If any of you are familiar with Saturday Night Life, you might have seen the recurring sketch, MacGruber, which started as a parody of the classic show MacGyver. It soon became its own oddly hilarious thing, and the theme song has been stuck in my head ever since I started reading McLuhan. I tweaked the MacGruber lyrics (which were ridiculous to begin with) for this week’s author:

Takin’ numerous quotations out of textual materials!
Getting’ in and out of ultra-sticky situations
The guy’s a freakin’ genius!

Theme song aside, McLuhan proved a fascinating, albeit sometimes frustrating and often confusing read. He seems to posit ideas and theories as fast as he can think of them, embedding quotations that seem to him to apply at the drop of a hat. The seemingly abrupt shifts in thought and complexity of concepts sometimes makes McLuhan hard to understand, but some elements in his work really shined through for me.

Perhaps the part that I best grasped and was most interested in was his discussion of the loss of centrality because of electronic media, and the implosion that develops (p 35-6). Rather than explode from some center, there is an implosion, a movement inward (and not necessarily toward a central point). His concept of the “global village” best illustrates this rather esoteric assertion, a concept we explored in great depth in the Globalization course I took last semester. Electronic media such as the internet have brought the people of the world closer together than ever before, “shrinking” time and space. I can wave at a neighbor across the street while I talk on the phone with a friend in England, and text a friend in New York. In fact, I may be closer, through electronic media, to my English friend than to the individuals closest to me–my physical neighbors on my street or even in my apartment complex. I rarely speak to my neighbor across the breezeway; I talk to my friends from high school who are dispersed across the country much more frequently. The world is closer together, in closer contact, through the immediacy of electronic media; thus individuals move inward, closer together, rather than exploding outward. Compare the global village idea (the world-wide, close contact that develops because of contemporary technology) to the era of discovery and exploration. When mechanisms were developing for world travel, society exploded outward, with ships sailing across the Atlantic to the Americas, and later railroads forming across the country to take people to the frontiers.

The previous “mechanical” age may have been marked by explosion, but it is not altogether separate from the implosion McLuhan relates to electronic media. He sees railroads as mechanical and explosive; however, their ability to take cargo and humans from point A to point B faster than any machine before it actually serves as a kind of “implosion”–a shrinking of space and time so that people reach each other faster, and goods reach destinations more swiftly. Airplanes, another machine, increased this speed, so that I can now travel across the world in mere hours. Truly, machines as well as electronics are bringing people in closer contact quicker, creating this sense of “implosion.” In this sense, McLuhans distinctions are not altogether clear.

Throughout the work, McLuhan seems to be espousing a decentralized point of view. With the immediacy and scope of electronic media comes the destruction of the need of some central point. Take the internet as an example, which is cluttered and decentralized in nature. It does not resolve around any one point but has multiple “centers.” The same is true for the global financial market (which relies on electronic media). The financial market has no one global center, but several hubs (New York and London included). This notion of decentralization is particularly relevant to the structuralist and post-structuralist issues we will be soon discussing, since structure often implies a base or central frame. In an electronic world, can we find some sense of centrality, or does the post-modern idea of decentralized fragmentation prevail?

Things that I didn’t quite understand and that bothered me immensely:

  • Hot and cold media (he sometimes seems to contradict himself; also the section resulted in Katy Perry getting stuck in my head for two days)
  • Autoamputation in terms of technology (I understand to some extent but his analogies to the central nervous system, biology, and Narcissus seem somewhat stretched or not quite explicated clearly)

I know there are more things I struggled with, and I may post them as they come to mind; however, I’ll leave you with this for now and call it a night!


2 thoughts on “MCLUHAN!”

  1. I think it’s interesting how in class yesterday, we had a lengthy discussion how people of our generation and younger generations are beginning to think more horizontally, focusing on many things at once and drawing connection between many diverse things, due to the development of such technologies as television and the internet; however, despite this expansion of horizontal thinking you (and I, and I gather others of the class) found McLuhan’s jumping between points, random quotations, and “probes” to be frustrating or distracting, even though that arrangement may represent a more horizontal mentality. Is this frustration due, perhaps, to residual mentality of the Gutenberg Age? Or is it perhaps because he is employing this horizontal mentality in print, a fundamentally linear medium? It could be that, while such horizontality works well in conversation, or on the internet, or in TV (many subplots to an episode, broken up by commercials, and the episodes themselves separated by weeks), it does not function in print because it is contrary to the character of the medium. Just as McLuhan claims that television does not work as well when it is “hotted up” because it is cool by nature, perhaps print becomes frustrating when it is “horizontalized” (that’s not a word, I know) because it is linear by nature.

    That seems like the way McLuhan might defend his “probes” and explain your frustration. or, he might choose to tell me that I “know nothing of his work.”

  2. I was quite confused as well by McLuhan’s idea of autoamputation. He suggests that we have created technology based upon our own central nervous system. By creating a technology that can think and process, have we imitated or ‘extended’ our image like Narcissus? I sense implications! Are we doomed to stare and drool over what we have created? Is this the numbing effect of technology? McLuhan’s terminology surrounding our technological extension is rather disturbing: “it is a development that suggests a desperate and suicidal autoamputation” (43). GAH! That’s not ok. I did not appreciate his reference to Blake or the Psalmist – or any of his literary references, as a matter of fact. He refers to us as servomechanisms in relation to the machine just as “an Indian is the servo-mechanism of his canoe” (46). Does this mean that if we disrespect or misuse our technology that it will capsize and drown us? That seems a little reminiscent of Wiener. All in all, I will never think the same of the phrase “The Gadget Lover.”

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