Tag: Marshall McLuhan

McLuhan’s prediction of World War III was spot on

Saturday, 30 June, 2018

1970. What a year: The Beatles released their 12th and final album, Let It Be; Brazil defeated Italy 4–1 to win the World Cup in Mexico; Soviet author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature; Hafez al-Assad seized power in Syria; Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died; Ted Cruz and Rachel Weisz were born, and the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City was topped out at 1,368 feet (417 metres), making it the tallest building in the world.

And Marshall McLuhan’s Culture Is Our Business was published in 1970. Due to the adventurous layout of the book, this collection of quotes and ideas met with mixed reviews and it has dated considerably since publication, but the gems still shine:

“Privacy invasion is now one of biggest knowledge industries.” (page 24)

“World War III is a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.” (page 88)

Who, in 1970, anticipated the business models of Facebook and Google? Who in 1970 would have imagined a world of data thieves like Snowden, disinformation channels like Russia Today, charlatans like Assange, battlefields like Twitter and the cyberspace battlegrounds of World War III…? Only one person did and he was Marshall McLuhan. The Canadian philosopher, professor of English literature, cultural critic and communications theorist coined the expression “the medium is the message” and his work is rightly regarded as a cornerstone of media theory study.

Culture Is Our Business


The Morozov File

Monday, 22 January, 2018 0 Comments

Ever since the great media theorist Marshall McLuhan died in 1980, the search has been on to find a worthy successor. Many have been called but all have failed. Some lacked his intellect, most couldn’t match his wit. For a while it looked as if Neil Postman would carry the torch, but he never said anything as memorable as “the medium is the message.” The latest contender is Evgeny Morozov, who was born in 1984 in Soligorsk, a hideous city in Belarus created by the Soviet tyranny in 1958. Naturally, Morozov fled the ghastly Belarus for the freedom of the USA and there he morphed into a media theorist.

Morozov is very much in touch with the Zeitgeist as his McLuhanian formulations shows. Examples: “data extractivism”, “algorithmic consensus” and “predatory emancipation”. Here’s now he threads this jargon together:

“Any effort to understand why the intensification of the regime of data extractivism has failed to generate widespread discontent has to grapple with the ideological allure of Silicon Valley. Here one can also detect a certain logic at play — a logic of what I call ‘predatory emancipation.’ The paradox at the heart of this model is that we become more and more entangled into political and economic webs spun by these firms even as they deliver on a set of earlier emancipatory promises. They do offer us a modicum of freedom —but it only comes at the cost of greater slavery.”

Evgeny Morozov That’s from a paper he wrote for a Strasbourg quango called the Council of Europe titled DIGITAL INTERMEDIATION OF EVERYTHING: AT THE INTERSECTION OF POLITICS, TECHNOLOGY AND FINANCE (PDF 401KB). It’s turgid stuff, but it goes down well in Europe, especially in Germany, a major funder of Morozovian output, as his dissing of Silicon Valley and his critiques of capitalism is music to the ears of an elite anti-American clique in German media. And, in fact, Morozovian English sounds at times like machine-translated German:

“We are moving towards the model of ‘benevolent feudalism’ — where a number of big industrial and, in our case, post-industrial grants take on the responsibilities of care and welfare — that was postulated by some analysts at the beginning of the 20th century as the future of industrial capitalism as such. It took an extra century to arrive at this vision but any sober analysis of the current situation should dispense with the ‘benevolent’ part of the term and engage much deeper with its ‘feudalism’ part: just because power is exercised upon us differently than in the good old days when the capitalist mode of production ruled supreme and unchallenged does not mean that we are ever more emancipated. After all, plenty of slaveholders in the American South argued that slavery, too, was a much more humane system than capitalism.”

Morozov is no McLuhan but he’s trousering lots of euros for his gadfly vexatiousness. In the end, he’ll turn it into an academic act powered by a Harvard doctorate and tenure will, inevitably, soften his rage against the machine. It’s a long way from Soligorsk to Sunnyvale and although Evgeny Morozov will never publicly thank Silicon Valley for his success, he must, secretly, be grateful for its existence. As Marshall McLuhan once said, “Art is anything you can get away with.”


Marshall McLuhan: today’s media and today’s terror

Wednesday, 15 June, 2016 1 Comment

After Larossi Abballa had killed a French police officer and his partner near Paris on Monday evening, he posted a 12-minute video from the scene to Facebook Live. Speaking in a mix of French and Arabic, he smiled evilly as he urged his viewers to target the police, declared that the Euro 2016 football tournament would “be like a cemetery,” and pondered what to do about the dead couple’s three-year-old son.

“When people get close together they get more savagely impatient with each other,” said Marshall McLuhan in a television interview in 1977. Anticipating the arrival of Facebook Live, he accurately predicted the downsides of social media platforms: “Village people aren’t that much in love with each other, and the global village is a place of very arduous interfaces and very abrasive situations.”

With France in despair and the European Union in disarray, McLuhan foresaw the current rage, the hooliganism and the hatred of the elites: “All forms of violence are a quest for identity… Identity is always accompanied by violence… Ordinary people find the need for violence as they lose their identities, so it’s only the threat to people’s identity that makes them violent.”

McLuhan also anticipated that the likes of Larossi Abballa would use social media to broadcast their nihilism: “Terrorists, hijackers — these are people minus identity. They are determined to make it somehow, to get coverage, to get noticed.”

And in the same interview he predicted the current clash of civilizations: “The literate man can carry his liquor; the tribal man cannot. That’s why in the Moslem world and in the native world booze is impossible. However, literacy also makes us very accessible to ideas and propaganda. The literate man is the natural sucker for propaganda. You cannot propagandize a native. You can sell him rum and trinkets, but you cannot sell him ideas. Therefore, propaganda is our Achilles Heel, our weak point”

Note: Four hours after Larossi Abballa had made his statement on Facebook Live, French police stormed the house in Magnanville, and shot him dead. (The three-year-old boy was unharmed.)


We become what we behold

Sunday, 13 March, 2016 0 Comments

“We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” — Marshall McLuhan

While this quote is often attributed to McLuhan and is said to be found in Understanding Media, it does not appear in his book at all. In fact, it was partially coined — “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” — by Father John Culkin, SJ, a Professor of Communication at Fordham University in New York and a friend of the Canadian intellectual, who explored the idea in A schoolman’s guide to Marshall McLuhan, published in The Saturday Review on 18 March 1967.

Johnny's hands