05
Oct
08

McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan
Area: Digital Media
(All notes from the McLuhan Reader)
Intro

•    Studies of the effects of mass media on thought and social behavior
•    The perception of reality now depends on the structure of information
•    “Because of the decentralizing, integrating, and accelerating character of electric proves, the emphasis in communication shifts from the specialist ‘one thing at a time’ or linear, logical sequence, to the ‘all-at-once’ simultaneous relations that occur when electronic information approaches the speed of light” (2).
•    Hot v. cool media
o    “McLuhan’s famous distinction between ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ media referred to the different sensory effects associated with media of higher or lower definition.  ‘Hot’ media (radio, photography, cinema) are more full of information and allow less involvement of the user; ‘cool’ media (telephone, cartoons, television) are less full of information and allow much greater sensory participation by the user” (3).
•    Retribalize the structure of psychic and social awareness
o    Closely related to tribal relations of tyrannous instruction and control
•    How do our sensory lived change in response to the media we use?
•    McLuhan: an “updated” rhetorician
•    In electronic media, the user is the co-producer
•    The future is always a new way of retrieving the past
Gutenberg Galaxy
•    Shapes and structures of human interdependence and expression are non-verbal, but oral in form
•    Competitive individualism
•    3-D perspective
o    “A conventionally acquired model of seeing, as much acquired as is the means of recognizing the letters of the alphabet, or of following chronological narrative.  That it was and acquired illusion Shakespeare helps us to see by his comments on the other senses in relation to sight.”
•    “The interiorization of the technology of the phonetic alphabet translates man from the magical world of the earth to the neutral visual world”
•    Literacy gives people a way to focus a bit in front of an image so we take in the whole image or picture at a glance.
•    Imaginative reconstruction
o    Cultures having difficulty attaining skills after others are ingrained: music after reading/writing; film and the non-literate
•    Writing is a visual enclosure of non-visual spaces and senses
o    Ordinary sense interplay
•    The alphabet is not used by civilized people—it is used to do the civilizing
97: “Whereas the Elizabethans were poised between medieval corporate experience and modern individualism, we reverse their pattern by confronting an electric technology which would seem to render individualism obsolete and the corporate interdependence mandatory.”
114: “A child in any Western milieu is surrounded by an abstract explicit visual technology of uniform time and uniform continuous space in which ‘cause’ is efficient and sequential, and things move and happen on single planes and in successive order.  But the African child lives in the implicit, magical world of the resonant world.”
127: “This externalization of our senses creates what de Chardin calls the ‘noosphere’ or a technological brain for the world.  Instead of tending towards a vast Alexandrian library the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as in an infantile piece of science fiction.  And as our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside.  So, unless aware of this dynamic, we shall at once move into a phase of panic terrors, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drums, total interdependence, and superimposed co-existence.”
137: “A theory of cultural change is impossible without knowledge of the changing sense ratios effected by various externalizations of our senses.”
139: “The invention of the alphabet, like the invention of the wheel, was the translation or reduction of a complex, organic interplay of spaces into a single space.  The phonetic alphabet reduced the use of all the senses at once, which is oral speech, to a merely visual code.”
Understanding Media/The Medium is the Message
•    Technology of literacy: power to act without acting
•    Mark of our time = revulsion against imposed patterns
•    Brain surgery/baseball game: content of electric light—couldn’t exist without
o    Medium (light) controls the scale and form of human association and action
•    “The products of modern science are neither good or bad; it’s the way they’re used that determined their value.”
o    This ignores the nature of the medium
•    Cool media—so little is given and much has to be filled in
•    Hot media—don’t leave much to be filled in
•    Hot: low in participation; Cool: high in participation
•    Makes all the different whether a hot/cool medium is used in hot/cool culture
•    Extensions of man: “make happen” agents, not “make aware” agents
149: “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.”
151: “Many people would be disposed to say that it was not the machine, but what one did with the machine, that was its meaning or message.  In terms of the ways in which the machine altered our relations to one another and to ourselves, it mattered not in the least whether it turned out cornflakes or Cadillacs.”
158: “If the criminal appears as a nonconformist who is unable to need the demand of technology that we behave in uniform and continuous patterns, literate man is quite inclined to see others who cannot conform as somewhat pathetic.”
164: “For myth is the instant vision of a complex process that ordinary extends over a long period.  Myth is contraction or implosion of any process, and the instant speed of electricity confers the mythic dimension on ordinary industrial and social action today.  We live mythically but continue to think fragmentarily and on single planes.”
171: “Electricity does not centralize but decentralizes.  It is like the difference between a railway system and an electric grid system: the one requires railheads and big urban centers.  Electric power, equally available in the farmhouse and the Executive Suite, permits any place to be a center, and does not require large aggregations.”
177: “What I am saying is that media as extensions of our senses institute new ratios, not only among our private senses, but among themselves, when they interact among themselves.  Radio changed the form of the news story as much as it altered the film image in the talkies.  TV caused drastic changes in drastic changes in radio programming, and in the form of the thing or documentary novel.”

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