Thursday, June 15, 2017

Excerpts from Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan exists in a phenomenological framework, but one to which work, government, and the pragmatic have been applied. His is a political phenomenology.

All technologies are extensions of our physical and nervous systems to increase power and speed.

The use of any kind of medium or extension of man alters the patterns of interdependence among people, as it alters the ratios among our senses. It is the framework itself that changes with new technology, and not just the picture within the frame. The content of one medium is always another medium. The principle factors in media impact on existing social forms are acceleration and disruption. An increase of power or speed in any kind of grouping of any components whatever is itself a disruption that causes a change of organization. Any new medium, by its acceleration, disrupts the lives and investments of whole communities. All means of interchange and of human interassociation tend to improve by acceleration. Speed, in turn, accentuates problems of form and structure, because established social morays are built on slower foundations. New speed and power are never compatible with existing special and social arrangements. Every extension or acceleration effects new configurations in the over-all situation at once. Every technology creates new stresses and needs in the human beings who have engendered it. The new need and the new technological response are born of our embrace of the already existing technology—a ceaseless process. And yet, eventually, a speed-up in communications always enables a central authority to extend its operations to more distant margins. Before electricity, the increase of speed divided function, social classes, and knowledge. With electricity, however, all that is reversed. The world becomes flat. Our electric extensions of ourselves simply by-pass space and time, and create problems of human involvement and organization for which there is no precedent.

All media is a force for decentralization and pluralism. Centralism of organization is based on the continuous, visual, lineal structuring that arises from phonetic literacy. Print asks for the isolated and stripped-down visual faculty, not for the unified sensorium. Print brought in the taste for exact measurement and repeatability that we now associate with science and mathematics. The electric age rejects mechanical solutions of uniformity and social homogenization in favor of uniqueness and diversity.

A cool medium, whether the spoken word or the manuscript or TV, leaves much more for the listener or user to do than a hot medium. If the medium is of high definition, participation is low. If the medium is of low intensity, the participation is high . . . . The book form is unsuited to involved presentation. The electric dynamic is one of public participation in creativity. We react to the world as a whole.

The city, as a form of the body politic, responds to new pressures and irritations by resourceful politic, responds to new pressures and irritations by resourceful new extensions—always in the effort to exert staying power, constancy, equilibrium, and homeostasis.

Militarism is the main route of technological education and acceleration for lagging areas.

Any technology gradually creates a totally new human environment. Environments are not passive wrappings but active processes. Yet, human beings are never aware of the ground rules of their environmental systems or cultures. To the student of media, it is difficult to explain the human indifference to social effects of these radical forces. The new environment reprocesses the old one, elevating it to an art form. And this is what people are aware of: only of the “content” or the old environment, not the new paradigm created by the change in technology. Few have been willing to study the personal and social effects of media apart from its “content.” A new medium is never an addition to an old one, nor does it leave the old one in peace. It never ceases to oppress the older media until it finds new shapes and positions for them. Once a new technology comes into a social milieu it cannot cease to permeate that milieu until every institution is saturated. There are psychic and social implications of each and every technological extension of man. Except for light, all other media come in pairs, with one acting as the content of the other, obscuring the operation of both. Our conventional response to all media, namely that is is how they are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot. The content of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium. The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance. The personal and social consequences of any medium—that is, of any extension of ourselves—result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves or by any new technology. It is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action. The development of writing and the visual organization of life made possible the discovery of individualism, introspection, and so on. The phonetic alphabet alone is the technology that has been the means of creating “civilized man”--the separate individuals equal before a written code of law. Separateness of the individual, continuity of space and of time, and uniformity of codes are the prime marks of literate and civilized societies. The phonetic alphabet [was] the technology that made possible the visible and uniform fragmentation of time. . . . it is the source of Western mechanism. Print presented an image of repeatable precision that inspired totally new forms of extending social energies . . .breaking the individual out of the traditional group while providing a model of how to add individual to individual in massive agglomeration of power. All meaning alters with acceleration, because all patterns of personal and political interdependence change with any acceleration of information. Control over change would seem to consist in moving not with it but ahead of it. Anticipation gives the power to deflect and control force. . . our Western lives seem to native cultures to be one long series of preparations for living.

The mosaic form. Mosaic form means not a detached “point of view,” but participation in process. The mosaic is the mode of the corporate or collective image and commands deep participation. This participation is communal rather than private, inclusive rather than exclusive. The mosaic is not uniform, continuous, or repetitive. It is discontinuous, skew, and nonlineal, like the tactual TV image. To the sense of touch, all things are sudden, counter, original, spare, strange. The mosaic form demands participation and involvement in depth of the whole being, as does the sense of touch.

The hybrid or the meeting of two media is a moment of truth and revelation from which new form is born. The moment of the meeting of media is a moment of freedom and release from the ordinary trance and numbness imposed by them on our senses. For those parts of ourselves that we thrust out into the form of new invention are attempts to counter or neutralize collective pressures and irritations. But the counter-irritant usually proves a greater plague than the initial irritant, like a drug habit.

Any extension, whether of skin, hand, or foot, affects the whole psychic and social complex. Electric speed in bringing all social and political functions together in a sudden implosion has heightened human awareness of responsibility to an intense degree. [Ethical demands] can no longer be contained, in the political sense of limited association. They are now involved in our lives, as we in theirs, thanks to the electric media. Our private and corporate lives have become information processes because we have put our central nervous systems outside us in electric technology. The computer promises by technology a Pentecostal condition of universal understanding and unity. The immediate prospect for literate, fragmented Western man encountering the electric implosion within his own culture is his steady and rapid transformation into a complex and depth-structured person emotionally aware of his total interdependence with the rest of human society.

To act without reacting, involvement, is the peculiar advantage of Western literate man.

There is nothing linear or sequential about the total field of awareness that exists in any moment of consciousness. Hume demonstrated that causality is added to phenomenology. We add the sequence.

The aspiration of our time for wholeness, empathy and depth of awareness is a natural adjunct of electric technology. We are suddenly eager to have things and people declare their beings totally. There is a deep faith to be found in this new attitude—a faith that concerns the ultimate harmony of all being.

[This book] explores the contours of our own extended beings in our technologies, seeking the principle of intelligibility in each of them. In the full confidence that it is possible to win an understanding of these forms that will bring them into orderly service.

Myth is the instant vision of a complex process that ordinarily extends over a long period. Myth is the contraction or implosion of any process and the instant speed of electricity confers the mythic dimension on ordinary industrial and social action today. We live mythically but continue to think fragmentarily and on single planes. The artist is the man in any field, scientific or humanistic, who grasps the implications of his actions and of new knowledge in his own time. He is the man of integral awareness. This man is the artist. And art, like games . . . and like media of communication, has the power to impose its own assumptions by setting the human community into new relationships and postures.

Specialist learning in higher education proceeds by ignoring interrelationships; for such complex awareness slows down the achieving of expertness.

The development of writing and the visual organization of life made possible the discovery of individualism, introspection, and so on. The immediate prospect for literate, fragmented Western man encountering the electric implosion within his own culture is his steady and rapid transformation into a complex and depth-structured person emotionally aware of his total interdependence with the rest of human society. Our private and corporate lives have become information processes because we have put our central nervous systems outside us in electric technology.

Just as writing is an extension and separation of our most neutral and objective sense, the sense of sight, number is an extension and separation of our most intimate and interrelating activity, our sense of touch. Perhaps touch is not just skin contact with things, but the very life of things in the mind?