Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage (1967)
Finally picked this book up because of this handsome, cheap reprint. Hard to believe this was written in 1967. It was my first time reading, but so much of it felt eerily familiar—I figure McLuhan has influenced so many modern thinkers that we’re all pretty saturated with his theories. Some favorite bits:
On parenting (cf. Jay-Z)
The family circle has widened. The worldpool of information fathered by electric media…far surpasses any possible influence mom and dad can now bring to bear. Character no longer is shaped by only two earnest, fumbling experts. Now all the world’s a sage.
On perspective and art (cf. Basquiat or Hockney):
Primitive and pre-alphabet people integrate time and space as one and live in an acoustic, horizonless, boundless, olfactory space, rather than in visual space. Their graphic presentation is like an x-ray. They put in everything they know, rather than only what they see. A drawing of a man hunting seal on an ice floe will show not only what is on top of the ice, but what lies underneath as well.
Humor as a system of communications and as a probe of our environment —of what’s really going on— affords us our most appealing anti-environmental tool. It does not deal in theory, but in immediate experience, and is often the best guide to changing perceptions. Older societies thrived on purely literary plots. They demanded story lines. Today’s humor, on the contrary, has no story ine—no sequence. It is usually a compressed overlay of stories.
Amateur vs. professional:
Professionalism is environmental. Amateurism is anti-environmental. Professionalism merges the individual into patters of total environment. Amateurism seeks the development of the total awareness of the individual and the critical awareness of the groundrules of society. The amateur can afford to lose. The professional tends to classify and to specialize, to accept uncritically the groundrules of the environment. The groundrules provided by the mass response of his colleagues serve as a pervasive environment of which he is contentedly unaware. The “expert” is the man who stays put.
On visual thinking:
Most people find it difficult to understand purely verbal concepts. They suspect the ear; they don’t trust it. In general we feel more secure when things are visible, when we can “see for ourselves.” We admonish children, for instance, to “believe only half of what they see, and nothing of what they hear.” All kinds of “shorthand systems of notation have been developed to help us see what we hear.
We employ visual and spatial metaphors for a great many everyday expressions. We insist on employing visual metaphors even when we refer to purely psychological states, such as tendency and duration. For instance, we say thereafter when we really mean thenafter, always when we mean at all times. We are so visually biased that we call our wisest men visionaries, or seers!
“Authorship”—in the sense we know it today, individual intellectual effort related to the book as an economic commodity—was practically unknown before the advent of print technology. Medieval scholars were indifferent to the precise identity of the “books” they studied. In turn they rarely signed even what was clearly their own. They were a humble service organization. Procuring texts was often a very tedious and time-consuming task. Many small texts were transmitted into volumes of miscellaneous content, very much like “jottings” in a scrapbook, and, in this transmission, authorship was often lost…
…Xerography—every man’s brain-picker—heralds the times of instant publishing. Anybody can now become both author and publisher. Take any books on any subject and custom-make your own book by simple xeroxing a chapter from this one, a chapter from that one—instant steal!
Rad book. Get it for $10 on Amazon →
(Images via Brain Pickings)