this year marks the centenary of one of canada’s most innovative, sometimes maligned, sometimes revered and too often forgotten thinkers. marshall mcluhan was born 100 years ago. he earned, hard won in some circles, a reputation as one of the foremost media theorists, in most part for his ideas on how electronic communication would change everything, as he might have said every human transaction.

he still deserves our attention and thought. his insights into the future of media were profound, and it’s not a stretch to say we’re living in his world today. not media as we think of it – news, sports or weather channels or the myriad of newspapers at our disposal - media as "extensions" of our human senses, bodies and minds. for mcluhan, a light bulb was as much a ‘media’ as was the radio or television.

mcluhan formulated his ideas in the mid-1960s. a time when the television, with huge back ends to house the cathode-ray tube, was still a reasonably new device. a time when you had to dial telephones attached by a cord to the wall. a time before satellite links brought us up-to-the-moment visions of tripoli or cairo.

he spoke of how electric circuitry, the terminology of the time, would revolutionize everything we do, how we conceive ourselves. to paraphrase mcluhan, when you are using the internet, you have no body (or perhaps ‘nobody’). he was also a master of the sound bite. he created terms so commonplace that we hardly give them thought.

‘the media is the message’ expressed an intricate idea that as we moved into aural as opposed to written communication, the media through which we communicated would in fact become part of the message itself. while he never used the term, he spoke of computers relaying messages from one part of a city to another or one part of the world to another.

today, that’s the internet. today, that’s facebook.

‘the global village’ is another of his famous sayings. a description of the world to come, from his perspective in the 60s, when electric circuitry, electronic communication would leap borders, leap corporate boundaries, leap economies, leap through your walls and into your homes; somehow binding us together. interestingly, he wasn’t very optimistic that this would lead to a deeper understanding among various peoples in the world. he often spoke of tribes or villages and the animosity that result from them rubbing against one another.

mcluhan completed his major works in the 1960s. yet today many of his ideas and theories carry as much weight, if not more, than a half century ago.

 





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