When I feel like I haven’t been thinking to my potential I like to go read some McLuhan (I’m not kidding … I’m a nerd). Anyway, figured I’d share a few quotes from an essay I just read called “The Media Fit the Battle of Jericho” from Marshall Mcluhan-Unbound.
Before I continue, let me just say that this was written in 1956.
The new media — the new languages — which have increasingly supplement writing and print, have begun to reassemble the multiple sensuousness of integral speech. Touch, taste, kinesthesia, sight and sound are all recreating the acoustic space which had been abolished by phonetic writing.
Under these conditions, prediction and evaluation are merely substitutes for observation. A basic feature of acoustic space is its inclusiveness. Visual space is exclusive. As our world recreates acoustic and oral culture by simply pushing on with devices of instantaneity and simultaneity, we need not fear the suppression of visual and written culture.
Lots of stuff in this one, I like the idea that the speed of new media brings us closer to the auditory traditions of communication. The speed starts to remove some of the levels of mediation. With that said, it doesn’t destroy the other media, just pushes it in new directions. Neither print nor TV are even close to dead, just ask all those people out there hankering to see their names in either medium. They both still carry a weight that the web doesn’t yet have. As Mcluhan explained in another essay I read this evening (“Notes on the Media as Art Forms”), “Reportage takes up the ordinary events in which we all participate, and changes them simply by virtue of the medium of print and photography.” (Though the essay doesn’t come out and say it, it’s clearly a precursor to his tagline: “The medium is the message.”)
The second quote hits on something I’v had on my mind for the last few months:
Any change in any medium always causes modifications in all other media or languages within the same culture. Today in our simultaneous world such changes are felt as abrupt and drastic. They always were. But now we notice.
It’s the “they always were” that struck me. I’ve had a theory (certainly shared by others) that the web provides an amazing metaphor for how our brains work. Having a good metaphor, I believed, helps us to optimize our thinking. Now I’m not sure I don’t believe that anymore (especially the second part as I think metaphors do great wonders for understanding complexity), however, I’ve been thinking lately that every generation is always sure whatever they have around is a great metahpor for whatever it is they’re thinking about (in this case the brain). When the first book was printed I would be the common belief was that it was a perfect metaphor for a brain, nicely broken into chapters and verses, just as our thoughts are.
Now I do certainly still believe that the ability to visualize, understand and discuss networks is a huge boon society, it’s hard to know what you don’t know and in this case that’s precisely how the brain functions.