OU blog

Personal Blogs

Design Museum

Marshall McLuhan

Visible to anyone in the world

'After three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the Western world is imploding. During the mechanical ages we had extended our bodies in space. Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned. Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the extensions of man - the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society, much as we have already extended our senses and our nerves by the various media'.

Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man, 1964

Change a few words and this could have been written last week about the Internet. Someone will be witing this kind of copy for the press, even getting books published in this kind of vien - indeed 'The Shallows' by Nicholas Carr is one of a handful that do this. 'The Clue Train Manifesto' is another. Populist bunkum.

Whilst Marshall McLuhan was well read, what he had to say was sensationalist at the time, and can be dismissed - that or you take what he said and state the the OPPOSITE is how it has turned out.

Fifty years ago authors like McLuhan thought we'd lose the ability to remember because everything was in print and being put onto electronic formats. Today authors like Carr - an MA in American and English Literature hardly makes him a credible webscientist, and Gordon Bell at Microsoft are doing it again - claiming revolution and radical change. It won't happen. It didn't in the past and why should it today. Human life is too transitory, these technologies evolve and are taken up in the context of their age at a snail's pace.




Permalink Add your comment
Share post


Les Haworth

New comment

In the late sixties I was a big fan of Marshall McLuhan "The Medium is the Message" revolutionary stuff. I was confidently the decline in ability to read or even need to read, with the advent of computers. Now reading and writing/typing is a huge must for children, the audio/visual world has been side tracked to some extent and my predictions were rubbish. Yes a transitory existence.
Design Museum

New comment

Thanks Les. I too have been repeatedly pulled in by these very plausible and intelligent thinkers. They may motivate people to take a closer interest but are without exception populist and ill-informed, picking refernces that support their thesis to convince the gullible of the new world order. 13 years ago my first blog post was 'What's new about new media? Not much'. As a historian/geographer I simply could not see it this way, in space or time, it wasn't the case that what we were experiencing was very much different to shifts driven by technology that have occured over the millenia. But this thesis, 'business as usual' doesn't get you noticed, or heard, or recognised, or making a living selling books or standing up in conferences. There must be an aspect of being human that favours the new against all else. Which explains a good deal. Geographers think in millions of years, Historians in thousands. Most of us can barely reflect on the tiny period of our own existance ... which is why weather phenomena, technology and war seem of the times.