: New: Book Report: Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!

It's a quick, light biograpy of Marshall McLuhan. Before I read this book, all I knew about Marshall McLuhan was "The Medium is the Message" and he was some pundit who cheerleaded ("cheerled"?) us into the television age. Except I learned something from this book: McLuhan wasn't cheerleading. He wasn't saying "It's great that we're heading into this age of constant connectedness." He was deploring it. But when people hear bad news, they're inclined to blame the messenger.

I work at an internet company. Every so often some internet company bigwig says something like "Privacy is history, get over it." And folks just explode: why doesn't this bigwig care about our privacy? I bet this happens to cops who give safety advice to small towns that grow up into big cities.

"Wow, two houses got broken into last week. What should we do?"

  "To avoid break-ins, you could lock your front doors."

"Why are you trying to destroy our cozy community with this talk of door-locking!?!"

McLuhan figured out some things about how massive changes in communication technology would change society. He spoke up about the things he'd figured out. He wasn't 100% right, but he was remarkably right for a futurist pundit. People who didn't like television hated his message. But he studied the classics, wasn't a fan of all this new-fangled noise himself.

He was a skilled speaker. He was an impatient listener—one reason he wasn't better at refuting others' arguments is that he'd get bored listening to deep discussion, would break in with some witty one-liner... that ended the argument but didn't really address the point. When he wrote stuff down (instead of chattering on TV talk shows), his text was dense, hard to follow. No wonder so many folks (including me) formed their opinion of his work based on those talk shows, based on other people's reactions to his words.

Tags: book entertainment industry

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