Marshall McLuhan’s premonitions about the Internet

Every time I reread Marshall McLuhan, I am anew surprised how exact his forecasts from the 1960s were. Take for example the mind blowing “The Medium is the MASSAGE”, he published together with Quentin Fiore, a collage of short texts and images about the changing mediascape, which only had been fully materialized in the 21st century - with social media. There is also a download of a digital rendering of the LP with the same title on UbuWeb.

Here are five short quotes that describe some core notions of present time networked life but perhaps are a little less known that his famous “global village”. Only recently with Google and Archive.org it became clear for most of us that in the Internet nothing will be fizzling out. The famous slogan is: “Google never forgets“. But McLuhan already knew this in 1967. Isn’t it a very precise description of the Internet as an

electrically computerized dossier bank - that one big gossip column that is unforgiving, unforgetful and from which there is no redemption, no erasure of early “mistakes”.

This makes clear that the change is not only about a new way of researching information, but about new forms of connectivity and sociability. The fact that many things you do online will be archived for a very long time is not about information or knowledge, but could change the way we think about ourselves and the way we act.

Maybe this next quote sounds a bit bold, but I also believe, that the Internet and especially the change that started with the popularization of social software will have revolutionary effects. In McLuhan’s words this sounds like this:

The medium, or process, of our time - electric technology - is reshaping and restructuring patterns of our social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life … Everything is changing - you, your family, your neighborhood, your job, your government, your relation to “the others”. And they’re changing dramatically.

We are not only using social software, but social software is using us. While it appears to us, that using those services and tools to perform our tasks better and more efficient than before, there is some kind of “meta-change” happening. It changes the way social change happens and the way we are influenced by technology.

Isn’t the following very much to the point in describing today’s experience of the new media scape with blogs, RSS feeds, Twitter and Friendfeed?

Electric circuitry profoundly involves men with one another. Information pours upon us, instantaneously an continuously. As soon as information is acquired, it is very rapidly replaced by still newer information. Our electrically-configured world has forced us to move … to the mode of pattern recognition.

In this quote, McLuhan can be read as pleading for a new media education, which seems to be a field of growing importance nowadays. What happens when our children are not only educated by people they are able to interact with face-to-face, but who are mediated by digital technology?

Character no longer is shaped by only two earnest, fumbling experts. Now all the world’s a sage.

And of course, he stresses again and again the need to develop new tools for understanding today’s world and the infeasibility

to do today’s job with yesterday’s tools - with yesterday’s concepts.

Unfortunately, whenever I’m looking for example at academic sociology, nothing much seems to have changed. Too many people trying to examine the networked reality with the old concepts of mass society.

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks (2)

  1. See you later, Regator < life under electronic conditions on Saturday, August 9, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    [...] life under electronic conditions by benedikt koehler < Marshall McLuhan’s premonitions about the Internet [...]

  2. [...] der Seiten oder der Werbeeinblendungen? Das Medium spielt in diesem Fall doch eine deutliche Rolle. McLuhan würde sich [...]