Friday, January 7, 2011


I have always enjoyed McLuhan. There is a new book out and praised by the NY Times. However I do think that they, the NY Times review, and the author of the work may have missed a critical point.

As I wrote some twenty plus years ago, Peter Drucker, in his biographical sketches of his contemporaries, remarks on his first encounter with McLuhan. It was during a presentation that McLuhan was making on the results of his doctoral studies. His presentation reflected upon the impact that the printing press has had upon the university system in the late Middle Ages. He contended that the modern university came into being in the sixteenth century because of printing, which changed not only the method of instruction but, more importantly, what the university intended to teach. He further contended that the cultural results of this period had little to do with the Renaissance and was all a direct result of the printing press.

To quote Drucker, who paraphrased McLuhan;

 "Did I hear you right," asked one of the professors in the audience, "that you think that printing influenced the courses that the university taught and the role of university all together." "No sir," said McLuhan, "it did not influence; printing determined both, indeed printing determined what henceforth was going to be considered knowledge."

Thus this led to McLuhan's famous phrase that the medium is the message. Specifically, as we developed a new medium for human communications, we dramatically altered the nature of the information that was transferred and the way in which the human perceived what was "truth" and what was not. The television generation of the 1960's was an clear example of the impact of television versus film in portraying the war in Vietnam as compared to the Second World War.

The perception of these two events was determined by the difference of the two media that displayed them to the pubic masses. Television allowed for a portrayal that molded more closely to the individual humans impact of the events as compared to films overview of the groups involvement's. Both media deal with the same senses but they are different enough to have determined two different outcomes of the wars. This conclusion is a McLuhanesque conclusion but is consistent with the changes that McLuhan was recounting in the 1960's in his publications.

As we start to see the ongoing complexity of media stuff, the echoes of McLuhan should resonate more loudly. Of all the quotes that I have used over the years I am drawn back to the one above, for as we change media we change knowledge. It is also a question then how quickly do we change our culture.