As someone who is interested in the emergence of technologies and their impact on society, I’m completely intrigued by the work of Marshall McLuhan. So, when I opened George Siemen’s weekly email (an invaluable resource), I was immediately drawn to the mention of the McLuhan resource at the Canadian Broadcast Centre (CBC). The CBC has nine audio tapes and nine television pieces on McLuhan, his life and his work. It’s an absolutely fascinating resource for those interested in McLuhan.

I would think that McLuhan is most known for his book “Understanding Media” which contains the provocative statement “the medium is the message.” Basically, McLuhan suggests that the medium, and its impact, is the most important consideration, it’s the message itself. A more eloquent description is from Mark Federman.

“Thus we have the meaning of “medium is the message.” We can know the nature of characteristics of anything we conceive or create (medium) by virtue of the changes-often unnoticed and non-obvious changes-that they effect (message),”

The obvious question here is about the impact of the emergence, growth and development of the Web 2.0 platform, and its potential impact (its message). We’ve already seen how this platform has impacted politics in the United States, and given rise to the citizen journalist, etc. etc.

What I found particularly interesting was the first video(#2), and its description of a new set of media and their perceived impact (again, the message). Here is the transcript of the beginning:

Well, there they are. Our new electronic media or our new gadgets, you push a button and the world’s yours. You know they talk about the world getting smaller, well, it’s thanks to these that it is.

Everywhere is now our own neighborhood.

We know what its like to go on safari in Kenya, or to have an audience with the Pope, or order a cognac in a Paris cafe.

Not only is the world getting smaller, it’s becoming more available and more familiar to our minds and our emotions.

The world is now a global village. A global village.

Does that sound familiar? Could that be a similar description to Web 2.0 and the ability of people to network, to form communities, to develop connections, to make the world smaller, to create a place where “everywhere is now our own neighborhood?

That video was shown on May 18, 1960.

So, as much as our world changes, our perceptions in many ways remain the same.

I would encourage everyone to take a look at the work of McLuhan, and others who have gone before. Much of it can provide a rock solid foundation from which to work.

People have thought of this stuff before…

Note: see Gary Stager’s excellent list of books about education; be sure to read his review of “A Schoolmaster of the Great City” by Angelo Patri.


8 Responses to “Time Stamp”
  1. Linda says:

    I think it’s not only perception, but availability. There have been films in libraries for years but who has hours to peruse them? And who can judge a video by its cover? Think of how much easier it is now to sit at your computer and guide your mouse to find anything you want. Availability has made a huge difference.

  2. Artichoke says:

    Thanks for the resource links David – I must read more McLuhan and though as Linda suggests I will struggle with time to view and do prefer to skitter over text I would like to hear his voice articulate the ideas.

    I am interested in your comments on the “global village” and the framing of this against Web2.0 etc

    I have not read enough McLuhan to be certain and am relying on an interpretation about McLuhan’s thinking from Wikipedia BUT I have always thought his use of “global village” was pejorative rather than optimistic.

    Is the Wikipedia suggestion that we misrepresent McLuhan’s views of the global village stuff correct?

    In the early 1960s, McLuhan wrote that the visual, individualistic print culture would soon be brought to an end by what he called “electronic interdependence”: when electronic media replace visual culture with aural/oral culture. In this new age, humankind will move from individualism and fragmentation to a collective identity, with a “tribal base.” McLuhan’s coinage for this new social organization is the global village, a term which has predominantly negative connotations in The Gutenberg Galaxy (a fact lost on its later popularizers):

    Instead of tending towards a vast Alexandrian library the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as an infantile piece of science fiction. And as our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside. So, unless aware of this dynamic, we shall at once move into a phase of panic terrors, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drums, total interdependence, and superimposed co-existence. [...] Terror is the normal state of any oral society, for in it everything affects everything all the time. [...] In our long striving to recover for the Western world a unity of sensibility and of thought and feeling we have no more been prepared to accept the tribal consequences of such unity than we were ready for the fragmentation of the human psyche by print culture.[30]

    Note again McLuhan’s stress on the importance of awareness of a medium’s cognitive effects. He argues that, if we are not vigilant to the effects of media’s influence, the global village has the potential to become a place where totalitarianism and terror rule. Wikipedia Marshall McLuhan

  3. Keith Johnson says:

    Thanks for your unabashed confession of being ‘completely intrigued’ by McLuhan. I have been too, though I never have enough time to truly read him and explore him as I should. Bits of the research and reading I’ve done on him revealed what sounded like current disdain towards him and his dated ideas. Huh? Everything I’ve ever read from McLuhan (sometimes filtered through the late Neil Postman, who I also really enjoy) is dead on, and can be easily related or reinterpreted to fit today’s obsession with technology tools. A year ago I was working on a technology conference presentation idea that I thought was long overdue. I used McLuhan and Postman and Stoll to (ahem) marshal the research and thinking to support my arguments on the topic titled: “One Curmudgeon’s View of the Worthless World of Technology” (yes, over-the-top negativity to balance the over-the-top positivity of the over-sell of technology for education). I submitted this presentation idea for the annual FETC (Florida Educational Technology Conference) after having presented there a couple of years prior, but it was rejected. I’ve saved the rejection letter, savoring the irony, or non-irony rather, of the rejection. Your post and alert to those audio recordings of McLuhan are going to re-stimulate my reading/listening to McLuhan. Glad to find one kindred McLuhan spirit out and about and talking about him. Thanks. Also, I just found your blog via Doug Johnson’s blog (linked off the topic of Twittering, of all things), so will be revisiting to read your interesting thoughts.

  4. Artichoke says:

    Ahh Keith …. I wish I’d had your conference experience to link to in the latest Artichoke post Things you seldom hear discussed at an (e) learning conference.

    I am also enjoying Larry Cuban’s thinking with respect to balancing the arguments over technology use in school

  5. DSJ says:


    I had to look up pejorative. :)

    I, too, suffer from a lack of deep understanding about McLuhan’s ideas and I need to dig further.

    I did find this, which I think provides some additional views, with an interesting explanation of the books title (The Medium is the Massage), how it arose, as well as a citation to an interesting example about railroads and how the concept of the “medium is the message” relates to a “change in scale.” The page also contains a description of the concept of the global village. I look through the site to see who produced it, and that information was not readily available, so judge accordingly.

    I also find the last sentence of this quote interesting:
    “In Understanding Media he put the matter this way: “…since the inception of the telegraph and radio, the globe has contracted, spatially, into a single large village. Tribalism is our only resource since the electro-magnetic discovery. Moving from print to electronic media we have given up an eye for an ear.” (xii-xiii)”

    Moving from print to electronic media we have given up an eye for an ear…I wonder what McLuhan would have said about YouTube, given this statement. But I also think that, given the concept of the change of scale, YouTube is an absolutely wonderful example of his idea of “medium is the message.” We have, for a number of years, had access to video. Like the railroad example of the page:

    “The railway did not introduce movement or transportation or wheel or road into human society, but it accelerated and enlarged the scale of previous human functions, creating totally new kinds of cities and new kinds of work and leisure.”

    YouTube did not introduce video but it certainly did accelerate the idea and reality of a participatory platform surrounding video.

    I would enjoy your thoughts.

  6. DSJ says:

    Keith: Obviously no surprise that you were rejected, but balance is healthy isn’t it? Right now I believe that your statement “over-the-top positivity of the over-sell of technology for education” bears a great deal of weight. Personally, I see so much focus on tools, when the focus should be, in my opinion, on the fundamental literacies that schools believe in, whatever they may be. What is the best methodology for developing those skills in students? If that includes technology, then so be it. While there is a place for technology certainly, I often think of the classroom that has a dedicated and prepared teacher, a group of kids that want to learn, and a good set of transparencies. You can go many places with that. That being said, I like this a great deal, from Henry Jenkins, et. al. in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (, p. 19., which provides an eloquent description of the fragile balance…

    “The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking. These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom.”

    One would think that technology could fit into anyone of those areas (collaboration, networking, etc), and that the wise application would be a value-added learning experience.

    Thanks for your comment.

  7. DSJ says:

    Linda: your statement, “Availability has made a huge difference…” is interesting. The digital networks that we now inhabit enable this access, and afford us with a never ending stream of available content. You could argue that this is McLuhan’s message, that the ability to deliver content to users, and not the content itself, is the message….thanks for taking the time to comment.

  8. Melanie says:

    Hey – I was one of the writers on the CBC archives site. It’s a great site though I am entirely biased of course :)

    I didn’t get McLuhan sadly, so I wrote this instead:

    Having the opportunity to study and be mentored by two of his former colleagues at The University of Toronto was formative to my thinking. And it also helped to dispel many of the myths that surround this great Trixter. After I wrote the piece I heard from both of McLuhan’s sons who said I had gotten their father right – where many other journalists had not. I think it’s the fact that I talked to people who truly understood McLuhan – and not simply sycophants.

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