[McManus]Way back in the early fifties you predicted that the world was becoming a global Village.
[McLuhan]We are going back into the bicameral mind that is tribal, collective, without any individual consciousness.
[McManus]But, it seems, Dr. McLuhan, that this tribal world is not friendly.
[McLuhan]No, tribal people, one of their main kinds of sport is butchering each other. It is a full-time sport in tribal societies.
[McManus]But, I had some idea as we got global and tribal we were going to try to –
[McLuhan]The closer you get together, the more you like each other? There is no evidence of that in any situation that we have ever heard of. When people get close together, they get more and more savage and impatient with each other.
[McManus]Why is it? Is it because of the nature of man?
[McLuhan]His tolerance is tested in those narrow circumstances very much. Village people are not that much in love with each other. The global village is a place of a very arduous interfaces and very abrasive situations.
[McManus]Do you see any pattern of this in, for example the desires of Quebec to separate?
[McLuhan]I should think that they are feeling very abrasive about the English community and about the way the American south felt about the Yankee north a hundred years ago.
[McManus]Is this going to be a pattern right around the world?
[McLuhan]Apparently, separatisms are very frequent all over the globe at the present time. Every country in the world is loaded with regionalistic and nationalistic little groups.
[McManus]But in Quebec for example, like do you define it as the quest for identity?
[Concept: Violence as a quest for identity]
[McLuhan]Yes, all forms of violence are quests for identity. When you live out on the frontier, you have no identity. You are a nobody. Therefore, you get very tough. You have to prove that you are somebody. So you become very violent. Identity is always accompanied by violence. This seems paradoxical to you? Ordinary people find the need for violence as they lose their identities. It is only the threat to people’s identity that makes them violent. Terrorists, hijackers – these are people minus identity. They are determined to make it somehow, to get coverage, to get noticed.
[McManus]And all this is somehow an effect of the electronic age?
[McLuhan]No, but people in all times have been this way. In our time, when things happen very quickly, there’s very little time to adjust to new situations at the speed of light. There is little time to get accustomed to anything. Even radio has sent tribal societies around theglobe up the wall with intensity of feeling. One of the major violence makers of our century has been radio. Hitler was entirely a radio man and a tribal man.
[McManus]Then, what does television do to that tribal man?
[McLuhan]Well, I don’t think Hitler would have lasted long on TV. Like Senator Joe McCarthy, he would have looked foolish. McCarthy was a very hot character and like Nixon, he made a very bad image on television. He was far too hot a character. He would have been much better on radio.
[McManus]The investigations now of the CIA, the FBI and even our own, God forbid, RCMP, has this anything to do with the electronic age?
[McLuhan]Yes, because we now have the means to keep everybody under surveillance. No matter what part of the world they are in, we can put them under surveillance. This has become one of the main occupations of mankind, just watching other people and keeping a record of their goings on.
[McManus]And invading privacy.
[McLuhan]Yes, in fact, just ignoring it. Everybody has become porous. The light and the the message go right through us. At this moment, we are on the air. We do not have any physical body. When you’re on the telephone or on radio or on T.V., you don’t have a physical body – you’re just an image on the air. When you don’t have a physical body, you’re a discarnate being. You have a very different relation to the world around you. I think this has been one of the big effects of the electric age. It has deprived people really of their identity.
[McManus]So that’s what this is doing to me?
[McLuhan]Yes. Everybody tends to merge his identity with other people at the speed of light. It’s called being mass man. By the way, one of the big parts of the loss of identity is nostalgia. So there are revivals in every phase of life today. Revivals of clothing, of dances, of music, of shows, of everything. We live by the revival. It tells us who we are or were.
[McManus]Do you feel that the fact that you and I have enjoyed the rewards of literacy, that we are more protected against television than a child?
[McLuhan]Yes, I think you get a certain immunity, just as you get a certain immunity from booze by literacy. The literate man can carry his liquor; the tribal man cannot. That is why in the Moslem world or in the native world is booze isimpossible; it is the demon rum. However, literacy also makes us very accessible to ideas and propaganda. The literate man is the natural sucker for propaganda. You cannot propagandize a native. You can sell him rum and trinkets but you cannot sell him ideas. Therefore, propaganda is our Achilles’ heel. It is our weak point. We will buy anything if it fairly hard sell to it.
[Concept: Media ecology]
[McManus]What now briefly is this thing called media ecology?
[McLuhan]It means arranging various media to help each other so they won’t cancel each other out, to buttress one medium with another. You might say, for example, that radio is a bigger help to literacy than television, but television might be a very wonderful aid to teaching languages. So, you can do some things on some media that you cannot do on others. Therefore, if you watch the whole field, you can prevent this waste that comes by one cancelling out the other.
[McManus]In 15 seconds I have one question for you. How much television do you watch?
[McLuhan]Whenever I get a chance which is not too often.
Marshall McLuhan 1968 – The End of Polite Society
Marshall McLuhan 1965 – The Future of Man in the Electric Age
Kermode: In a sense, you have been a historian as you’ve gone about your work. Let’s talk rst a little, if we may, about your book The Guten- berg Galaxy, where you argue that for a long time, without actually understanding it, we’ve been living in a culture in which our whole way of looking at the world has been determined by typography, by the successiveness of print and so on. Would you like to enlarge on that a bit?
McLuhan: Well, I remember I decided to write that book when I came across a piece by the psychiatrist, J.C. Carruthers, on the African mind in health and disease, describing the e ects of the printed word on the African populations – it startled me and decided me to plunge in. We have a better opportunity of seeing our old technologies when they confront other populations elsewhere in the world – the e ects they have on most people are so startling and so sud- den that we have an opportunity to see what happened to us over many centuries.
Kermode: Yes, which we couldn’t see because we’re inside the system.
Kermode: Don’t you say that what happened was that we got used to having our information processed as it is in print – that is to say it’s set out successively – whereas at the root of your thoughts, perhaps, there’s the view that we can see the world as an image instanta- neously, but that we’ve chosen, under the pressure of a technolo- gy, to set it out successively like a block of print.
Well, every technology has its own ground rules, as it were. It de- cides all sorts of arrangements in other spheres. The e ect of script and the ability to make inventories and collect data and store da- ta changed many social habits and processes back as early as 3000 BC. However, that’s about as early as scripts began. The e ects of rearranging one’s experience, organizing one’s experience by these new extensions of our powers, are quite unexpected. Per- haps one way of putting it is to say that writing represents a high degree of specializing of our powers.
Compared to pre-literate societies, there’s a considerable concen- tration on one faculty when you develop a skill like scripting.
Kermode: Well, this is the visual – what you call the visual sense.
Yes, this is a highly specialized stress, compared to anything in or- dinary aural societies. There’ve been many studies made of this in various ways, but in our own Western world the rise of the pho- netic alphabet seems to have had much to do with platonic culture and the ordering of experience in the terms of ideas – classifying of data and experience by ideas.
Kermode: You mean that sight has become the pre-eminent sense, as it was with Plato, and it went on being so in so-called civilized, as op- posed to primitive, societies?
Increasingly so, to the –
Kermode: – and climaxed with the invention of printing –
Printing stepped it up to a considerable pitch, yes.
Kermode: Now, how would you describe the impact of the invention of the printing press? Give us some instances of what happened as a con- sequence of it.
It created – almost overnight it created what we call a national- ism, what in e ect was a public. The old manuscript forms were not su ciently powerful instruments of technology to create pub- lics in the sense that print was able to do – uni ed, homogeneous, reading publics.
Everything that we prize in our Western world in matters of in- dividualism, separatism, and of unique point of view and private judgment – all those factors are highly favored by the printed word, and not really favored by other forms of culture like radio or earlier by the manuscript. But this stepping up of the fragmented, the private, the individual, the private judgment, the point of view, in fact our whole vocabularies, underwent huge change with the arrival of such technology.
Kermode: Now, could I ask you about the technology which, in your view, is superseding it and which is having its own e ect on our lives, com- parable with, though of course entirely di erently in kind to, the Gutenberg technology?
Well, the Gutenberg technology was mechanical to an extreme de- gree. In fact, it originated a good deal of the later mechanical revo- lution assembly-line style and the fragmentation of the operations and functions as the very rationale of industrialization.
This fragmentation had begun much earlier, after the hunter and the food Gatherers, with Neolithic man. I suppose, in an extreme way, one might say Gutenberg was the last phase of the Neolithic revolution. Gutenberg plus the industrial revolution that followed was a pushing of specialism that came in with the Neolithic man, the agrarian revolution – pushing of specialism all the way, and then suddenly we encountered the electric or electromagnetism, which seems to have a totally di erent principle. It is, some people feel, an extension of our nervous system, not an extension merely of our bodies?
If the wheel is an extension of feet, and tools of hands and arms, then electromagnetism seems to be in its technological manifes- tations an extension of our nerves and becomes mainly an infor- mation system. It is above all a feedback or looped system. But the peculiarity, you see, after the age of the wheel, you suddenly en- counter the age of the circuit. The wheel pushed to an extreme sud- denly acquires opposite characteristics. This seems to happen with a good many technologies – that if they get pushed to a very dis- tant point, they reverse their characteristics.
Kermode: What difference is the electric technology making to our interest in content in what the medium actually says?
One of the e ects of switching over to circuitry from mechanical moving parts and wheels is an enormous increase in the amount of information that is moving. You cannot cope with vast amounts of information in the old fragmentary classi ed patterns. You tend to go looking for mythic and structural forms in order to manage such complex data, moving at very high speeds, so the electric en- gineers often speak of pattern recognition as a normal need of peo- ple processing data electrically and by computers and so on – a need for pattern recognition. It’s a need which the poets foresaw a century ago in their drive back to mythic forms of organizing ex- perience.
Kermode: Well, here we are, a couple of archaic literate men, Gutenberg men, talking on the television. What is the audience getting from this? Is it listening to what we’re saying, or is it feeling the impact of a new electric medium?
There is a book called Is Anybody Listening? It’s what worries the advertising men a great deal. The idea of feedback, of being in- volved in one’s own participation, in one’s own audience partici- pation, is a natural product of circuitry. Everything under electric conditions is looped. You become folded over into yourself. Your image of yourself changes completely.
Kermode: In the other book, Understanding Media, where you … use a kind of slogan, I think the expression is the “medium is the message.” Would you like to illuminate that?
I think it is more satisfactory to say that any medium, be it radio or be it wheel, tends to create a completely new human environ- ment.
The human environment, as such, tends to have a kind of invisible character about it. The unawareness of the environmental is com- pensated for by the attention to the content of the environment. The environment as merely a set of ground rules and as a kind of overall enveloping force gets very little recognition as a form, ex- cept from the artist. I think our arts, if you look at them in this con- nection, do throw quite a lot of light on environments. The artist is usually engaged in somewhat excitedly explaining to people the character of new environments and new strategies of culture nec- essary to cope with them. Blake is an extreme case of a man who was absolutely panicked by the kind of new environment that he saw forming around him under the auspices of Newton and Locke and industrialism – he thought it was going to smash the unity of the imaginative and sensory life all to bits. But the artist, what he was insisting upon in his own lifetime, became quite a popular and widespread movement later.
Kermode: Can I return to television because here we are, whoever’s listening to us, is also undergoing the impact of television at the moment. On your view, they’re all deceiving themselves insofar as they’re paying attention to what we’re saying, because what’s going on is a medium which is in itself the image that they ought to be concern- ing themselves with.
With the release of diplomatic cables into the public domain one question is never asked. Who owns the rights to these documents? Whether their content is a “threat to the international community” or “truth which needs to be protected” is irrelevant. After all its big show business. Woody Allen’s remark that if show business would not be called show business it would be called show show is not missing the point. On day 20 of the wikileaks saga not only the internet is full of articles dissecting the stream of content for a niche audience. Opinion makers representing governments, non-profits, established professions and digital natives invest a lot of attention and thus money in the hope for a return of investment.
Who has to pay for the information thats filling up newspaper colums and TV prime time. Advertisers? Consumers? Taxpayers? Not so long ago a whole industry was rallying against what they saw as an attack on their very existence – Creative Commons. A legal scheme by which a creator can protect his digital work against exploitation with the same ease an experienced carpenter fixes a broken chair. A furious outcry from industry leaders and authors rights societies alike accomplished nothing in the face of the technological revolution set in motion over half a century ago. Anticopyright laws are drafted and make their way through the parliaments and governments of every western country. But drafting a law is by far easier than having the capacities to enforce it. Awareness raising campaigns sponsored by those who saw their business model beeing bypassed by technological change – notably P2P and MPEG – saw teenagers in classrooms beeing “thought” copyright while adviced to report violations made by there parents to local authorities.
Technology made people who consider themselves as law abiding citizens, criminals. It did not feel like a crime to use a free Torrent programme to download the latest movie blockbuster. Did it damage Hollywood’s operations? Of course it did. But at the same time the inflationary effect of technological change brought Hollywood’s tools into the houses of everyday man. The same technology that destroyed Hollywood enabled it to make it ever more potent. Just think of digital compositing methods employed to generate everything out of a box. Almost over night became a multi million dollar infrastructure available to millions of young mid-class boys and girls around the globe. Whith the shift from hardware to software, which was in many ways a shift from analog to digital devices, a new realm opend up and filled the fast growing space with content. And there is no end to it. More! – screams the prince of the air. More for everybody in 2011.
Lets assume we are all criminals on the matter of copyright infringement. Who has not listened to an mp3 track without owning the CD or downloaded it on Itunes? Or watched a divX rip of a recent blockbuster? How about the wikileaks cables then? After all they are quiet entertaining. The opinion of a diplomat or a secret service agent on current affairs is worth every penny! Just imagine if wikileaks would have released the secret diaries keept by Michael Jackson or Britney Spears. Shocking details of the everyday life of a celebrity and superstar as RSS feed for everybody to see. Would this be of interest for anybody? And what about copyright law of such information? Would Sony or Bertelsmann want the exclusive rights or would they be satisfied with the increasing attention and coverage of their babies by reporters and journalists as wikileaks seems to be? After all, nothing in the cables is really new. And whatever Britney Spears private experiences are, it is unlikely that they differ in kind from others. Whatever is interesting about the cables, it cannot be its content!
Now, we are all criminals on the matter of privacy infringement – the privacy of governments are its secrets. These secrets are not real secrets but the confidential conversations of the US diplomatic service and reveals much about its internal workings. And no doubt over its validity can be cast after monthly investigations by major news organizations (NYT, guardian, der Spiegel, El pais) and their subsequent evaluation. The consequences are really hard to estimate because most of them would have become public anyway. Historian would have used them to shine lights on events then thirty years old. But in the age of instant information they become an art form ready to be exploited for commercial success. Why not create a business model around it? Because the cables contain a danger for our democracy? No entrepreneur sees danger, they only have eyes for opportunities.
So far the cables of embassies caused a lot of media attention world wide. Julian Assange is by now as known as Michael Jackson and is the face associated with an ‘distributed organization’. A distributed organization like Wikileaks is not comparable to ordinary kinds of organization. No walls, no buildings, no organizational chart, no hierachie, no paycheck no work-times, no holiday, no pension scheme, no profit, no contracts. Like the Taliban or any other terrorist organization f.e. the mafia, Wikileaks is the antidote to todays establishment. Such a ‘distributed organization‘ can be viewed as an emerging property of the network. Institutions are structured around the efficiency by which they cease to exist. The substantial cost of communication technology provided the selection pressure necessary to shape an institutional setting aiming to keep them at a minimum. Maximizing profit goes hand in hand with reducing redundancies. With global communication costs at zero, distributed organizations held together by common interest have a competitative advantage. Nothing is wrong with assuming that office space is redundant in the age of instant information at zero cost.
But lets step back and observe. The outcry over the major identity theft of the U.S. state department is far from over. As the extension of military force, diplomacy cannot exist without it. But the difference is that information is as potent to lead to war as misinformation is about the very same wars. And most people in most states don’t trust the information they get from the government. For them Wikileaks is the revelation and the best revenge they can get. For people who trust their government it is also a threat to their own identity which causes them to call for Julians assassination or take side in a battle which is not their own. But the major financial institutions have chosen to be on the battlefield. With Amazon’s decision to take down the Wikileaks website it will suffer the same faith of Bank of America, VISA, Mastercard and Paypal. Money is information. And whoever controls information controls the flow of money. In an information war, everybody becomes a soldier or hostage.
As the Western world has invested every aspect of its waking life with visual order, with procedures and spaces that are uniform, continuous and connected, it has progressively alienated iteself from needful involvement in its subconscious life.
Our manner of juxtaposing a poem with a painting is designed to illuminate the world of verbal space – speech – through an understanding of spaces as they have been defined and explored through the plastic arts – sculpture -. The verbal medium is so completely environmental as to escape all perceptual study in terms of its plastic values. Everybody can talk, but few can paint. A dialogue between the different forms and qualities of the sister arts of poetry and painting needs no defense, but there has been little exercise of such a dialogue, especially with particular references. There has been some speculation from time to time on the lines of ul pictura poesis. The advantage of using two arts, both poetry and painting, simultaneously is that one permits a journey inward, the other a journey outward to the appearance of things.
(ICONIC modes) POETRIE —> INWARD
OUTWARD<— PAINTING (ILLUSTRATIVE modes)
The continuity of interface and dialogue between the sister arts should provide a rich means of training perception and sensibility.
SENSE <—> SENSIBILITY
We hope that the jagged edges of our iconic thrusts and queries will serve to open up, rather than to close, the imagery of the perceptual field.
In many of the sections of the book the reader will encounter a concern with the differences between iconic and illustrative modes in art and poetry. It is our purpose to provide a contemporary audience with the tools for discovery of a common ground among the manifestations of art in the world. Though the artistic intentions of the primitive artist and the Renaissance artist may be poles apart, the artistic effect under all conditions is a situation that serves to highten percetion. All the arts might be considered to act as counterenvironments or countergradients.
= COUNTER – GRADIENTS (the absence of a clear-cut boundary between one category and another, for example between cup andmug in semantics.)
Any environmental form whatsoever saturates perception so that its own character is imperceptible; it has the power to distort or deflect human awareness. Even the most popular arts can serve to increase the level of awareness, at least until they become entirely environmental and unperceived. (like the every day objects in POP ART) A liberating perspective on the art’s effect upon human limited sense of foresight.
HUMAN’s have a peculiar sense of foresight. It manifests itself in the ability to endure time for a goals in the far future. Nature has no foresight in itself other than what evolution’s fines product is able to deduce from its investigation.
THE RETURN OF FORMAL SPACE
To be continued
by Herbert Marshall McLuhan and Harley Parker
Since the advent of electric circuitry in the early nineteenth century, the need for sensory awareness has become more acute. Perhaps the mere speed-up of human events and the resulting increase in interfaces among all men and institutions insure a multitude of innovations that upset all existing arrangements whetever.
By the same token, men have moved along with difficulty toward the arts in the hope of increased sensory awareness. The artist has the power to discern the current environment created by the latest technology. Ordinary human instinct causes people to flinch back in fear from these new environments and to rely on the rear-view mirror as a kind of repeat or ricorso of the preceding environment, thus insuring total disorientation at all times. It is not that there is anything wrong with the old environment, but it simply will not serve as navigational guide to the new one.
Paradoxically, war as an educational institution serves to bring people into contact with the new technological environments that the artist had seen much earlier. Complementarily, education can be seen as a kind of war conducted by the Establishment to keep the sensory life in line with existing commitments. It also serves to keep the sensory life out of touch with innovation. ” History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”
If war can become a form of education, art ceases to be a form of self-expression in the electric age. Indeed, it becomes a necessary kind of research and probing. Ashley Montagu has pointed out that the more civilization, the more violence. What he fails to note is the reason for this.
Civilization is founded upon the isolation and domination of society by the visual sense. The visual sense created a kind of human identity of the self requires persistent violence, both to one’s self and to others. As Joyce put it, “Love thy label as thyself.” Labels as classification are extreme forms of visual culture. As the visual bias declines, the other senses come into play once more, The arts have been expounding this fact for more than a century.