Wow, I sat down for a good two hours this afternoon while the chilluns were asleep and made my way through the first part of Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage, and I have to say that just about everything folks have been saying about the changing nature of the web and its impact on every facet of or life is touches upon within the first 70 pages of that text. It’s kind of wild to hear it ll, so I’ll use this post to get down some of them and then swing back around the try and make some more sense of McLuhan’s unbelievable handle on our particular moment.
The lead in quote by A.N. Whitehead is just the first of so many gems:
The major advances in civilization are processes that all but wreck the societies in which they occur. (6-7)
Or, how about this for an opening paragraph:
The medium, or process, of our time–electric technology–is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. it is forcing us to reconsider and re-evaluate practically every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted. Everything is changing–you, your family, your neighborhood, your government, your education, your job,cyour relation to “the others.” And they’re changing dramatically. (8)
Or this one :
It is impossible to understand social and cultural changes without a knowledge of the workings of media. (8)
The older training of observation has become quite irrelevant in this new time, because it is based on psychological responses and concepts conditioned to former technology–mechanization. (8)
McLuhan on the “Age of Anxiety”:
Innumerable confusions and a profound feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transitions. Our “Age of Anxiety” is, in great part, the result of trying to do today’s job with yesterday’s tools–with yesterday’s concepts. (8-9)
Another quote by Whitehead that I think really puts into sharp relief the place of emotion in understanding a shifting moment like the one we are in:
“In the study of ideas, it is necessary to remember that insistence on hard-headed clarity issues from sentimental feeling, as it were a mist, cloaking the perplexities of fact. Insistence on clarity at all costs is based on sheer superstition as to the mode which human intelligence functions Our reasonings grasp at straws for premises and float on gossamers for deductions.” (10)
And McLuhan on learning and the educational process, maybe my favorite quote yet:
Learning, the educational process, has long been associated only with the glum. We speak of the “serious” student. Our time presents a unique opportunity for learning by means of humor–a perceptive or incisive joke can be more meaningful than platitudes lying between two covers. (10)
I think this quote exonerates much of the antics I pull on the bava regularly, for I see humor and fun as the key ways of thinking through the ideas and concepts we are all facing in this shifting moment. Not only to is protect you from taking your self too seriously, but it might also force you to re-invent how you say something which might prevent you from the dessicated approach of the essay without the “I” or the dreaded white paper. Blog it, bitch!
Once again on “your education”:
There is a world of difference between the modern home environments of integrated electric information and the classroom. Today’s television child is attuned to up-to-the-minute “adult” news–inflation, rioting, war, taxes, crime, bathing beauties–and is bewildered when he enters the nineteenth-century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns, subjects, and schedules. It is naturally an environment much like any factory set-up with its inventories and assembly lines.
The child was an invention of the seventeenth century; he did not exist in, say, Shakespeare’s day. He had, up until that time, been merged in the adult world and there was nothing that could be called childhood in our sense.
Today’s child is growing up absurd, because he lives in two worlds, and neither of them inclines him to grow up. Growing up–that is our new work, and it is total. Mere instruction will not suffice. (18)
McLuhan on “your job”:
Under conditions of electric circuitry, all the fragmented job patterns tend to blend once more into to involving and demanding forms of works that more and more resemble teaching, learning, and “human” service, in the older sense of dedicated loyalty. (20)
That quote above is about the best description I have yet to read about how I feel about what I am doing as an instructional technologist. This idea of human service and dedicated loyalty frames my relationship to my job as an individual, not necessarily as a part of an institution–although that still remains a key element of it.
The Renaissance Legacy.
The Vanishing Point = Self-Effacement
The Detached Observer.
The instantaneous world of electric informational media involves all of us, all at once. No frame or detachment is possible. (33)
And that’s just a peek. What truly blows me away after reading this book is how much of what he was talking in the first 60 pages of this book (which was at the time pointed at TV and other mass media of the moment) was intuiting the potentia for so many of these forms that were never really realize in terms of particpation and re-framing the institutions. Yet so much of what he is saying is what we have all been hearing so many others repeat again and again over the last several years—including myself. And this in many ways is kind of the optimists companion to the far more pessimistic perspective on technology in Ernst Jünger’s The Glass Bees. Which sees nostalgia as a salvo to the rather invasive and controlling presence of technology, which becomes more akin to an extension of corporate dominance and military power than an individual/societal return to the Global Village that McLuhan suggests. And this may be where I part ways with McLuhan on some kind of return to another “primitive” way of seing, knowing, and communicating. Yet, I still need to read more and figure this out, but what I do know thus far is that so much of what McLuhan says in 1967 is as relevant for the world I find myself in at this moment than anything I have read in the last 10 or 20 years, perhaps only Dostoevsky speaks more eloquently of the implications of a complete and utter conceptual shift within a culture.