Eric McLuhan
W. Terrence Gordon

(Ginko Press)
--- We are in an electronic age "in which we stand as primitives of an underdeveloped and unknown culture."

--- It is said that the main discovery of the nineteenth century was "the discovery of the technique of invention."

--- "The great discovery of the twentieth century is the technique of suspended judgment."

--- The humanist is a Luddite "because he gets a thrill of imagined potential from the fragmentary..."

    The humanist is more fascinated by the incomplete Hyperion of Keats than by the complete Prelude of Wordsworth.

--- In mid-twentieth century, AT&T was the largest business in the world "with a gross national product equal to the entire Canadian economy," and got that way by "doing nothing but move information. No wheels, no shafts, no belts, just the movement of information."

--- "With the computer all move out of the age of number and statistics into the age of the curve and the simultaneous awareness of structures."

    With satellite broadcasting ... we move, scientist and humanist alike, into the world of instant and inexpensive access to anything and anybody on the globe.

§     §     §

Ginko Press has issued twenty previously published papers, chapters, and documents by Marshall McLuhan in separate booklets, nicely boxed and numbered. Included are "Printing and Social Change," "American Advertising," and "Culture without Literacy" --- the usual weighty ideas of one we might think of as a Media Philosopher. Each of the booklets includes a brief introduction by Terrence Gordon.

The quotes above come from #7, "The Humanities in the Electronic Age." They are typical rich McLuhanesque insights, sprinkled with references to Gibbon, Joyce, A. N. Whitehead, Shakespeare, Poe, Bertrand Russell, Leonardo de Vinci, C. P. Snow, Milton. It's heady stuff, especially for those of us who are fans of Understanding Media.

For it was McLuhan who chose to "suspend judgment," who could speak of radio, television, advertising --- not in terms of content, good or bad, but in terms of what the media was doing to and with the individual.

He referred to television as "cool," because of its demands on the viewer. He noted that with the black-and-white 525 line television of his day, children tended to cluster closer to the set itself in order to comprehend the picture more fully. He also confirmed that the program content did not matter: whether it was Howdy-Doody or cops-and-robbers, a NIH study had proved that children become more violent immediately after watching a television program.

His vision of media was exhaustive. He stated that the main difference between motion pictures and television resolved itself as "light on" vs. "light through," although for the life of me I could never remember which was which, and why it mattered. I do remember that he took advertising seriously, as an art form, and thought of not only television and radio and telephones as media, but, too, cars and clocks. He was fond of the clock, referred to "the scent of time," pointing out that the ancient Chinese had a different aroma of burning incense for each hour of the day or night.

When I was teaching a media course at a local, unnamed Catholic university, (before I got fired --- my students, without asking my advice, turned the cool media of student newspaper into a hot neo-National Enquirer, the April Fool's issue, by offering the suggestion that the school's head nun was a live-in factotum at a local lap-dance bar).

Anyway, before that disaster, I had the students read a chapter a week from Understanding Media. They didn't get it, and they gave me a hard time of it. All this was well prefigured by McLuhan: "Our existing ideas of educational organization are still of the centre-margin pattern of institutionalized structure that is taken for granted by the baffled administrator as he meditates on the explosion in student population and the explosion in learning."

    How is this centre-margin pattern to be maintained and TV to be fitted into it? How is the entire community to receive a higher education and present standards of instruction to be maintained?

--- Carlos Amantea
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