Simon Herbert was discussing the evolving landscape of communication technology from a less poetic, but perhaps more practical perspective. When he coined the phrase “attention economy” in the early 70s, about 18 computers were attached to the internet. But even though the internet was still in its infancy, he could see how the growth of global mass media and cheap publishing were putting an increasing strain on our ability to collect and process information, writing that:

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

Read the rest of this essay at

Categories: Blog

The First Polish Translation of The Gutenberg Galaxy Just Published

McLuhan Galaxy - Wed, 08/16/2017 - 4:40pm

Galaktyka Gutenberga, the first Polish translation of The Gutenberg Galaxy

The first Polish translation of Marshall McLuhan’s The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) has just been published in Poland by Narodowe Centrum Kultury (National Cultural Centre), demonstrating that, although McLuhan might not now be making waves culturally as he did in the 1960s, he is at least continuing to make ripples.

Here is the short announcement in Polish, followed by an English translation:

Galaktyka Gutenberga należy do kanonu tych książek, które powinien znać każdy, kto interesuje się wzajemnymi związkami kultury, społeczeństwa i mediów. Pozycja plasująca się na pograniczu kilku dziedzin, socjologii, kulturoznawstwa, językoznawstwa, teorii sztuki, antropologii i historii, stanowi doskonały wstęp do koncepcji Marshalla McLuhana, który nie bez powodu nazywany jest jednym z największych myślicieli drugiej połowy minionego wieku”  – dr Kalina Kukiełko-Rogozińska

“The Gutenberg Galaxy is one of the canonical books which should be known to everyone interested in culture. This is an excellent introduction to Marshall McLuhan’s ideas, who is not without reason called one of the greatest thinkers of the second half of the last century. – Dr. Kalina Kukiełko-Rogozińska

Source (Thanks to Paolo Granata for the information).

Poland’s Flag

Categories: Blog

Why We’re Blind to Technology & What is Social Media Doing to Us?

McLuhan Galaxy - Thu, 08/10/2017 - 8:32pm

Marshall McLuhan Explains Why We’re Blind to How Technology Changes Us, Raising the Question: What Have the Internet & Social Media Done to Us?

By Colin Marshall

So many of us use Facebook every day, but how many of us know that its enormous presence in our lives owes, in part, to modern philosophy? “In the course of his studies at Stanford,” writes John Lanchester in a recent London Review of Books piece of Facebook, Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, an early investor in the company, “became interested in the ideas of the US-based French philosopher René Girard, as advocated in his most influential book, Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World,” especially a concept he called “mimetic desire.”

“Human beings are born with a need for food and shelter,” writes Lanchester. “Once these fundamental necessities of life have been acquired, we look around us at what other people are doing, and wanting, and we copy them.” Or as Thiel explained it, “Imitation is at the root of all behavior.” Lanchester reports that “the reason Thiel latched onto Facebook with such alacrity was that he saw in it for the first time a business that was Girardian to its core: built on people’s deep need to copy,” yet few of us, its users, have clearly perceived that essential aspect of Facebook and other social media platforms.

Marshall McLuhan, despite having died decades before their development, would have caught on right away — and he understood why even we savvy denizens of the 21st century haven’t. “For the past 3500 years of the Western world, the effects of media — whether it’s speech, writing, printing, photography, radio or television — have been systematically overlooked by social observers,” said the author of Understanding Media and The Medium is the Message. “Even in today’s revolutionary electronic age, scholars evidence few signs of modifying this traditional stance of ostrichlike disregard.”

Those words come from an in-depth 1969 interview with Playboy magazine that broke the celebrity literature professor McLuhan’s ideas to an even wider audience than they’d had before. In it he diagnosed a “peculiar form of self-hypnosis” he called “Narcissus narcosis, a syndrome whereby man remains as unaware of the psychic and social effects of his new technology as a fish of the water it swims in. As a result, precisely at the point where a new media-induced environment becomes all pervasive and transmogrifies our sensory balance, it also becomes invisible.”


As McLuhan saw it, “most people, from truck drivers to the literary Brahmins, are still blissfully ignorant of what the media do to them; unaware that because of their pervasive effects on man, it is the medium itself that is the message, not the content, and unaware that the medium is also the massage — that, all puns aside, it literally works over and saturates and molds and transforms every sense ratio. The content or message of any particular medium has about as much importance as the stenciling on the casing of an atomic bomb.”

Just last month, no less omnipresent an internet titan than Google celebrated McLuhan’s 106th birthday, and a social observer called PR Professor saw in it a certain irony: though “it seems like technology that extends man’s ability to experience and interpret the world is positive and desirable,” McLuhan pointed out “that the inherent tendency to focus on the messages within the media make us blind to the limits and structures imposed by the mediums themselves.” This blindness has consequences indeed, since, according to McLuhan, each time a society develops a new media technology, “all other functions of that society tend to be transmuted to accommodate that new form” as that technology “saturates every institution of that society.”

This went for speech, writing, print, and the telegraph as well as it goes for “social media platforms like Twitter, which reduce expressive possibilities to 140 characters of text or expressing one’s self through the ‘re-tweeting’ of posts by others.” McLuhan believed that at one time only the interpretive work of the artist, “who has had the power — and courage — of the seer to read the language of the outer world and relate it to the inner world,” could allow the rest of us to recognize the thoroughgoing effects of technology on society, but that “the new environment of electric information” had made possible “a new degree of perception and critical awareness by nonartists.” At least more of us, if we step back, can now understand our affliction by mimetic desire, Narcissus narcosis, or any number of other troubling conditions. What to do about them remains an open question. Source:

About the Author: Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog.

Categories: Blog

New Book Announcement: Mapping Media Ecology by Dennis Cali

McLuhan Galaxy - Sun, 08/06/2017 - 7:36pm

Mapping Media Ecology-Introduction to the Field

Series: Understanding Media Ecology

By Dr. Dennis D. Cali

Until now, the academic foundations of media ecology have been passed down primarily in the form of edited volumes, often by students of Neil Postman, or are limited to a focus on Marshall McLuhan and/or Postman or some other individual important to the field. Those volumes are invaluable in pointing to key ideas in the field; they provide an important and informed account of the fundamentals of media ecology as set forth at the field’s inception. Yet there is more to the story.

Offering an accessible introduction, and written from the perspective of a «second generation» scholar, this single-authored work provides a unified, systematic framework for the study of media ecology. It identifies the key themes, processes, and figures in media ecology that have coalesced over the last few decades and presents an elegant schema with which to engage future exploration of the role of media in shaping culture and consciousness.

Dennis D. Cali offers a survey of a field as consequential as it is fascinating. Designed to be used primarily in media and communication courses, the book’s goal is to hone insight into the role of media in society and to extend the understanding of the themes, processes, and interactions of media ecology to an ever-broader intellectual community.

Publisher: Peter Lang  –  ISBN: 9781433137822  –  DOI: –  Availability: Now –  Formats: EPUB , PDF , Paperback

  Biography – Dr. Dennis Cali serves as Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication at the University of Texas at Tyler. Dr. Cali teaches in the areas of media ecology, rhetorical criticism, interpersonal communication, intercultural communication, media literacy, and media ethics. His scholarly articles have appeared in Communication Studies, The Journal of Mass Media Ethics, and The Journal of Communication and Religion, among others. He is also the author of the books Generic Criticism of American Public Address and Faith and the Media as well as other book chapters investigating how faith shapes the field of communication. Dr. Cali is a member of several national and international professional communication associations and serves on the editorial boards of the  Relevant Rhetoric: New Journal of Rhetorical Studies and Claritas: Journal of Dialogue and Culture.

Endorsements of Mapping Media Ecology:
“Part of the power and draw of the study of media ecology is its strong interdisciplinary connections. Dennis D. Cali’s noble efforts to outline these connections provide an excellent resource to introduce readers to the breadth and scope of the field. A most enjoyable read, Mapping Media Ecology is a welcome and much-needed work of fine scholarship.” Stephanie Bennett, Professor of Communication and Media Ecology, Palm Beach Atlantic University, West Palm Beach, Florida; Author of the Within the Walls trilogy and Communicating Love: Staying Close in a 24/7 Media Saturated Society

“As any cartographer knows, making a map is itself a process of discovering. In this book, Dennis D. Cali sketches an alternative and innovative route for exploring the complex and multilayered media environment. Anyone interested in the ecological dynamics of human culture will treasure this book as a great reference and a source of inspiration to find new pathways and territories. Eventually, this book will serve not only as a delightful map for advanced students in media and communications but also as an excellent attempt for the canonization of media ecology as a field of study.” – Paolo Granata, Assistant Professor, Book and Media Studies, University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto

“Dennis D. Cali’s Mapping Media Ecology is a remarkable contribution to an exciting area of study that guides readers across complex media, social, and cultural environments. This volume is a must for all those who want to engage with the many dimensions of media ecology, discover its founding figures, and learn about its more recent developments.” Elena Lamberti, North American Literature and Communication, University of Bologna; Author of Marshall McLuhan’s Mosaic: Probing the Literary Origins of Media Studies (MEA 2016 McLuhan Award for Outstanding Book in the Field of Media Ecology)

“Dennis D. Cali’s Mapping Media Ecology is a well-conceived, richly-researched, and clearly-written introduction to media ecology…. It provides an excellent survey of a number of key concepts and specific areas of study, as well as the major thinkers most associated with them, for a fascinating discussion on the intellectual origins of the subject.”- —Casey Man Kong Lum, Professor of Communication, William Paterson University; Co-Founder and Founding Vice President, the Media Ecology Association

“Dennis D. Cali does a splendid job elucidating the systemic nature, function, and scope of the meta-field that is media ecology. In addition to bringing some of McLuhan’s sky-high postulates and probes down to earth, Cali vivifies so many other core thinkers, like Elizabeth Eisenstein, Susanne Langer, Walter Ong, and Neil Postman.”Robert MacDougall, Professor, Communication/Media Studies; Coordinator, Video Game Studies Concentration, Curry College

“Dennis D. Cali has done a tremendous service to the media ecology perspective in offering the first extensive account of this important thought tradition specifically designed for graduate students and upper-level undergraduates. Mapping Media Ecology is guaranteed to become a primary gateway for future students of this emerging field.”Phil Rose, Immediate Past President of the Media Ecology Association; Editor of Confronting Technopoly: Charting a Course Towards Human Survival

Categories: Blog

The Irony Behind Google’s Doodle Celebration of Marshall McLuhan

McLuhan Galaxy - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 10:57pm

“The Media is the Message” – The Irony Behind Google’s Celebration of Marshall McLuhan By Daniel Pantelo

[On July 21, 2017], Google celebrated the 106th birthday of Marshall McLuhan – an intellectual who pioneered the study of media theory with the famous declaration,” The medium is the message.” With the 3.5 billion people who ran Google searches [on that day] and saw Google’s doodle dedicated to McLuhan. Who is McLuhan and why is he important enough to deserve being celebrated by the most viewed webpage in the world? And what does Playboy Magazine have to do with any of this?

Let’s dive in...

In 1964, Marshall McLuhan published Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, a foundational work in media theory that many academics agree is responsible for laying the groundwork for contemporary media studies. Rather than focusing on the meaning of messages in media, McLuhan focuses on analyzing the medium itself. McLuhan argues that the actual structures and physical limitations of media create profound psychological and social consequences. Challenging conventional understandings of media, McLuhan defines media as,” any extension of ourselves,” (McLuhan) meaning that in addition to obvious examples of media like film, photographs, and radio, McLuhan also considers mediums like numbers, clothing, automobiles, and even electric lightbulbs. Although lightbulbs aren’t generally considered a form of media, McLuhan challenges conventional attitudes by arguing that technologies like lightbulbs, automobiles, and bicycles are examples of media because they are extensions of man that affect how we perceive the world in which we live. The lightbulb acts as a form of media because as its light illuminates the dark room, it functions as a device that allows us to process the visual information around us in a way that we normally wouldn’t.

At first, it seems like technology that extends man’s ability to experience and interpret the world is positive and desirable. However, McLuhan points out that the inherent tendency to focus on the messages within the media make us blind to the limits and structures imposed by the mediums themselves. For instance, the medium of writing is limited to the expression of speech, the medium of print is limited to the expression of writing, the medium of the telegraph is limited to the expression of print. Each medium that evolves from the last allows for less expressive possibilities and creates an increasingly restrictive form of communication. The telegraph, which technologically evolved from spoken word, profoundly restricts the amount of meaning that can be communicated compared to spoken word. With spoken word, communication is much more expressive and meaningful because of nuances like tone, verbal emphasis, accent, volume, and so on. With the telegraph, the expressive possibilities of spoken word are reduced to a technological format that chisels away at possibilities for expression. As a result, mediums enforce a format that demands conformity to technological structures which reduce our communicative possibilities, restrict meaning, and ultimately shrink the lens through which we perceive the world. A relevant example from today’s digital society is social media platforms like Twitter, which reduce expressive possibilities to 140 characters of text or expressing one’s self through the ‘re-tweeting’ of posts by others.

In a legendary interview with Playboy Magazine, McLuhan turned heads and brought media theory into the public domain when he expanded on this concept. At the time, Playboy Magazine was a lifestyle magazine that included popular long-form interviews that spotlighted unique ideas and intellectuals. McLuhan took advantage of this platform to inspire a wave of new interest in media theory that spurned the development of other intellectuals and the reorganization of departments at Universities…

***********[Follow the link below to read intervening content.]                                … Oh, and by the way, Marshall McLuhan predicted the internet before it became a thing. However, as we see, his ideas portray a very dim and gray outlook. Ironically, Google is the internet’s most powerful agent and the most influential purveyor of the state of narcissistic hypnosis in which we find ourselves in today. Yet yesterday, Google celebrated the man who fathered one of the most powerful critiques of their existence. (This excerpt is from a longer essay which can be read here )

Google’s McLuhan Tribute Doodle

Categories: Blog

Call for Papers: The Nineteenth Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association, June 21-24, 2018

McLuhan Galaxy - Sat, 07/29/2017 - 3:42pm

Click on image for enlarged view.

Senses of Time, Space and Place
June 21-24, 2018
The University of Maine

Since 1950, when Canadian economic historian Harold Innis grounded his communication history theory in the ebb and flow of time-biased and space-biased media from ancient to modern civilizations, time and space have been a key concept in what later became media ecology in the 1970s. Marshall McLuhan applied the time/space concept to perception to understand the temporal characteristics of oral culture; the spatial nature of visual scribal and typographic culture, and the elimination of time and space in electronic media culture. Walter Ong featured time and space as central to the modes of consciousness in orality and literacy. Neil Postman attributed the decline in rational print culture discourse to the shortening attention span of television culture. For James Carey, too, time and space were critical elements of the equation of communication and culture. Joshua Meyrowitz explored the shifting sense of place in media cultures. And theorists from Jean Baudrillard to Paul Virilio contemplated postmodern and posthuman senses of time, space and place.

With this as context, we invite paper and panel proposals that address one or more of the three core themes. Although we encourage submissions that touch upon, or align with, the convention theme, papers, abstracts, and panel proposal submissions from all areas of Media Ecology are welcome. A maximum of two submissions per author will be accepted. Authors who wish their papers to be considered for the Top Paper or Top Student Paper award must indicate this on their submission(s). The top papers will be published in Explorations in Media Ecology. All submissions will be acknowledged. The language of the convention is English.

Please note that paper and panel proposals do not need to be related to the overall conference theme.

Please submit all papers, panels, proposals and questions to the convention chair Paul Grosswiler at <>

Guidelines for Submission

For manuscripts eligible for MEA award submissions:

  1. Manuscripts should be 4,000-6,000 words (approximately 15 to 25 double-spaced pages)
  2. Include a cover page (or e-submission page) with your academic or professional affiliation and other contact information.
  3. Include a 150 words abstract, with the title. Use APA, MLA or Chicago style.
  4. Papers should be written in English.

For Paper and Panel Proposals:

  1. Include title, 250 words abstract, and contact information with your proposal
  2. Outline, as relevant, how your paper or panel will fit with the convention theme
  3. Presenters should be prepared to deliver their papers in English.
  4. Authors with papers submitted as part of a panel proposal or as a paper proposal that wish to be considered for Top Paper or Top Student Paper must send completed paper to the convention planner by June 1, 2018.

Categories: Blog

The World According to Marshall McLuhan: An Interview with Douglas Coupland

McLuhan Galaxy - Fri, 07/28/2017 - 11:11am

Photo illustration Ming Wong/The Globe & Mail (Click on image to enlarge)

The Globe and Mail’s Mark Medley speaks with biographer Douglas Coupland on why the culture and communications guru’s theories continue to resonate in 2017 – perhaps more than ever

In his 2010 biography of Marshall McLuhan, the visual artist and writer Douglas Coupland describes reading the work of the much celebrated (and much misunderstood) culture and communications guru as the equivalent of “visiting Antarctica. You have to have time, patience, endurance, means and stubbornness to do so, and once you’re there, you’re unsure of just what it is you will find.”


 It depends on when you visit, too. It’s been a scant seven years since Mr. Coupland published his slim book, an idiosyncratic blend of biography, philosophy, fiction and cultural criticism, but the Edmonton-born Mr. McLuhan – whose output includes seminal texts like 1962’s The Gutenberg Galaxy, 1964’s Understanding Media and 1967’s The Medium is the Massage (a play on his most-famous proclamation that “The medium is the message”) – is, arguably, more prophetic than ever.

“He’s one of those people that, with hindsight, becomes ever more relevant and ever more vital,” says Mr. Coupland, whose books, from the novels MicroserfsjPod and Player One to Kitten Clone, his 2014 non-fiction study of global telecommunications firm Alcatel-Lucent, has sometimes been positioned as spiritually descended from Mr. McLuhan’s work. “I would think if you didn’t read that biography in 2010 when it came out, well, now it’s 2017 – you really, really might consider reading it. Because since then it’s just gotten more and more accurate. It’s not a result of my writing. It’s a result of how the world played out according to his theories.”

The splintering of traditional media, the hostility of contemporary politics, the ways in which modern technology pulls us together while at the same time driving us apart – if you look, you’ll find traces of it in McLuhan’s work, which explored subjects ranging from pop culture to mass media to the ways in which technology would affect our ways of communication, decades before cellphones or the Internet. He was an avatar of the future, ironic considering his own, pessimistic view of things: “I am resolutely opposed to all innovation, all change, but I am determined to understand what’s happening,” he once said. “Many people seem to think if you talk about something recent, you’re in favour of it. The exact opposite is true in my case. Anything I talk about is almost certainly something I’m resolutely against.”

Coupland’s biography has been adapted into a short documentary, which airs on Friday as part of CBC’s Extraordinary Canadians series [Friday, July 28 on CBC TV]. The Globe’s Mark Medley spoke to Mr. Coupland on Tuesday under rather McLuhan-esque circumstances: The reporter was taking a break from watching the U.S. Senate health care debate on Twitter, while Mr. Coupland was driving around his hometown of Vancouver trying to find a spot with decent cellphone reception. After a couple of dropped calls, they were finally connected and proceeded to discuss topics ranging from fake news to why democracy might just be broken.

Artist & author Douglas Coupland

This documentary is coming out at pretty much the perfect time, considering what’s going on in the world.

Well, I think it’s always an interesting time in the world. I think what we’re seeing now is all of the society-changing and brain-changing effects of new technologies. Events seem to be happening much more quickly than they ever did, and everyone now is hyper-aware of the rate of change of the rate of change. And we know there’s no off switch. Everyone seems to be freaked out or worried. I think another thing that’s happened is that the way we perceive the passage of time has made a radical, and probably irreversible, shift. It’s not so much about organic, lived experience as it is the amount that you’ve consumed. We’ve triggered something in our reptile brain where you think of time’s passage as the amount of data that you’ve consumed. If you don’t believe that, then go without your cellphone for a week and let’s talk.

“Politics, the way it’s developed, and what’s happened now, it really does make me wonder is democracy actually broken? Do we have to find a substitute for democracy?” – Douglas Gibson

If you were working on Marshall McLuhan’s biography today, how do you think your approach would change?

I would focus on his prescience. In so many ways, he was very, very aware, on a metaphorical and conceptual level, what the Internet is, but he just didn’t know the interface. It’s taken 25 years for the interfaces to evolve, so now you look at certain things he talks about and go, “Oh, he’s talking about PayPal” or “He’s talking about pornography.” And I think in the time since I wrote the book – and I started writing the book almost nine years ago – the world has changed in as much as it continues to fulfill a lot of, I wouldn’t say prophecies, but a lot of his thinking on what it was that was going to replace television. I’ve got to say, writing that book opened so many doors for me, and really, really expanded my brain in a way that still continues to surprise me.

How so?

It really broadened my world, which is, in the end, why do I projects like this. You develop new skill sets, meet new people. It does keep the world interesting.

I went back and re-read your book in advance of this interview, and I read it in a different way than I did in 2010, especially because of what’s happened in the United States. And there was this one line from McLuhan that seemed especially relevant: “The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favour of his image, because the image will be so much more powerful than he will ever be.”


Do you consider McLuhan to be a political writer?

No. He was conservative, socially, but he never let politics enter his writing or his teaching. He was superreligious. He looked at pollution and hippies and everything else and just saw the end of the world coming, one way or another. Sometimes people get mad at him for his lack of social engagement on that level. But forget his personal life or all that stuff – what did he write? He wrote what you just said, about the abdication of actual leadership in favour of the image, because the image is going to win in the end. Your question – “How would I write [the book] differently?” I’d really, really focus on that.

It’s cliché at this point, but if McLuhan is known for anything it’s “The medium is the message.” But I wondered what happens when the message doesn’t matter, or, as we’re seeing now, what happens when people don’t care if the message is a lie?

The one thing that we’re learning with news sources is that people – it’s something that’s really kicked in the last five years – that once you find out what it is you believe in, you do end up in your own echo chamber, reflecting whatever that set of beliefs is. So there’s a lot of fake news out there, but the only people who are listening to it are the people who like fake news. And here you have the Democrats in such disarray that The New York Times has become the de facto opposition of the U.S. government. And personally, boy, those Democrats … They’re as much into chaos and disarray as the right is. We’ll get back to Marshall in a second, but I do think that’s the biggest political challenge right now – making the left less suicidal. Okay, back to Marshall.

Well, speaking of people stuck in echo chambers, it’s true – I come up against this all the time on something like my own personal Facebook page. Last year, during the U.S. election, the posts being promoted on my feed were inevitably liberal-leaning articles. The mediums we use today are providing messages they think we want to hear. That seems super unhealthy for a democracy.

It’s the complete vanishing of the centre. Was this predictable? Was this foreseeable? I would actually like to go back into [TheGutenberg [Galaxy] and Understanding Media and try and find something that predicts it. Not retroactively, but something that actually nails the hyperpartisanship of modern society, and the dissolving of democracy, and the dissolution of it. The dismantling. Culturally, we’ve always assumed that individual freedom can only happen inside a democracy. And now the big change I’m seeing seems to be – look at Turkey, where they voted against voting. And you’ve got the States, where you have a lot of people on the alt-right saying democracy is not a prerequisite for freedom. In fact it might even be anti-freedom, in a lot of ways. And so, what would have been heretical even a decade ago is now entering the realm of common wisdom, and I find that very, very spooky. These are people who are not providing something better than democracy. They just want to dismantle it. There’s a lot of dismantling going on, and it’s happening very, very quickly. It is accelerating. And this time next year who knows what’s going to be the big thing that’s happening. So many people I know right now want to go in a coma for five years and come out and see how this whole thing all plays out.

Protesters are removed from a Donald Trump rally in Fayetteville, N.C.

McLuhan is also known for the idea of “the global village.” At one point he wrote, “When people get close to each other, they get more and more savage, impatient with each other … the global village is a place of very arduous interfaces and abrasive situations.” You see that first-hand on Twitter and Facebook, where it sometimes seems civil discourse is impossible. We’ve been brought together, yet we’ve further apart.

Friction has become abrasion which has become violence, almost. We have to accept the possibility that this could well be the permanent new normal. One of the interesting things about society is that anyone who might be a good politician is smart enough to say, “Oh God, why would I enter that snake pit?” You get photographed puking in a snowbank in college – are you going to go into politics with that thing surfacing in the media? Who needs it? Politics, the way it’s developed, and what’s happened now, it really does make me wonder is democracy actually broken? Do we have to find a substitute for democracy? One thing I will say is that after the Brexit and Turkish elections and the Trump election is that I think, if nothing else, democracy really does need morning-after pills. We have to come up with some new system where you have a primary vote, and then everyone goes, “Holy shit!” and then you have the actual vote.

People in East Turkey seeking a cellphone signal

Like a mulligan.

Like, with Brexit, I was in Germany when that happened and all these young Germans were just – they’d grown up with the Schengen Agreement and cultural porosity, and they could see that vanishing. We’ll never know, but imagine if they’d had another Brexit vote one week later. Would it have been the exact same results? We have to make things just a bit more malleable so that we don’t end up with these ridiculous decisions. Morning-after pills, that’s what we all need. Political morning-after pills.

In his introduction to the documentary, John Ralston Saul describes you as “the contemporary expression of McLuhanism.” How do you feel about that comparison?

John talked to me about this [book] starting back in 2005, in Melbourne, Australia – we happened to be at the same event. And I kept on saying, “No, no, I don’t want to do it.” Finally, I crumbled and did do it. The thing is, I didn’t know anything about McLuhan before this. Almost nothing. Well, his clichés. So I went into it with no preconceptions. The only preconception would be John’s thinking that I’m somehow the embodiment of his work. I’m going to take it as a compliment.

This interview has been edited and condensed. Source:

The print version of this article/interview is an impressive two-page spread with the top half of the page reproducing the photograph of McLuhan at the top of this posting on pages A8 and A9 in the main news section of the Globe & Mail edition of Thursday, July 27, 2017. Definitely a collectors edition for McLuhan enthusiasts.

Categories: Blog

Marshall McLuhan Predicts The Impact of Electronic Media on Books & Everything Else (1960)

McLuhan Galaxy - Tue, 07/25/2017 - 12:42pm

“The electronic media haven’t wiped out the book: it’s read, used, and wanted, perhaps more than ever. But the role of the book has changed. It’s no longer alone. It no longer has sole charge of our outlook, nor of our sensibilities.” As familiar as those words may sound, they don’t come from one of the think pieces on the changing media landscape now published each and every day. They come from the mouth of mid-century CBC television host John O’Leary, introducing an interview with Marshall McLuhan more than half a century ago.

McLuhan, one of the most idiosyncratic and wide-ranging thinkers of the twentieth century, would go on to become world famous (to the point of making a cameo in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall) as a prophetic media theorist. He saw clearer than many how the introduction of mass media like radio and television had changed us, and spoke with more confidence than most about how the media to come would change us. He understood what he understood about these processes in no small part because he’d learned their history, going all the way back to the development of writing itself.

Writing, in McLuhan’s telling, changed the way we thought, which changed the way we organized our societies, which changed the way we perceived things, which changed the way we interact. All of that holds truer for the printing press, and even truer still for television. He told the story in his book The Gutenberg Galaxy, which he was working on at the time of this interview in May of 1960, and which would introduce the term “global village” to its readers, and which would crystallize much of what he talked about in this broadcast. Electronic media, in his view, “have made our world into a single unit.”

With this “continually sounding tribal drum” in place, “everybody gets the message all the time: a princess gets married in England, and ‘boom, boom, boom’ go the drums. We all hear about it. An earthquake in North Africa, a Hollywood star gets drunk, away go the drums again.” The consequence? “We’re re-tribalizing. Involuntarily, we’re getting rid of individualism.” Where “just as books and their private point of view are being replaced by the new media, so the concepts which underlie our actions, our social lives, are changing.” No longer concerned with “finding our own individual way,” we instead obsess over “what the group knows, feeling as it does, acting ‘with it,’ not apart from it.”

Though McLuhan died in 1980, long before the appearance of the modern internet, many of his readers have seen recent technological developments validate his notion of the global village — and his view of its perils as well as its benefits — more and more with time. At this point in history, mankind can seem less united than ever than ever, possibly because technology now allows us to join any number of global “tribes.” But don’t we feel more pressure than ever to know just what those tribes know and feel just what they feel?

No wonder so many of those pieces that cross our news feeds today still reference McLuhan and his predictions. Just this past weekend, Quartz’s Lila MacLellan did so in arguing that our media, “while global in reach, has come to be essentially controlled by businesses that use data and cognitive science to keep us spellbound and loyal based on our own tastes, fueling the relentless rise of hyper-personalization” as “deep-learning powered services promise to become even better custom-content tailors, limiting what individuals and groups are exposed to even as the universe of products and sources of information expands.” Long live the individual, the individual is dead: step back, and it all looks like one of those contradictions McLuhan could have delivered as a resonant sound bite indeed. (Source: )


About the author of this article: Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog.

Categories: Blog

Douglas Coupland on Marshall McLuhan, Based on his Biography, Scheduled to Broadcast on CBC TV on July 28

McLuhan Galaxy - Sat, 07/22/2017 - 5:26pm

Douglas Coupland on Marshall McLuhan, based on his biography Marshall McLuhan (2009), published in Penguin Books Canada’s Extraordinary Canadians short biographies series is scheduled for transmission on CBC TV on Friday, July 28 at 8:30 PM with a repeat on August 25 at 8:30 PM (but check scheduling on the latter to be sure). As far as I know, this will be viewable on the CBC network across Canada as well as adjoining border states in the USA. Coupland’s somewhat controversial biography was published in the USA under the title Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!

About the Extraordinary Canadians TV Series

An innovative series of portraits pairing Canada’s most distinguished writers with great Canadians who have shaped our thinking. Based on Penguin Canada’s Extraordinary Canadians collection, the series provides deeply personal takes on the lives of eminent Canadians from the perspective of celebrated contemporary writers.

Unique among television biography series, Extraordinary Canadians captures the relationship between writer and subject, and probes the distinctive link between the two. As each writer chronicles the life of a Canadian from whom they have drawn inspiration, we are treated to insights into the lives of both biographer and subject. ( where a short trailer for the series can be seen)

Marshall McLuhan / Douglas Coupland

Marshall McLuhan

Prophet and leading philosopher of the electronic age Marshall McLuhan was born in Edmonton in 1911. He studied English at the University of Manitoba and at Cambridge before becoming a professor himself, positioning himself as a star academic, writer and speaker at the University of Toronto, where he remained until 1979. McLuhan pondered the nature of the electronic world and was the first to discuss the relationship between humans and the media – computers, televisions, radios and advertisements – that surround us. In fact it was McLuhan who coined the term ‘media’. He published several books, his most widely-read study being Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), where he proposed that the media themselves, not the content, should be the focus of intellectual attention – a thought which prompted the famous McLuhan phrase: the medium is the message. Decades ahead of his time, McLuhan’s numerous analyses of media and their effects are still pertinent today, particularly as we become increasingly engulfed by the digital age.

Douglas Coupland

In many ways a successor to McLuhan and his message, Vancouver author and visual artist Douglas Coupland explores the cultural changes brought on by new technology, in particular the growing separation between religious and secular ideals, the effects of the super-saturation of media, and the younger generations’ increasing resistance to grow up. Born on a Canadian military base in Germany in 1961 and raised in West Vancouver, Coupland briefly studied physics at McGill before returning to British Columbia to study sculpture and design at the Emily Carr School of Design, and later in Japan, Milan and Hawaii. His first novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (1991), not only created the terms ‘Generation X’ and ‘McJob’, it also received wide critical praise for capturing the spirit of his time. Coupland has since followed up with nine novels, several non-fiction books, and wrote a television series for CBC based on his 2006 darkly comic novel JPod, which aired on the network in early 2008. ( )

Categories: Blog

Marshall McLuhan Expert Paul Levinson Annotates the Google Doodle Honoring the Internet Visionary

McLuhan Galaxy - Sat, 07/22/2017 - 11:58am

(Click on the image to expand the view and start the animation)

For journalism students at New York’s Fordham University, the shadow of Marshall McLuhan looms large. A media theorist and digital visionary, McLuhan taught at Fordham during its 1967-68 academic year, overseeing an alternative curriculum of lectures, film screenings, and independent study. His philosophies still inform the school’s journalism program, and why wouldn’t they? McLuhan effectively predicted the internet 35 years before it was a thing.

On July 21 Google honored what would have been McLuhan’s 106th birthday with a Doodle highlighting his ideas about the evolution of media. During McLuhan’s heyday, those ideas could be hard to grasp: “There were times when I couldn’t understand a word he said,” recalled Anthony Perrotto (Fordham class of ’69) during a 2011 luncheon that brought together a group of McLuhan’s former students to recognize what would have been his 100th year (McLuhan died in 1980). Still, history has proven McLuhan eerily prescient: He predicted an age characterized by people forming communities through technology (dubbed the “global village”) and posited that the method of communication would become more influential than the information itself (“the medium is the message”).

It was Fordham’s emphasis on McLuhan that actually fostered my own love of digital media (“You found out where journalism is going,” a ’56 alum told me when I won a scholarship in 2006. “This new medium of the internet.”) Ever the faithful alumnus, I reached out to Paul Levinson, professor of communication and media studies at Fordham, and author of dozens of books and articles on McLuhan, including Digital McLuhan and McLuhan in an Age of Social Media. I asked Levinson to break down Google’s Doodle, which he says “captures McLuhan’s thinking about the evolution of media perfectly,” frame by frame:

“Frame 1 shows the origin of humanity, communicating around the fire in prehistoric times, by the only medium available at that time: speech. Word of mouth was and continues to be our most fundamental mode of discourse. McLuhan referred to this as the ‘acoustic mode.'”

“Frame 2 shows a civilization-making game change: writing. With the written word, ideas of any kind can be communicated without the creator of the ideas present. You can even communicate about things that have no physical existence—abstractions, such as freedom and love. Democracy, science, and of course written history all owe their origins to the written word. McLuhan called this the ‘visual mode.’”

Frame 3 shows the height of written civilization: the invention of the automobile, produced on the assembly line. In this part of our history, both speech and writing were enhanced by transportation. McLuhan looked at transportation as, in effect, another kind of communication, or an amplifier of media. In the case of the car, its interchangeable parts were the physical equivalent of the visual letters of the alphabet, and the way they can be put together to make different words.

“Figure 4 of course shows television. McLuhan correctly pointed out that, although we watch television, it’s actually an acoustic medium more than a visual medium. Everyone who watches the same channel on television sees the same thing at the same time, just as is the case when everyone listens to one person talking. This is unlike the written word in a book or even in a newspaper, which is read at different times by each person reading. When McLuhan said electronic media are turning the world into a global village, he was referring to everyone watching the same thing on television at the same time, just as people who are gathered around a speaker in the village square would all hear the speaker at the same time.

“And finally, Figures 5 and 6 should be taken as a couplet: McLuhan’s  

global village was not only about television but, presciently, about the internet. The television global village was actually incomplete in two ways: It was national, not global (there was no international television in the 1960s when McLuhan came up with this term) – [Editorial comment: The first international satellite TV transmission happened in 1967 (see “Our World – The World’s First Ever Live Satellite TV Broadcast (1967) Included The Beatles & Marshall McLuhan” on this blog at ) – and the communication was one-way—unlike a village, in which everyone can be both a sender and a receiver of information, the television audience can only receive information. But the internet has changed all of that: It was truly global, and anyone on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat can just as easily create and send content as receive it. The people at Google are keenly aware that McLuhan foresaw their very existence, which is why they devoted this day to bringing word of his thinking to the world at large via this Doodle.” (Source:

(Note about the last 2 links: If you want to access the sites they lead to you will have to copy-and-paste them to a new window.)

 Paul Levinson

Categories: Blog

Google Doodle Honours Marshall McLuhan on his 106th Birthday

McLuhan Galaxy - Thu, 07/20/2017 - 8:29pm

Herbert Marshall McLuhan is famed for having one of the most poignant predictions of the 20th century. The philosopher and intellectual foresaw the birth of the internet 35 years before it happened. 

On the day that would have been McLuhan’s 106th birthday [July 21, 2017] he is being honoured with a Google Doodle. This is a graphic image of the McLuhan Golden Doodle followed by the text that will accompany it on Google’s search page, being posted just after midnight on July 20, 2017. Go to Google Search after midnight tonight for a look.

(Click on the image to expand the view and start the animation)

One of the most charismatic, controversial and original thinkers of our time whose remarkable perception propelled him onto the international stage, Marshall McLuhan is universally regarded as the father of communications and media studies and prophet of the information age.

Marshall McLuhan’s 106th Birthday

Long before we started looking to our screens for all the answers, Marshall McLuhan saw the internet coming – and predicted just how impactful it would be. A Canadian philosopher and professor who specialized in media theory, McLuhan came to prominence in the 1960s, right as TV was becoming part of people’s everyday lives. At the center of his thinking was the idea that technology and the way information is shared are what ultimately shape a society.

Today’s Doodle, which celebrates the visionary’s 106th birthday, illustrates this theory by showing how McLuhan viewed human history. He saw it through the lens of 4 distinct eras: the acoustic age, the literary age, the print age, and the electronic age. His first major book, The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), explored the advent of the printing press and popularized the term “global village,” representing the idea that technology brings people together and allows everyone the same access to information.

In Understanding Media (1964), he further examined the transformative effects of technology and coined his famous phrase, “The medium is the message.” He believed that the way in which someone receives information is more influential than the information itself. Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, McLuhan amassed both followers and skeptics, making frequent TV appearances to speak about his theories.

Now, decades later, we honor the man whose prophetic vision of the “computer as a research and communication instrument” has undeniably become a reality.

Who was Marshall McLuhan?   (By Telegraph Reporters)

Born in Canada in 1911, McLuhan studied at the University of Manitoba and University of Cambridge before becoming a lecturer at the University of Toronto. He rose to prominence in the 1960s for his work as a media theorist and for coining the term “global village”, which was a prescient vision of the internet age.

His theories were met with controversy in academic circles throughout the 1970s and after his death in 1980. Then in 1989, the internet was born, and McLuhan was looked upon with renewed interest.

How did McLuhan predict the internet age?

McLuhan’s preeminent theory was his idea that human history could be divided into four eras: the acoustic age, the literary age, the print age and the electronic age. He outlined the concept in a 1962 book called The Gutenberg Galaxy, which was released just as the television was starting to become popular.

He predicted the world was entering the fourth, electronic age, which would be characterised by a community of people brought together by technology.

He called it the “global village” and said it would be an age when everyone had access to the same information through technology. The “global village” could be understood to be the internet.

In his follow-up book, Understanding Media, he expanded the theory to show the method of communication rather than the information itself would come to be the most influential fact of the electronic age.

He soon became a TV personality, making regular appearances to explain his theory of why “the medium is the message”.

He became the most publicised English teacher of the 20th century, a prestige that only grew with the realisation of his vision of the “computer as a research and communication instrument”. 

In the 21st century people have a world of information at their finger tips on smartphones, tablets and laptops. The internet has facilitated a breaking down of global barriers and the democratisation of knowledge.

McLuhan’s predictions caused a frenzy in the US, with high profile magazines and authors rallying around him. He was the subject of a Tom Wolfe article titled “What if he is right?” that was published in New York Magazine. 

His theory influenced the likes of French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister’s father, and artist Andy Warhol.

Source: See also The history of | The Google Doodle directly below the article.

Categories: Blog

Call for Papers: Special Issue – “The Medium is the …?”

McLuhan Galaxy - Wed, 07/19/2017 - 8:46am

Guest editors: Phil Rose (Canada), Varvara Chumakova (Russia)
— Deadline September 4th —

This year marks 50 years since the publication of Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore’s book The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (1967), which sought to popularize McLuhan’s central theses about the environmental changes that new media help to bring about. In Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), McLuhan originally proposed the formula “the medium is the message“, but the error that appeared in the former book’s title became a catalyst for considerable discussion within media studies. This formula has been interpreted in different ways, but it primarily highlights that the very form of communication influences certain patterns of reality construction encoded within the message itself: that is, the form and content of communication are inextricably linked. The medium as “massage“, however, indicates that media have direct effects on their users as well. Other variants of this formula have appeared. “The medium is the mass age” and “the medium is the mess age” refer us not only to the problems of mass culture, which flourished in the middle of the 20th century; but also to various criticisms of this development, including the cultural problems associated with symbol drain and information overload. “Mess“, after all, is a sort of rubbish, clutter, or disorder.

The formula proposed by McLuhan has become a cliché, which various authors fill with their own meaning. Neil Postman, for example, in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985), proposed the formula “the medium is the metaphor“. For Postman, specialist in linguistics, general semantics, and the philosophy of symbolic form, the information environment’s signs and symbols were of paramount interest, and akin to the Lothmannian semiosphere. Postman’s student, Lance Strate, in turn, suggested in an essay of the same name that “the medium is the memory“, developing the idea that archival media expand our collective memory, as well as the ability to have vivid ideas about historical events and our own past. A recent article in the journal Computers and Society appeared with the same formula in its title, and Paul Grosswiler’s The Method is the Message (1998) should also come to mind. Undoubtedly, McLuhan’s formula continues to allow us to talk about modern culture and, accordingly, Lev Manovich, in his article for the 2014 special issue of Visual Culture dedicated to the 50th anniversary of McLuhan’s Understanding Media, proposed the formula “the software is the message“, in order to accentuate how software now participates in the reality construction of technology users.

In this regard, the editors invite submissions that speculate about the modern digital environment, using the formula “the medium is the message” and its variations. We propose to think about:
– How this formula is implemented today in its classical form or already existing variations
– How this formula is presently changing in connection with the changes that have occurred within the digital environment.

Articles of 4000-8000 words (20,000-40,000 characters) will be accepted in both Russian and English. “Communications. Media. Design” follows the rules and guidelines of Scopus and Web of Science. All articles will be subject to double blind peer review.

Deadline September 4th 
Send submissions to executive secretary of the journal Julia Chernenko with the indication in the subject line “McLuhan2017“.

”The Medium is the Message’ – now available in/on stone tablet, clay tablet, wax tablet, papyrus, paperback, hardback, audiotape, video, CD, DVD, ipad, iphone, android and also as a whole body tattoo.’

Categories: Blog

New Book Announcement: Media Ecology: An Approach to Understanding the Human Condition by Lance Strate

McLuhan Galaxy - Mon, 07/17/2017 - 3:32pm

Media Ecology: An Approach to Understanding the Human Condition provides a long-awaited and much-anticipated introduction to media ecology, a field of inquiry defined as the study of media as environments. Lance Strate presents a clear and concise explanation of an intellectual tradition concerned with much more than understanding media, but rather with understanding the conditions that shape us as human beings, drive human history, and determine the prospects for our survival as a species.

Much more than a summary, this book represents a new synthesis that moves the field forward in a manner that is both unique and unprecedented, and simultaneously grounded in an unparalleled grasp of media ecology’s intellectual foundations and its relation to other disciplines. Taking as its subject matter “life, the universe, and everything,” Strate describes the field as interdisciplinary and communication-centered, provides a detailed explication of McLuhan’s famous aphorism, “the medium is the message,” and explains that the human condition can only be understood in the context of our biophysical, technological, and symbolic environments.

Strate provides an in-depth examination of media ecology’s four key terms: medium, which is defined in much broader terms than in other fields; bias, which refers to tendencies inherent in materials and methods; effects, which are best understood via the Aristotelian notion of formal causality and contemporary systems theory; and environment, which includes the distinctions between the oral, chirographic, typographic, and electronic media environments. A chapter on tools serves as a guide to further media ecological research and scholarship. This book is well suited for graduate and undergraduate courses on communication theory and philosophy.

Publisher: Peter Lang   –   ISBN-13: 978-1433131219   –   ISBN-10: 1433131218

Peter Lang Listing:

Advance Reviews:

“Lance Strate’s synthetic thinking in «Media Ecology: An Approach to Understanding the Human Condition» opens up media ecology, allowing the reader to see how, as a field of inquiry, it applies to everything from language, media, and philosophy to our very understanding of what it means to be human living in a dynamic environment. Along the way Strate shows how media ecology connects with all the major approaches to communication study.”Paul Soukup, Professor and Chair, Department of Communication, Santa Clara University

“Lance Strate asks big questions―and provides a myriad of perceptive answers. This book is at once playful, poetic, and precise. The clear writing about complex ideas is a pleasure to read and offers many gifts of understanding.”Joshua Meyrowitz, University of New Hampshire

“With characteristic passion and soulfulness, Lance Strate embarks on a metatask: to synthesize thinking about ‘life, the universe and everything’ through the lens of media ecology. In the process, he locates media ecology as the dynamic shift between figure and ground and as the basis for ‘understanding the human condition.’ Writing with an almost disarming ease that belies the complexity of the ideas he communicates, Strate brilliantly and reflexively mediates media ecology itself, bringing clarity to the Kekulé-like conundrums of an immense and increasingly relevant field. Anyone who thoughtfully enters and engages the environment of Strate’s book will be rewarded with moments of profound clarity, connecting ideas typically viewed as disparate or oppositional into patterns of deep understanding about media ecology―and about the process of living.”Julianne H. Newton, Professor of Visual Communication, University of Oregon

About Lance Strate: He is a Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University and Villanova University’s 2015 Harron Family Chair in Communication. He is President of the New York Society for General Semantics, Trustee and former Executive Director of the Institute of General Semantics, Past President of the New York State Communication Association, and a founder and Past President of the Media Ecology Association. Dr. Strate is the author of Echoes and ReflectionsOn the Binding Biases of TimeAmazing Ourselves to Death: Neil Postman’s Brave New World Revisited, and Thunder at Darwin Station. He is a recipient of the MEA’s Walter Ong Award for Career Achievement in Scholarship.

Categories: Blog

A Monday Night Seminar & Other Memories of Marshall McLuhan by a Former Student

McLuhan Galaxy - Thu, 07/13/2017 - 7:55pm

A McLuhan Monday Night Seminar in 1973

In the Garden with the Guru

Adventures with Marshall McLuhan

By Bob Rodgers   –   January-February 2008

A six-foot-high hedge separated me from the garden next door but not from its voices. It was my first Sunday morning in the house I sublet on Wells Hill Avenue by Casa Loma in Toronto. I couldn’t make out what was being said but one of the voices sounded familiar. I moved closer and parted the hedge just enough for a covert glimpse of my new neighbours. A middle-aged man was lying on his back in a hammock with a book held up vertically above his head as he read aloud. Next to him a young man sat in a deck chair with a book on his lap. The young man said: “Vico’s cycles.” The older man said: “Vicious Circles.” “Viscous cyclones,“ said the young man. I was awestruck. My God, I thought, I must be the only person in the world at this moment listening to what looks like a tag team reading Finnegans Wake. Later I learned I had been witness to a regular occurrence. Eric McLuhan and his father, Marshall, were reading at each other.

I was a teaching fellow completing my graduate degree in English at the University of Toronto. A few weeks after my eavesdropping in the back garden, I found myself entering my new neighbour’s house by the front door for McLuhan’s informal (not-for-credit) Monday night seminar on communications, where I joined two dozen others crammed into the far from capacious front room of the family home. McLuhan’s kids, ranging from 15 on down, kept popping up and disappearing like a colony of gophers. We didn’t look to me much like a graduate seminar.

McLuhan, a stringy but handsome man at six foot two, with a literary moustache, could also have passed for a movie cowboy. He invited us to introduce ourselves. Anthropologist Ted Carpenter, notorious advocate of deinstitutionalized education and a long time cohort of McLuhan, muttered his name and gave a folksy wave. Three beatniks made no response. A sallow young man wearing a guitar gave a drowsy nod. A man in long short pants with knee socks who looked like an Eagle Scout, gave a perky salute and announced he was seeking transformation. Wilfred Watson, the poet and academic, was there, and his wife, Sheila Watson, author of The Double Hook. A dapper little man from an advertising firm reported he had come because he was looking for a fresh idea. A well-known announcer, Stanley Burke, who read the TV news on CBC, was there; also a professional magician wearing a cape, a dark-haired, bespangled fortune teller, an Inuit carver from Igloolik and a popular wrestler called Whipper Billy Watson. I and two others like me wore tweed jackets and ties, the standard garb of graduate students at the time.

McLuhan opened with a riff about movies. “Film is high-definition pictures. You don’t have to fill in the blanks, so you’re detached and can think critically. Radio, telephone—they give you less to go on, and you have to fill out the message with your own story. But they’re still relatively hot. At the far end of the gamut is TV. It’s cool, low definition; you get completely absorbed in processing the bombardment of dots, hypnotized. It’s also non-sequential, like newspapers. Movies flow narratively, sequentially, the way we see. TV throws everything at us holus-bolus like sound. We can see only one thing at a time, but we can hear many things at once, even around corners. That’s why film is an eye medium and TV an ear medium.”

Looking around I noticed eyes widening and perplexity come over some of the faces. What surprised me was that many of the faces glowed with excitement, and I too felt I was hearing something fresh and challenging. Before anyone could butt in too much, McLuhan went on to talk about tools. Fragments of ideas drifted over us like flakes of an early snowfall.

The phonetic alphabet fell like a bombshell on tribal man. The printing press hit him like a hydrogen bomb. Now we’ve been blitzkreiged by TV.

The horseless buggy was the only way people could describe the automobile. Families whose wealth was based on carriages and buggy whips soon went bankrupt. Horsepower moved from animals into cars.

The wheel extends the foot in an automobile. In this way the wheel amplifies the power and speed of the foot, but at the same time it amputates. In the act of pressing the gas peddle, the foot becomes so specialized it no longer performs its original function, which is to walk.

If the wheel is an extension of the foot, then money is an extension of muscle, radio an amplification of the human voice, and the hydrogen bomb an outgrowth of teeth and fingernails.

Why should the sending or receiving of a telegram seem more dramatic than even the ringing of a telephone?

What do you think Hitler meant when he said: “I go my way with the assurance of a sleepwalker?”


This is a much longer Literary Review of Canada essay about Marshall McLuhan and the University of Toronto in the late 1960s. Follow this link to read the rest 

About Bob Rodgers: Bob Rodgers taught English at McGill and the University of Toronto before moving into film and television. As executive producer at the U of T Media Centre he wrote, produced, and/or directed more than 100 educational programs, among them a 30 part series: “The Bible and Literature, a Personal View by Northrop Frye”. Later as a freelance filmmaker, he made documentaries for the NFB (“Fiddlers of James Bay”) and the CBC National Network (“NWT: One-third of Canada”). In 2001 Bob self-published a short story collection, “Secrets From Home”. He has since written two novels: “Hot Ice”, about diamonds, ecology, and caribou in NWT; and “The Devil’s Party”, his take on the 1960s among the fledgling literati of the counter-culture.

Bob Rodgers later incorporated this personal account of attending a McLuhan Monday Night Seminar into a fictionalized account of student life in Toronto in the 1960s titled The Devil’s Party: Who Killed the Sixties? Read a description of the book here

ADDENDUM: Bob Rodgers passed away on January 15, 2017. His Globe & Mail Obituary can be found at . “We are such stuff/ As dreams are made on, and our little life/ Is rounded with a sleep”. RIP

Categories: Blog

Marshall McLuhan Did Predict the Internet!

McLuhan Galaxy - Wed, 07/05/2017 - 11:09pm

A Visualization of the Internet

There has been a recent discussion on the MEA Page on Facebook about the authenticity of a quotation attributed to Marshall McLuhan in a 2013 article that was posted there by yours truly titled Marshall McLuhan Predicted the Internet. The author of that article, one Shane Ingram, wrote: “… it was in his ability to predict our current condition with regards to media convergence and the internet that has seen Mccluhan’s [sic] thoughts and theories remain so relevant and still essential reading.” Ingram then produced the following quotation attributed to Marshall McLuhan, which is not unfamiliar to readers sourcing McLuhan-related articles on the Internet, stating that it had first appeared in 1962:

“The next medium, whatever it is – it may be the extension of consciousness – will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organisation, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip it into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind”. (See the full article at )

A vigorous objection was raised in the Facebook Group and a posting online on, where the offending article had been published in 2013. That objection mentioned the inaccuracy of the quote, questioned its authenticity and insisted that the quote does not appear in The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), as had been cited. I could agree with that, as I had checked. The published article of objection was titled Marshall McLuhan Predicted the Internet in 1962. [Actually, no, he didn’t]. See .

But the assertion that Marshall McLuhan did not predict the Internet is not supported by the evidence presented in the objecting critical posting. The quotation as it stands and has had abundant circulation online is in reality comprised of two legitimate McLuhan quotations, neither of which were published in 1962, that have been extracted from two different sources and connected by someone – in other words, a textual mashup. Though the quote has not achieved viral or meme status, it has been republished in other online articles, that sometimes attribute it as a quote from The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962). The first sentence of the quote is from a journal article written by McLuhan in 1967 and the second sentence appeared in a book written by Bruce Powers and McLuhan published in 1989, posthumously for the latter. The two separate quotes with source attributions are as follows:

“The next medium, whatever it is — it may be the extension of consciousness — will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form.” – Marshall McLuhan, “The Invisible Environment: The Future of an Erosion.” Perspecta, Vol. 11 (1967) pp. 162–167. Published by MIT Press.

“A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.” – From a 1978 dialogue between Marshall McLuhan and Bruce Powers titled “Angels to Robots: From Euclidean Space to Einsteinian Space, in The  Global Village’ (1989) by Marshall McLuhan and Bruce Powers, p. 143.

(Thanks to Paolo Granata and Amanda Sevilla for locating the correct sources of these two quotes and to Andrew McLuhan for seeking the provenance of the questionable quote.)

The assertion that Marshall McLuhan predicted the Internet is demonstrable from other valid McLuhan works in which he envisions an Internet-like technology that will act as a collective global consciousness, even though the specific technological details he offers are not correct. McLuhan was likely influenced in his thinking by the work of Teilhard de Chardin and his concept of “noosphere” (See ). Even a visionary thinker can only go so far in trying to describe future technologies.

I will offer here two additional quotes from McLuhan that support the assertion that he predicted the Internet, noting that there are other quotes that could be used. The first quote is from his most important book, Understanding Media (1964)

  1. “Our new electric technology that extends our senses and nerves in a global embrace has large implications for the future of language. Electric technology does not need words any more than the digital computer needs numbers. Electricity points the way to an extension of the process of consciousness itself, on a world scale, and without any verbalization whatever. Such a state of collective awareness may have been the preverbal condition of men. Language as the technology of human extension, whose powers of division and separation we know so well, may have been the “Tower of Babel” by which men sought to scale the highest heavens. Today computers hold out the promise of a means of instant translation of any code or language into any other code or language. The computer, in short, promises by technology a Pentecostal condition of universal understanding and unity. The next logical step would seem to be, not to translate, but to by-pass languages in favor of a general cosmic consciousness which might be very like the collective unconscious dreamt of by Bergson. The condition of “weightlessness,” that biologists say promises a physical immortality, may be paralleled by the condition of speechlessness that could confer a perpetuity of collective harmony and peace.”Understanding Media (1964), p. 80, MIT Press ed.
  2. The second quote is from a CBC TV interview by the journalist Robert Fulford that was televised on Canadian television on May 8, 1966, the text of which is available in Understanding Me: Lectures & Interviews (2003), edited by Stephanie McLuhan and David Staines:

“Instead of going out and buying a packaged book of which there have been five thousand copies printed, you will go to the telephone, describe your interests, your needs, your problems, and say you’re working on a history of Egyptian arithmetic … they say it will be right over. And they at once Xerox, with the help of computers from the libraries of the world, all the latest material just for you personally, not as something to be put out on a bookshelf. They send you the package as a direct personal service. This is where we’re heading under electronic information conditions.” (p. 101)  

A segment of that 1966 televised interview is available online as a video under the title Predicting Interactive Communication via the Internet in the McLuhan Speaks section of the Official Marshall McLuhan website hosted by the McLuhan Estate, as well as on YouTube. The link for the Estate site is . The specifics of the technology as described by McLuhan are wrong but his vision of the services offered by the future Internet are in broad strokes accurate.

Surely the conclusion must be that Marshall McLuhan did indeed predict the Internet, which, though inaccurate in the specifics of McLuhan’s predictions, nevertheless resembles what the Internet has become in its effects and functions.

Depiction of the Noosphere Surrounding the Earth

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Hugh Kenner and Marshall McLuhan

McLuhan Galaxy - Sun, 07/02/2017 - 6:30pm

William Hugh Kenner (1923 – 2003)

William Hugh Kenner, literary critic (born 7 January 1923 in Peterborough, ON; died 24 November 2003 in Athens, Georgia). Hugh Kenner is regarded as one of the most important commentators on literary modernism and is especially known for his revival of the reputation of American poet Ezra Pound with his definitive 1971 critical biography, The Pound Era. Kenner attended high school at the Peterborough Collegiate Institute in Peterborough, Ontario, where his father, Dr. H.R.H. Kenner, taught Latin and Greek, and his mother, Mary Kenner, taught classics. He attributed his early love of reading and passion for literature to having suffered severe hearing loss as a result of childhood influenza. He received a BA and MA from the University of Toronto, where he studied with communications theorist Marshall McLuhan. His MA work on British writer G. K. Chesterton won him a Governor General’s Gold Medal Award. (Source: )

Kenner’s Wake
By Jeet HeerPublished 12/3/2003

TORONTO — Hugh Kenner, who died last week at age 80, began his career as a great literary critic in a characteristically eccentric way, by reading a book smuggled in by a priest and visiting a genius locked away in a madhouse. To understand why the book and the genius changed Kenner’s life we have to return to Kenner’s formative years, in the provincial backwater that was Canada in the 1940s.

From a young age, Hugh Kenner was equally interested in the arts and the sciences. As an undergraduate entering the University of Toronto in 1941 Kenner had to decide whether he wanted to major in mathematics and physics or literary studies. Literature won out over science but Kenner would remain blissfully free of the sniffy disdain for technology that so many cultured people confuse with humanism.

Canada was an inhospitable place for a budding scholar of modernism: the University of Toronto curriculum stopped dead-cold at 1850. More contemporary books were not only disdained, they were often forbidden by the government. At Canadas skittish border, novels by Balzac, Zola, D.H. Lawrence, and James Joyce were kept out of a country that feared anything foreign and new. One modern masterpiece Kenner did have access to was Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, tolerated because it was deemed incomprehensible.

Excited by Wake, Kenner discovered that Joyce’s Ulysses, otherwise verboten in Canada, could be found in the restricted access section of the University of Toronto library. However, in order to take a look at the illicit text, Kenner needed to secure two letters of reference: one from a religious authority and one from a medical doctor. Kenner knew a priest who could vouch for his morals, but, unfortunately, was not able to find an M.D. who could attest to the fact that reading Joyce would not be corrupting. Ultimately, Kenner had a family friend, a Jesuit priest, smuggle into Canada a copy of the greatest novel of the twentieth century.

Compared to the traditional literature, pre-1850 vintage, Joyce seemed wild and chaotic. A friend of the young Kenner argued that he shouldn’t expect to find coherence in modern culture, that you can only “just let it hit you.” This despairing notion haunted Kenner, raising what he called “the generic twentieth-century problem, discontinuity.” As Kenner notes in his book Bucky, reading Joyce and the other modernists forced him to wonder whether we “still have lines of communication open with Jefferson, Socrates, Christ? Or have we spot-welded about ourselves a world we can’t think about? Must you just let it hit you?”

Kenner was never willing to write off contemporary culture as beyond understanding and he soon found a mentor who shared his hope in finding an underlying order beneath the surface chaos of modern life and literature. Marshall McLuhan, later famous as a gnomic media guru, was then a young English professor interested in the parallels between literature and mass culture.

Sharing a fascination with technology and modern culture, McLuhan and Kenner became fast friends. In the warmth of their initial enthusiasm, they had planned to co-write several books, including studies of T.S. Eliot and the cartoonist Al Capp. (Kenner would write the Eliot book alone and the Capp project never came off, although Kenner eventually wrote a book on animation director Chuck Jones.)

Both Kenner and McLuhan felt that the great modernists should not be seen as representing a permanent break from the past. Rather, writers like Joyce and Eliot helped us re-connect with tradition, but re-energizing the stories found in Homer and Shakespeare for our times.

More than intellectual interests drew Kenner and McLuhan together. Both men were born Protestants but found religious solace in Catholicism. McLuhan converted in 1937 and Kenner would do the same in 1964 (although he had clearly been within the ambit of Catholicism for many years prior). As Catholics enthusiastic about modernist culture and even some forms of lowbrow popular entertainment, Kenner and McLuhan cut against the grain of their adopted faith.

After all, Roman Catholicism at that time still lived under the shadow of Pius IXs 1864 “Syllabus of Errors, which condemned the idea that “the Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself with progress, liberalism, and modern civilization. Kenner would lament the fact that “middlebrow Catholic intellectuals” of the early twentieth century “found a facile role in condemning modernity en bloc. Alienation from the whole century could be made to seem a Catholic English layman’s moral duty.” In their own work, Kenner and McLuhan heralded a newer and more confident Catholic mood of Vatican II, where the church sought to reconcile itself with modernity.

 Ezra Pound 1963

In June 1948, Kenner and McLuhan made a fateful trip to visit Ezra Pound, then incarcerated as a mental patient St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. After his wartime support for Mussolini and alleged descent into madness, Pounds personal and literary reputation was at a low. Yet Kenner found in Pounds company a sane genius. “Enthralled by the master, I resolved that if no one else would make the case for Ezra Pound as a poet, then I would,” Kenner once recalled.

With McLuhan as an intellectual ally and Pound as a poet needing a champion, the trajectory of Kenner’s career was set. Kenner would always remain a loyal Poundian: Kenner’s book The Pound Era (1971) is by far the best tribute that poet has received and a classic in twentieth-century literary criticism. By contrast, Kenner’s friendship with McLuhan would fray. Because Kenner was always a much more facile and readable writer than McLuhan, his early essays and books got a great deal of attention. Quite unfairly, McLuhan accused Kenner of stealing his ideas.

The reality was that McLuhan was at his best as an oral thinker, rather like Socrates, who developed his sharpest thoughts in conversation with bright students. Yet when McLuhan tried to transcribe his thoughts, the results were usually a mess, half-developed notions splattered all over the page. McLuhan needed Kenner to complete his thoughts and give them form. Plato had performed a similar function for Socrates.

Unlike McLuhan, Kenner was a phrasemaker: his best expository prose hummed and sparkled with wit. Its hard to quote a small passage from Kenner to give a feel for his work, since his greatest effects were in meaty paragraphs. But consider this tribute Kenner wrote to the literary tradition of the “stoic comedian”:

Flaubert, Joyce, and Beckett are their own greatest inventions, and the books they contrived, or had their contrivances contrive, record a century of intellectual history with intricate and moving fidelity: suffering our partner the machine to mechanize all that the hand can do yet remaining obstinately, gaily, living; courting a dead end but discovering how not to die.

Here, compactly, is the essential Kenner theme: that modernists incorporated the mechanical forces of contemporary life precisely to keep the humanist heritage alive.

Kenner’s genius was always in doing the unexpected: showing that Pounds poetry illustrated the principles of fractal math, arguing that Alexander Pope anticipated the techniques of Pop Art, demonstrating that Bugs Bunny cartoons gained their speed and energy from tight-fisted economic policies at the Warner Brothers Studio.

All of these are unlikely connections, yet Kenner made them real and convincing. He never simply accepted the world as it appeared, but always looked for deeper patterns that demonstrated coherence and order. Perhaps Kenner’s Catholic faith gave him confidence to carry out his inquiries, sure in the ultimate goodness of creation. Yet even if those of us who don’t share his faith can still cherish the beautiful patterns he uncovered.

Jeet Heer is a columnist for the National Post of Canada.

Recovered via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine

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