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Sjef van Gaalen (M)
Amsterdam, NL
Immortal since Dec 11, 2007
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    The Medium is the Massage
    Project: The Total Library

    Marshall McLuhan has been mentioned in passing in various comments here on spacecollective, hence why his name had ended up scribbled on my 'to read' list. So yesterday during a routine trawl of local second hand bookstores I happened to turn up a decent copy of 'The Medium is the Massage'.

    It came as a pleasant surprise that the book is co-authored by a graphic designer (Quentin Fiore), and as such has undergone a decent graphic treatment, combining modernist typography with collage and various illustrations. Having just looked up the wikipedia entry on the book, it turns out that the text is a condensed, visual treatment of McLuhans 'Understanding Media', so if you prefer 180 pages of which half pictures to a 400 page thesis, this is probably a good introduction to McLuhans ideas.

    The book predates computer networking on any scale, simply lumping new forms of communication under 'electronic technology', but is quite accurate in its forecast of the means in which the ever increasing speed and volume of communication would influence our environment and the individuals relationship to it and each other.

    Some key quotes (for me, arguably not for the message of the book):
    "There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening"
    "All media are extensions of some human faculty - psychic or physical"
    "Print technology created the public. Electronic technology created the mass."

    I find this quote interesting because many consider us now to be well on our way in the age of 'Information technology', as the next step surpassing electronic technology. The book describes the public as consisting 'separate individuals walking around with separate, fixed points of view', the mass is not defined, but I would say something to the extent of, 'a large group of individuals, sitting on couches being spoon-fed a point of view'.
    So what has information technology now brought us? I'd like to hope it will turn out to be something along the lines of Wildcats collex, in which loosely linked networked individuals exchange points of view in an ever expanding upward spiral of knowledge. The thing of course being that the technology lends itself equally well to an ever expanding, outward spiraling network of captioned cat pictures, so I'm not sure where that leaves us in terms of describing this new social form.

    Oh am I rambling? Another quote:
    "Art is anything you can get away with."

    Just thought I'd throw that one in there, cause some people get away with some bull shit. (So do I at times, so it's ok I guess)

    All up I think McLuhan understood media too well for his time. The possibilities he seems to have seen were never really realized in the 'electronic' age, that the issues he foresaw and discusses have only fully come to fruition over the last 10 years with the popular acceptance of the internet and the mass exploration of its possibilities.

    This 'review' of mine doesn't do the book that much justice, but you should be reading it yourself really anyway. I recommend it highly, as it is still current and is bound set off thoughts at angles you may not have previously considered. (Unless of course you happen to be writing your thesis on this kind of thing...)

    In closing the quote from the final page of the book:
    "It is the business of the future to be dangerous"
    -A.N. Whitehead

    Wed, Aug 6, 2008  Permanent link

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