The McLuhan Century



There will be many words tapped, typed, scribbled, spoken, and edited today, the centenary of Marshall McLuhan’s birth on July 21, 1911 in Edmonton, Alberta.  In Toronto, they are celebrating all week.  It’s a good day to be a McLuhan blogger, except that one scarcely knows where to begin.

How about 2050?

That’s the year I will turn 100, if I am still around, which I plan to be – and why not? Will there still be bloggers? Will even more of McLuhan’s visions appear prophetic? Will they be celebrating again in Toronto? Who will be more famous then, McLuhan or the Motown rapper who shares his first name and initials,Marshall Bruce Mathers III, aka Eminem?

And what of e-books, which is the reason I found my way to this meditation on McLuhan?  No doubt they will be the way we’ll read all books except for ones with a reason to still use paper – coffee table displays of glossy photos and art.  I’ll be reading about five words to a screen by then, so I hope Amazon keeps offering larger and larger fonts.  But the chances of Amazon going the way of Borders by then is certainly greater than zero. If so, I hope the last one out the door will have a way to remove the Digital Rights Management on everything we bought at the Kindle Store.  I’m not worried.

If I had all of McLuhan’s writing in digital form, I could search for 2011 to see if he ever ruminated on his centenary year. By chance, I have happened this morning on a passage in which he looked back 100 years.  This is at page 189 in Understanding Media:

A century ago the British craze for the monocle gave to the wearer the power of the camera to fix people in a superior stare, as if they were objects. Eric von Stroheim did a great job with the monocle in creating the haughty Prussian officer. Both monocle and camera tend to turn people into things, and the photograph extends and multiplies the human image to the proportions of mass-produced merchandise.

The monocle? Is that how fast things fade into silliness? Perhaps my grandson James in 2050, when he will be 44, will be writing something like this:

A century ago, the worldwide craze for hula hoops gave the user the power of the planet to orbit their own bodies. This would give rise to a generation, known as the Baby Boomers, who would each consider themselves the sun of their own solar system.  That generation, addicted to the rhythmic trance of their own movements, would spend the rest of their lives wiggling and demanding to anyone around them, “Look at ME!”

Happy Birthday, Marshall. And many more…

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One Response to The McLuhan Century

  1. SO thoroughly enjoying these McLuthan reflections, Len. As much as I love your podcasts, I’ve missed your regular, ruminative written voice. Keep them coming! – Kes

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