A rare interview with Marshall McLuhan with TVO host Mike McManus about cultural identity, nostalgia and more. From the TVO channel on YouTube.
The Greatest Irritation
McLuhan thought of himself as a grammarian studying the linguistic and perceptual biases of mass media. A deeply literate man of astonishingly wide reading, he gravitated intellectually to the cutting edge of modern culture, where the "irritation," he said, was greatest. His contribution to COMMUNICATIONS has been compared to the work of Darwin and Freud for its universal significance. Still, he was misunderstood by many because of his revolutionary ideas and their expression in an aphoristic prose style. He emphasized the connectedness of things and built what he called "mosaic patterns" of meaning, rather than offering mere argument using one-dimensional specialist logic.
McLuhan studied changes in perception created by electric media competing with print and machine process, the old strategy of fragmenting reality into informational categories. With the integrating, interdisciplinary force of electric process, information shifts its focus from specialist emphasis on detail towards a need to interpret the contexts created by media forms. The environment, overloaded with detailed information, can be ordered meaningfully, McLuhan said, through enhanced pattern-recognition skills, the ability to deal with open systems undergoing continual change at electric speed. He stressed how electric processes decentralized information, bringing simultaneous awareness to every point in a network. The perception of reality then becomes dependent upon the structure of information.
Hot and Cool Media
Marshall McLuhan's famous distinction between "hot" and "cool" media referred to the different sensory effects associated with media of higher or lower definition. High-definition ("hot") media, such as print or radio, are full of information and allow for less sensory completion or involvement on the part of the reader or listener than low-definition ("cool") media, such as telephone or television, which are relatively lacking in information and require a higher sensory involvement of the user. The form of each medium is associated with a different arrangement, or ratio, in the order among the senses and thus creates new forms of awareness. These transformations of perceptions are the bases of the meaning of the message. In this sense, "the medium is the message."
Controversy always raged around McLuhan's work, for he was initiating a new paradigm which required that we recognize the form our information takes as basic to the way that knowledge is perceived and interpreted. The Mechanical Bride (1951) documents the power of advertising to manage public consciousness. The GUTENBERG GALAXY (1962) presents a pattern of insights into the cultural transformation created by print technology. With the publication of Understanding Media (1964), McLuhan's reputation became worldwide. Of the several books that followed, War and Peace in the Global Village (with Quentin Fiore, 1968), The Interior Landscape: The Literary Criticism of Marshall McLuhan (collected, 1969), Counterblast (1969), From Cliché to Archetype (with Wilfred Watson, 1970), and Take Today: The Executive as Dropout (with Barrington Nevitt, 1972) are the most important.
Relevance of the Vision
A resurgence of interest in McLuhan's prescient work began in the early 1990s and is still growing as the relevance of his vision is increasingly borne out by cultural events created by the interplay of electric technologies. For example, the pattern of contemporary world conflict reminds us of McLuhan's discovery that the main effect of electric process is to "retribalize" the structure of social and psychic awareness, which stresses traditional identities to the point of violence. He warned that the Global Village would not be a peaceful place. Also he understood and described the effects of the coming Internet and Virtual Reality as early as 1964. He forecast what he called "discarnate experience" flowing from relationships developed solely on electronic bases.
Numerous international honours and awards were bestowed on McLuhan, including the Schweitzer Chair (1967), which he spent at New York's Fordham University. The University of Toronto's former Centre for Culture and Technology, which he founded and which was known as "The Coach House," is now the McLuhan Program for Culture and Technology within the Faculty of Information, with a research unit - the Coach House Institute. Further, a special McLuhan Collection was founded at the U of T Faculty of Information Science in March 1995. The McLuhan Teleglobe Canada Award, under the aegis of UNESCO, was created in 1983 in honour of his pioneering work in Communications, and awarded for over two decades. McLuhan was named a Companion of the ORDER OF CANADA in 1970.
Author FRANK D. ZINGRONE
Douglas Coupland, Marshall McLuhan (2009); W. Terrance Gordon, Marshall McLuhan: Escape into Understanding: A Biography (1997); A. Kroker, Technology and the Canadian Mind: Innis/McLuhan/Grant (1984); William Kuhns, "The Sage of Aquarius," in The Post-Industrial Prophets (1973); Philip Marchand, The Medium and the Messenger (1989); Eric McLuhan, Frank D. Zingrone, eds, Essential McLuhan (1995); Marshall McLuhan and David Carson, The Book of Probes (2003); Matie Molinaro, William Toye and Corinne McLuhan, eds., Letters of Marshall McLuhan (1987); Raymond Rosenthal, ed, McLuhan: Pro and Con (1969); G.M. Stearn, ed, McLuhan: Hot and Cool (1967); Lance Strate and Edward Wachtel, eds., The Legacy of McLuhan (2005); D.F. Theall, The Virtual McLuhan (2001).
Links to Other Sites
An ELECTRONIC MONUMENT to MARSHALL McLUHAN: Recapturing Canadian Identity
This article focuses on the origins of the Heritage Minutes series and the making of the Heritage Minute episode on Marshall McLuhan (scriptwriter Patrick Watson and director Al Waxman). From McLuhan Studies at University of Toronto.
Watch a Heritage Minute about the visionary media guru Marshall McLuhan, who foresaw the impact of new electronic communication systems on human society, culture, and the economy. From the Historica-Dominion Institute. Check out the learning resources related to this story.
The McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology
The website for the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto. Features a biography of Marshall McLuhan, program information, and video clips from previous conferences.
Click on the brief profiles of "extraordinary Canadians" and the authors who wrote about them in this Penguin Group (Canada) series. Also includes bios of artists who created the cover art for each book.
Marshall McLuhan: the global village
Watch a vintage video clip in which the visionary Canadian academic Marshall McLuhan made the prescient claim that teenagers were instrumental in advancing the global shift from print to electronic communications. From a 1960 episode of the television program "Explorations" at the "CBC Digital Archives" website.
The medium is indeed the message at the official website for the renowned Canadian visionary and multidisciplinary scholar, Marshall McLuhan. Features biographies, articles, quotations, links to teacher’s resources and much more.
Examined lives: the biography boom
In this 1997 article, Robert Fulford offers his thoughts about the growing interest in biographies of Canadian authors, actors, and academics.
Marshall McLuhan in Conversation with Mike McManus
A rare interview with Marshall McLuhan with TVO host Mike McManus about cultural identity, nostalgia, and more. From the TVO channel on YouTube.
McLuhan Cloud is a blog that covers the ongoing discussion about the importance of Marshall McLuhan’s work. Produced by McLuhan scholar Paolo Granata at the University of Bologna.
McLuhan Galaxy Blog
The McLuhan Galaxy blog highlights recent publications and events related to Marshall McLuhan. By McLuhan scholar Alex Kuskis.
Marshall McLuhan: Wise Guy
See online excerpts from Judith Fitzgerald's insightful biography of the prophetic Canadian professor and writer Marshall McLuhan. From Google Books.