Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Perhaps the terrifying thing about the new media for most of us is their inevitable evocation of irrational response. The irrational has become the major dimension of experience in our world. And yet, this is a byproduct of the instantaneous character in communication. It can be brought under rational control. It is the perfection of the means which has so far defeated the end, and removed the time necessary for assimilation and reflection. We are now compelled to develop new techniques of perception and judgment, new ways of reading the languages of our environment with its multiplicity of cultures and disciplines. And these needs are not just desperate remedies but roads to unimagined cultural enrichment."

- Marshall McLuhan, Culture Without Literacy

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"To think in the midst of the sciences, is to pass near them without disdaining them."

- Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology

2 comments:

pluralform said...

I love Mr. McLuhan.

Joshua Lore said...

Michael, at the risk of sounding ignorant, I would like to implore you to say a bit about what Mr. McLuhan is pointing toward here. Mainly I would like to hear what motivates you to share this passage, if you wouldn't mind.

I ask because my familiarity with McLuhan is quite limited. I know of course that he insisted we are far more affected by modes of media than by the content mediated, and that often the content serves more to distract us from recognizing the profound metanoia brought about by communication technologies (be they books, radios or search engines) than anything else. That, for example, in venting over the latest Israeli incursion in the Gaza Strip we read about in the Times, we fail to consider the effect such a 2-dimensional format for delivering news of global events has upon our perception of that world and of the places within it...

What I also know of McLuhan's ideas (lest I am mistaken -- a great possibility) is that he believed literacy in the technical sense is more bane than boon. That private libraries caused us to recede into the shadows of privacy and away from the public, and so enabled more than anything else the destructive rise of rugged-individualism and the collapse of our faculties of memory and authenticity (in the classical sense).

Is he suggesting here that the change-thinking demanded by the "new media" is a hopeful thing? That somehow, new-media formats like the internet (or for him I believe, its antecedents) will have a positive impact by drawing us back into the public square?

I suppose what I am left with at the end of this passage is skepticism. If the book drew us away from the intimacy of face-to-face interraction, isn't something missed in any suggestion that visual-media, delivered over a two-dimensional screen, no matter how high-definition, no matter how immediate, no matter how interractive, is a return to anything like reality or intra-personal intimacy? It's a dangerous farce, I would say. The effects on our perceptions of the world of things like television and the internet are anything but expansive. It is reduced further and, being mediated by a handful of powerful corporate interests, poses a serious threat to true freedom, real access to facts, and community in general.

I imagine you would not disagree with my feelings, at least in some general sense, and this is exactly why I'm curious to hear your thoughts, and what you might be able to offer in terms of emending my possible mis-understandings...

Thanks Michael