The medium is 140 characters. What's the message?
July 10, 2011 9:20 PM   Subscribe

Influential Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan's 100th birthday would be on July 21st. To celebrate, Australian national broadcaster ABC has launched The McLuhan Project. It includes rare footage, an interactive timeline of his life, and the Tweet like McLuhan project.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn (32 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

I remember when he died I asked my mom, "What's the big deal about that guy?" She said something like, "The medium is message," which neither of us could do much with. Then she said, "Pierre Trudeau thought extremely highly of him," and I started to get it.
posted by philip-random at 9:47 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know nothing of his work.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:49 PM on July 10, 2011 [9 favorites]

What I wouldn't give for a large sock with horse manure in it.
posted by Bromius at 9:52 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

"The Medium is the Massage" is actually one of the books I keep in my graphic design toolkit right next to books like the ideaindex, The Book of Questions, The Art Book, a good Dictionary, The Chicago Manual of Style, clipart and other art/clipart/sample catalogs. It's good brainstorming food.

I've been known to own four or five copies at once because I'll buy them whenever I see them at used bookstores for a dollar, then give them away to the right person at the right time.

Art is anything you can get away with.
posted by loquacious at 9:58 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

My parents saw him speak when they were at Ryerson ---They report he has great ideas, and is a truly *terrible* public speaker.
posted by Canageek at 10:45 PM on July 10, 2011

To celebrate, I'm proposing a Read More than Half a Book by McLuhan Challenge. The brilliant aphorisms are usually in the first 1/4, and by the 1/3rd mark, the suspicion that he's just sorta saying stuff is creeping in. How much longer can you hang in for? Test your mettle! Winner gets Kevin Kelley, frozen in carbonite.*

* Readers of The Medium is the Massage are not elegible, because it has pictures. Must be 18 or older to enter. Kevin Kelley may be substiuted for an equal or lesser acolyte. Contest not open to residents of Quebec.
posted by bicyclefish at 11:32 PM on July 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

I've been reading a tattered copy of Understanding Media for years now. I keep thinking I've finished reading it but its infinite.
posted by infini at 11:40 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

we have no art. we do everything as well as we can.

He wrote a book that is annotated to Finnegans Wake.
posted by zachhouston at 1:42 AM on July 11, 2011

To celebrate, android Woody Allen will be pulling a robotic McLuhan from behind a signboard at a movie theater near you!
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:00 AM on July 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Long live the New Flesh.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 4:21 AM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

The university of Alberta has been putting on a number of events, as well. Pretty soon Edmonton is getting Marshall McLuhan day, as well.
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:38 AM on July 11, 2011

I was distressed to find out how conservative he was.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:39 AM on July 11, 2011

I studied with him at U of Toronto in 1979 -- he was witty, kind and above all brilliant in person. Altered my intellectual life from that point on.
posted by temporicide at 5:28 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Loved his work, but the class where I was first introduced to him was terrible. Three hour student led discussions led by students who understood roughly none of the material. Each presentation: 20 minutes of awkward rambling followed by 40 minutes of staring and fidgeting.
posted by mean cheez at 5:51 AM on July 11, 2011

A lot of what's happening now in media was foreseen by McLuhan, although since he spoke in a lot of generalities he's the kind of guy where you can probably find something he said, connect it with the present and say, See, he predicted it.

Also, he didn't like any of it. With information moving "at the speed of light, he said, there could no longer be any secrets. He would much rather have been a 19th century academic when academics could hold on to "secrets" and have a monopoly on certain information, and where privacy was easy to maintain.

Current media thinkers and academics (Jeff Jarvis, Clay Shirky, Jay Rosen etc.) are less certain of where things are going, but much more comfortable with change, "electric speed" etc., while keeping an eye on the continuing need to find a new balance between transparency and privacy.
posted by beagle at 5:59 AM on July 11, 2011

The NYRB had a great article on McLuhan recently, but it's pay-only. After reading it, I've been going through his work and loving it. I think.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:10 AM on July 11, 2011

That reminds me: I've been meaning to get into his work. Never read any of it, but I know the gist of it and find it interesting. Where should I start? Specific book recommendations, either his work or about his work?
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:13 AM on July 11, 2011

The tribute website Marshall McLuhan Speaks includes a 22 minute video introduction from Tom Wolfe.
posted by Apropos of Something at 6:14 AM on July 11, 2011

That reminds me: I've been meaning to get into his work. Never read any of it, but I know the gist of it and find it interesting. Where should I start? Specific book recommendations, either his work or about his work?

Start with Understanding Media. It is not overly difficult or complex. what you really need to avoid like a plague ship are all of this glib summaries that are floating around about his work. Much more important than "the medium is the message" is the idea that technology are just extends or leverages our physical, intellectual or perceptual apparatuses. Hence the subtitle, The Extensions of Man.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:39 AM on July 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

In honor of "Narcissus as Narcosis"...

McLuhan > Postman > McMillen: Amusing Ourselves to Death
posted by dragonsi55 at 6:39 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Where should I start?

The Medium is the Massage, which has already been linked to.

Quoting the wiki:

The book was intended to make McLuhan's philosophy of media and communication, considered by some[who?] incomprehensible and esoteric, more accessible to a wider readership through the use of visual metaphor and sparse text.[citation needed]

And there's pictures.
posted by philip-random at 9:13 AM on July 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

"Might not our current translation of our entire lives into the spiritual form of information seem to make of the entire globe, and of the human family, a single consciousness?" - Understanding Media

Death to videodrome, long live the new flesh!
posted by thescientificmethhead at 10:17 AM on July 11, 2011

The CBC radio show Spark, did a series of shows in May inspired by and commenting on McLuhan and how his message can be interpreted for 21st century media. You can download or stream the poscasts: episodes 147, 148, 149, and 150.
posted by sparkatito at 10:29 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm glad that we are still remembering him and seeing the patterns in social networks and electronic text and what it might mean. Even if his actual words may be oldfashioned or slightly irrelevant now, the way he saw things - that's why Understanding Media is a great starter - allows you to look at current day communication technology and go 'oho, could that lead to that because etc'

He gave all the other names mentioned in this thread a career path in thinking of certain things in a certain way

Sounds fuzzy I know but that is the best that I capture why I go back and reread the different chapters, which all stand apart by themselves, as its more of a collection of essays on all the elements that are acted upon by teh forces of time and space in the context of information flow. You could say its the first principles of zeitgeist analysis. What he articulated as all the 'actors' - electric type and print, film and radio etc - is what imho Vance Packard was practicing.
posted by infini at 12:59 PM on July 11, 2011

McLuhan has interesting ideas, but he is not a systematic thinker, so his books do tend to get bogged down at times.

That reminds me: I've been meaning to get into his work. Never read any of it, but I know the gist of it and find it interesting. Where should I start? Specific book recommendations, either his work or about his work?

I very strongly recommend this overview: Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger by Philip Marchand, who does a fascinating and coherent summary of McLuhan's various theories, recognizing their strengths and weaknesses.

Also of interest for those with a sense of humour:

Ubuweb has the mp3's available online of McLuhan's vinyl LP version of 'The Medium is The Massage', which is a bizarre work of sound collage/comedy album often featured on college radio where I lived years ago.

Also, McLuhan's first book, 'The Mechanical Bride', is a pretty snarky illustrated take down of Mad-Men era magazine adverts, and more accessible than most of his other stuff.
posted by ovvl at 3:00 PM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've never seen a copy of Understanding Media that isn't tattered. Mine looks like it's been run over by a car. You can just keep reading it, and reading it, and reading it.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:58 PM on July 11, 2011

I'm again left frustrated that there is no free-to-watch-online version of McLuhan's Wake, which is a very good introduction to him and his work. Narrated by Laurie Anderson, no less.

It might be on Netflix, and certainly is available for purchase, and can probably be found through those other means for those who do that kind of thing.
posted by hippybear at 4:41 PM on July 11, 2011

Sticherbeast : The human nervous system, endlessly digitally enhanced, extended and upgraded, but terminating at a paywall.
posted by davemee at 2:52 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Davemee, you're being flippant about paywalls, but systems of trade and exchange are themselves examples either of media-communicated human response or of a medium themselves (a very cool medium, in fact).

A price signal is a very deliberate and definite communication. We have all kinds, from broadcast impersonal communications of price and value (branding, large-scale marketing, logo culture) to volatile select price communication to which you have to know a particular language (the stockmarket, the drug market, arms, sex) to price media in a market of human violent power (bargaining over wages?) to very social means of exchange (haggling, barter, swapping, and so on). And most importantly, communications of price and value affect us, affect our understanding of time and energy and work and effort, decide our identities, create our whole existence and understanding of what's worthwhile in life.

I wish more of the vulgar-libertarian internet folk would read McLuhan.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:51 AM on July 13, 2011

In honor of McLuhan's birthday: Understanding Videodrome: Extensions of the New Flesh.
posted by thescientificmethhead at 8:15 PM on July 21, 2011

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