Marshall McLuhan What Are You Doing?

Today is Marshall’s 100th birthday (or would have been if he hadn’t been knocked out by a stroke over 20 years ago).

So, why the big fuss?  What’s important about Marshall today?

John Donabie from Canada’s premier jazz station Jazz.FM91 wondered the same thing…so he interviewed me on-air (click here to listen).

First, full disclosure.  I studied for my Masters with McLuhan in 1972 because I wanted to understand media and perception better. It was an amazing year.

Here’s what I learned and here’s why he is still important today.

1. Media extend of our senses. TV extends the eye. Radio, the ear.  The internet extends both.

2. We are becoming more tribal (McLuhan said it in the 60s). The consequence is that we have less interest in what those outside our ‘tribe’ say and more interest in reinforcing our ‘belonging‘. The internet has put ‘tribalism’ on steroids.  This explains everything from the Tea Party ‘tribe’ to the Apple ‘tribe’.  It creates an environment in which very smart ‘generalists’ will prosper because they are the only ones who can provide true ‘context’.

3. We aren’t really aware of how deeply we are being changed because we are immersed in it.  As McLuhan said, “I don’t know who discovered water but I know it wasn’t a fish“.

4. We need touchstones to keep us focused. McLuhan keeps us focused on media, on technological change, on what it’s doing to us.

In an age when all the focus is on tech, on social networking (the ultimate world of tribes), and on what’s new, it’s nice to know that a man born 100 years ago has ideas that are still fresh today.

If you’ve never read The Gutenberg Galaxy or Understanding Media, you might want to buy yourself a birthday present to see how they hold up 50 years on.

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