Saturday, September 19, 2009

What if Marshall McLuhan was alive and on Twitter?

Marshall's Diary Sept 19 2009

Dear Diary:

If anyone had really bothered to read any of my books and paid attention they'd know that so-called “social media” is (a) a disagreeable tautology and (b) my invention.

Just today I came across a new example of said social media, hideously described as a “new invention” (tautology!) and named, in typical twee fashion, Twitter. The chattering classes are now the twittering classes, and everyone is aflutter about how this is revolutionizing the way we communicate.

Reluctantly, I need to join the flock. I need to make it plain that if it wasn't for my genius, foresight and erudition we'd all still be licking stamps and twiddling the rabbit-ears on the tops of our television sets, or something like that. I'm the Global Village Guy, goddammit!

My start with Twitter was not auspicious. When I tried to register as “Marshall McLuhan” I discovered that a namesake had already taken my identity, complete with my photograph (not too bad, actually). The impostor has the gall to be quoting me as me (tautology?). I took this as a considerable affront, especially since some of the material wasn't exactly in context, if there is any context to be “in” on the Internet (Note to self: Is there a book in this idea? Maybe the OuterNet???).

I tried reaching the owners of Twitter to no avail (employees of Twitter are Twits, I presume, har-har). I later found out that when it comes to having an identity crisis I'm in very good company: also on Twitter is Albert Einstein (rambling), Charles Darwin (literally rambling, he seems to have restarted his journey on The Beagle), and even by good pal Marty Heidegger (who pretty much out-rambles anyone I know).

Anyway, after extensive clicking I discovered I was relegated to “MarshallMcLuhan2,” which is humiliating to say the very least. Now that I think about it, this Global Village thingy has a way of humbling you. All the world is within my reach and I feel as small as an ant.

But now to work. I need to regain myself. And most important, I have to set the record straight on why I nailed the whole social media thingy way back in 1960-something, before even The Beatles and when computers ran on rolls of paper just like my dear mother's Player Piano, and when newspapers actually made money. But I digress....

I thought a pithy first post might be this little zinger:

MarhsallMcLuhan2: In Tetrad form, the artifact is seen to be not neutral or passive, but an active logos or utterance of the human mind or body that transforms the user and his ground.

Captures the whole idea nicely I think. Not too obvious, straightforward or dare I say it, even intelligible to anyone who hasn't pondered my opus for some considerable time. Then this happened:

MarshallMcLuhan2: In Tetrad form, the artifact is seen to be not neutral or passive, but an active logos or utterance of the human mind or body that transforms...

Turns out, Twitter assumes we all have an attention span of the average newt and limits posts to a meager 140 characters. A Dickens novel has more than 140 characters! “Existential angst” has 16 characters alone!

Crap. Ah, to hell with it:

MarshallMcLuhan2: The medium is the message.


"When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself. Anybody moving into a new world loses identity...So loss of identity is something that happens in rapid change. But everybody at the speed of light tends to become a nobody. This is what's called the masked man. The masked man has no identity. He is so deeply involved in other people that he doesn't have any personal identity."
-- The real McLuhan, quoted in Forward Through The Rearview Mirror


Erik said...

I think you are an agreeable tautology. Very Zen.

Ian Bruce said...

Thanks Erik.

Heresiarch said...

I rescued from cassette this talk that Marshall McLuhan gave at Johns Hopkins University in the mid 1970s. I have not found an audio file of this talk anywhere online. So far as I know it's an original contribution to the archive of McLuhan audio. Enjoy. Rare McLuhan Audio

Ian Bruce said...

Heresiarch, thanks for the great audio and sorry for the very late response. I keep remembering McLuhan on Woody Allen's Annie Hall, and wondering what he would make of the modern media world.