Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980)

Communications theorist, born in Edmonton, Alberta. Professor of English (1954-80) and director of the Centre for Culture and Technology (1963-80) at the University of Toronto. Books include The Mechanical Bride (1951), The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), Understanding Media (1964), and The Medium Is the Massage (with Quentin Fiore, 1967).

The following was taken from Art News - May 1966 :

"...When the industrial and mechanical environment first enveloped the old agrarian world, Nature became an art form for the first time. So did all the old crafts, the yokel, and even savage. The parallel, earlier, was the uplifting of the hunter to a snobbish, aristocratic status when the agrarian world took over as environment and the old hunting grounds became the "content" of new technology. When the industrial and mechanical age became environmental, the arts and crafts acquired a new snobbish, amateurish quality. They became the content of the mechanical age and were accorded the usual upgrading of status. When the electric technology enveloped the mechanical one, we were plunged into the world of machine as art form. Abstract art and functional architecture took over as mimetic repeats of old environment. Pop-Art is part of the same technological fugue.
    The message and impact of the new environment is quite at variance with the content of new technology. The content is always the old technology, just as the novel was the content of the film when it was new. Now as film is processed by TV, the story line of the book form tends to disappear. The movie form now begins to acquire the nonnarrative structure of a Symbolist poem of a century before. There is thus no direct means of environmental awareness to be won from the consumer approach to such "art" activity. Indirectly, it is possible to construct the characteristic bias of the new environment from the current stock responses..."


About Marshall McLuhan :

Computers are media in the McLuhanesque sense, even when they are not connected to the telephone network or to other computers (Kay, 1984; Steinfield et al., 1989). After interviewing hundreds of computer users, from novices to experienced hackers, Sherry Turkle (1984) called the computer "an expressive medium" (p. 15); she described one woman who "brought [a computer] into her life to write a book, but it brought her into a culture" (p. 191) -- a post-print culture that McLuhan saw developing thirty years ago, a culture that began to impinge on the centuries-old print society at the moment the first electric signal was sent through a wire.

McLuhan,who did not live to see the proliferation of personal computers, set television on a pedestal as the "coolest" of the electric technologies, one he referred to as "the mosaic mesh" (1964). He credited TV with breaking up the linearity of human lives and thinking, a linearity that had evolved from print culture, from centuries of words set in type set in lines set in pages that followed one another in invariable numerical order.

In breaking up the orderly lines of print culture, electronic information (which includes data stored in computers as well as television broadcasts) can seem "disconnected and disorganized," as Joshua Meyrowitz (1985) observes. But that's all right. Oral cultures became print cultures after Gutenberg. Print cultures are now in the process of becoming electronic cultures.

Cybermedia represents the next step in the progression beyond print culture that for McLuhan, among others (notably Innis, 1951), began with the telegraph:

. . . it is the speed of electric involvement that creates the integral whole of both private and public awareness. We live today in the Age of Information and of Communication because electric media instantly and constantly create a total field of interacting events in which all men participate (McLuhan, 1964, p. 248).

A seemingly contradictory effect marks electric media: they are at the same time both fragmented and congealed. McLuhan associated fragmentation with print media and the machine age; in contrast, he emphasized the ability of television to immerse people in events, to bring all kinds of places and times together in high-speed simultaneity. But a mosaic consists of thousands of separate tiles, even if one cannot perceive the fact of their separateness past a certain distance.

Television serves up the world in fragments that are congealed by the form of the medium; this fosters the belief that all things are connected but causes confusion because the connections are never articulated. As many observers have noted, what TV does to the consciousness of TV viewers would be done even if all the programming were changed (Postman, 1985).

Related Web sites:

Innis, Harold A. The Bias of Communication. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1951.
Kay, Alan. "Computer Software." Scientific American, September 1984, pp. 52-59.
McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964.
Meyrowitz, Joshua. No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.
Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Penguin Books, 1985.
Steinfield, Charles W.; Dutton, William H.; and Kovaric, Peter. "A Framework and Agenda for Research on Computing in the Home." In Media Use in the Information Age: Emerging Patterns of Adoption and Consumer Use, edited by Jerry L. Salvaggio and Jennings Bryant, pp. 61-85, Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1989.
Turkle, Sherry. The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit New York: Simon & Schuster,1984.

Source :Wikipedia - Marshal Mcluhan for portions of the above information compiled.