Marshall McLuhan, the Original M’n’M

Marshall McLuhan, the father of communications and media studies – the guy who looked at TV and pointed out, ‘This is going to change us, and TV is only the beginning’ – would have been 100 on July 21st. This year the world is celebrating his legacy with McLuhan 100. And what a perfect time to look into what that’s all about, as major cities around the world are participating in Social Media Week.

The Original M’n’M

In the 1960s at the University of Toronto, McLuhan’s explorations into the implications of mass media for the society that uses it gained global attention for himself and for Toronto. The ‘Darwin of communications and media’, Marshall McLuhan was born in Edmonton in 1911 and died in Toronto in 1980, decades before the Internet and video cellphones with GPS came along. McLuhan had his moment in history, but his legacy lives on. What would he say of this 24/7, LOL, Twittering, Facebooking, Googling, blogosphering, iPhoning world, other than “Told you so!” And if he said more than that, would he be understood? Following are two phrases that McLuhan’s name immediately brings to mind.

The Medium is the Message:

What does that mean? It means the information you are reading right now is as much about the Internet as it is about the subject matter (McLuhan). The significance of that is, if you have an opinion about what you are reading here you can leave a comment (please do) and if someone has an opinion about your opinion, they can comment further (please do). What you see on TV news or read in a newspaper or encyclopaedia is static and might have shades of a lecture or propaganda, but you can turn what are reading here into a dialogue. The message of this medium is that you can share your own message here.

When McLuhan’s manuscript for his work “The Medium is the Message” came back from the printer with the cover reading The Medium is the Massage, he choose to leave it like that because there is truth in that typo.

Global Village:

In explaining his phrase “global village”, McLuhan said that, for better or for worse, the ability for everyone in the world to communicate with each other instantaneously means that everyone’s business becomes everyone else’s business; privacy goes out the window and we’re all stuck with each other.

On the other hand, since we’re stuck with each other on this planet anyway, shouldn’t we be communicating with one another?

Two events happening in Toronto this weekend come to mind. The Go Global expo lets you explore dozens of ways to see the world, for work, study or adventure. While world travel these days is almost as easy as getting a tank of gas (at about the same cost), you can also let the world come to you by attending the European Day of Languages events being held at Alliance Française on Friday, or find a language group or ex-pat group around town on www.meetup.com (in Toronto, check out Toronto Babel!, or stay at home and chat online with people anywhere in the world. “Love thy neighbour” no longer refers just to the people on your street.

For more on McLuhan from a Toronto perspective, please click here  (< McLuhan knew this kind of thing would happen).

2 Comments

Filed under communication and media, cross cultural understanding, languages and communication

2 responses to “Marshall McLuhan, the Original M’n’M

  1. Rosa

    Very nicely put. I’m going to share this on Facebook. Can you please explain the level of medium and message interconnection I’ll be hitting when I do that? But wait, I don’t know how to post the comment AND share it on FB. Well, here goes . . .

  2. Seth Smythe

    Hmmm…this seems to be skirting a touchy edge regarding MM’s central thesis; the fact that we can all post our own comments/sound-bites/two-cents/oh-pin-yuns does not mean there has been any real communication, but rather the opposite. The fb/twitter phenomenon allows for less and less content (message) because of the instant gratification mentality (who gives a shit what your opinion is, here is MINE, wait, I dont really know what mine is, but look, someone just tweeted something, thank god I dont have to waste half a second reflecting on anything…). I think MM was warning us that people are a tad slow to catch up, emotionally and conceptually, to technology. The whole hot-cold mediums he refers to in Understanding Media highlight the medium as taking precedent over the message. Thus, you are not actually paying attention to my own biased comment here, rather you are already composing your reply/rejecting my arguments, and wondering how many seconds it has been since you have checked your fb status….
    There is a very human reason for all this; Cambell soup changes its label every so often the same way Zuckerberg keeps changing fb. Why? People notice change, and come to think that if something is old, it is not relevant or good. If you want to sell your crap, make peoples’ eyes pay attention. The sensory input is instant, the ability to evaluate the meaning of the change considreably slower. Kind of ironic, given that humans are also notoriously lazy and struggle with change in lifestyle.

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