The Medium is the Massage

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Another zippy work from Marshall McLuhan, so fresh and relevant in 2016 and yet published in 1967. Quintin Fiore did the graphic design for the book, which helps it tremendously. McLuhan coined the oft-quoted “medium is the message” and the mis-titling of this book as “massage” instead of “message” is claimed to have been due to a printer’s error on the cover that breathed fresh life into what had been quickly becoming a clichĂ©. If in 1967 we were already talking about “electronic information devices for the universal, tyrannical womb-to-tomb surveillance” that caused privacy issues, where on earth are we now, 50 years later? “What’s that buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzing?” McLuhan asks… it very well might be my cellphone vibrating with messages. He’s highly literate, dropping in Joyce quotes and wordplay while striving to outline the disease that loomed large on the horizon. It’s fun to read, like all of his stuff.

Once again, as in Mechanical Bride, he references Poe’s mariner in the Descent into the Maelstrom who avoids disaster by understanding the whirlpool’s action. “His insight offers a possible stratagem for understanding our predicament, our electrically-configured whirl.”

“We have had to shift our stress of attention from action to reaction… At the high speeds of electronic communication, purely visual means of apprehending the world are no longer possible; they are just too slow to be relevant or effective. Unhappily, we confront this new situation with an enormous backlog of outdated mental and psychological responses. We have been left d-a-n-g-l-i-n-g. Our most impressive words and thoughts betray us—they refer only to the past, not to the present.”

“Our official culture is striving to force the new media to do the work of the old. These are difficult times because we are witnessing a clash of cataclysmic proportions between two great technologies. We approach the new with the psychological conditioning and sensory responses to the old. This clash naturally occurs in transitional periods. In late medieval art, for instance, we was the fear ofhte new print technology expressed in the theme The Dance of Death. Today, similar fears are expressed in the Theater of the Absurd. Both represent a common failure: the attempt to do a job demanded by the new environment with the tools of the old.”