Of Dogs, Cars and the Future of Man

I’ve read an entire chapter of Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media this morning, looking for a connection with the above photo that I took yesterday at Ocean Park. Nothing. Marshall is in rare form, toying with the automobile like–thank you very much, O blogger Muse–a Labradoodle playing with a ball at the beach.

Who’s having more fun–the dog in the photo or the man who wrote the following description of the automobile fifty years ago?

The car gave to the democratic cavalier his horse and armor and haughty insolence in one package, transmogrifying the knight into a misguided missile.  p. 223

“The Mechanical Bride” – that’s McLuhan’s epithet for the motorcar, which he admires even as he foretells its demise, or at least its ceding of center stage to all things electric.  And no, he did not see Ford’s SYNC MyFord Touch coming, much less the next wave of social media in a can, the Ford Evos.  Or did he?

The simple and obvious fact about the car is that, more than any horse, it is an extension of man that turns the rider into a superman. It is a hot, explosive medium of social communication.  p. 221

If only he’d written “social media” instead of “social communication,” McLuhan might have gotten credit for inventing Facebook as well as “the asphalt jungle,” a term he did in fact coin, at page 224.  But this Mashable description of Ford’s Evos concept car certainly fits the extension-of-man idea that is central to McLuhan’s understanding of all technological advances:

According to Ford, the vehicle gives its driver the ability to tap into this “personal cloud” of information at any time — for example, picking up where the driver left off on that favorite song he or she was listening to inside the house. The vehicle’s smart systems monitor its driver’s “physical state and workload,” adjusting the car’s handling, heating, cooling and music to suit the driver’s level of alertness, perhaps even keeping him from falling asleep.

I’m glad to see that Ford is not resting on its SYNC head start, but my Edge of the Road podcast is going to get a lot more expensive than its Kindle cousin if I have to keep buying new Fords to keep up with the curve. Not going to happen. So I hope my humble 2012 Ford Focus will get the benefit of a few Evos concept innovations, as software updates.

You can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out if Marshall McLuhan was sane. For example, do we credit the following conclusion of his motorcar chapter as evidence that he was an eerie seer, or a witty blatherer who was usually off in his predictions by at least a decade?

The car, in a word, has quite refashioned all of the spaces that unite and separate men, and it will continue to do so for a decade more, by which time the electronic successors to the car will be manifest.

McLuhan wrote those words in a book that was published in 1964.  I’m thinking of 1974, when I was working as a cub reporter at The Woonsocket (R.I.) Call, driving a Saab 96. I don’t remember much electronics on that classic vehicle, though the free-wheel feature was very cool.  When you took your foot off the gas, it would slide into coast mode, increasing gas mileage. I managed to find a photo of one in the very color we had, a pale and serene blue.

Yesterday’s photo shoot with Charlie, who is my daughter’s Labradoodle, was all about the ecstasy of motion and play. He leaped into the waves after his ball and pranced back with it as if he’d invented the wheel.  You couldn’t help but smile, and I set a slideshow of him to the song “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” by Randy Newman.  If you’re reading this on your Kindle, you’ll need to switch to something else before you click here to watch it.  Enjoy!


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