Friday, January 16, 2009

The Wave of the Future: From Four Causes to Four Laws or McLuhan Revisited

Paul Schumann

"...the wave of the future...the wave of the future...the wave of the future...the wave of the future...
Attributed to Howard Hughes, "The Aviator"

The origin of this work is a couple of Monday Morning Memos from Roy Williams, and an article by Norman Mailer . The questions raised caused me to think about Marshal McLuhan and the books I read about 30 years ago. I posted a quick response to Mailer's article based on my recollection. But I realized that I must reread McLuhan. So, I reread those books, this time to the point that I'm beginning to understand, as well as some additional material I researched. The result is this article. This article is not an attempt to justify or critique McLuhan, it is merely an attempt to understand him and communicate my understanding to you.

McLuhan began his study of media with work on advertising that culminated in his book The Mechanical Bride. The first book I read by McLuhan was Understanding Media that was published in 1964. He was an academic who refused to act like one. He was criticized for his use of media to get his message out, an undeserved criticism. He felt strongly about the necessity for everyone to 'wake up' and become aware of the invisible effects of media, not the message, on our culture. He was not a critic or an advocate of the changes he was describing. He was like an artist trying to show others what he saw.

He was a poet and philosopher, not a scientist. He was similar to Lucretius who wrote an epic poem describing his philosophy of the world.

His writing is dense, with references to a vast amount of knowledge not possessed by the ordinary reader and filled with poetics, making his work difficult to understand.

"By the mid-1970s, a number of books appeared attacking McLuhan's work, branding him too conservative, too Catholic, too flippant and, above all, arguing that he was a technological determinist. Emboldened by the intellectuals, newspaper reviewers trashed his latest books. Undaunted, McLuhan begins his work on the Laws of Media, his grand unified theory...But, by the time he formulated the Laws, McLuhan had lost his audience. Journalist were baffled by him and most academics were dismissive. "

Remember as you read this, McLuhan was a poet. For example, even if his explanation of the physiology of TV is incorrect, his understanding of the effects of TV is profound.

I found his observations about the culture we are in now to be shockingly profound. So, I put myself in the category of Tom Wolfe when he wrote, "What if he's right? "

This article begins with a brief description of the Four Causes of Reality and then describes some of McLuhan's observations - the medium is the message, hot and cool media, pre-literate to literate to post literate, my interpretation of the characteristics of the post literate society, and the four laws. It closes with a discussion of the wave of the future.

Read Complete Article The Wave of the Future

See also slide show The Wave of the Future: Revisiting Marshall McLuhan

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