Posts Tagged ‘Marshall McLuhan’

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Class 5: From Hammer to Pixel

October 24, 2019

Dudley Dreamscape led the class discussion on Marshall McLuhan.

This week we were joined by Dudley Dreamscape who led the class discussion about the influence of Marshall McLuhan on our thinking about digital media, online and virtual environments in the 21st Century. Introducing Dudley, John noted that along with Sitearm Madonna, he had a perfect score when he participated in the module some years ago. Not surprising, perhaps, for a communications professor at the University of Akron! Also joining the class was a fellow graduate of Dudley’s, Inish Karu who had a reputation as a fearsome SL pirate but, judging from her current avatar, has since mellowed somewhat.

Inish Karu, who participated in the module with Dudley some years ago.

After introducing McLuhan’s basic ideas to the class Dudley asked you to consider how they might be interpreted today. His remarkable prescience was noted – he foresaw the internet 35 years before it was developed – describing the transformation of our disconnected 20th Century world in a Global Village facilitated through an electronic nervous system. Of course all tools developed by humans can be used for good or ill. You gave many examples of the downside of our always-on society and the attention-grabbing power of connected devices. This can lead to the  echo chamber effect whereby our sphere of understanding and experience shrinks as the dissenting voices are silenced or eliminated.

Dudley explained McLuhan’s belief that while humans develop tools to help us with our tasks the same tools change us and our society. It is difficult to predict the type of change that will come about therefore vigilance is crucial. That is why it is so important not to overlook the medium while digesting the message. The medium (ie, the tool) has a longer lasting and deeper effect on our lives than the message it carries. Although McLuhan’s thinking can be difficult to grasp at times the basic concepts are quite clear and seemed to resonate with the class. This was due, in no small part, to Dudley’s generosity as he led us through the complexity, distilling the essence and encouraging a deeper engagement with the propositions. Please continue this as you begin work on your projects.

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Class 5: From Hammer to Pixel

March 14, 2019

Since our last class the first assessment has been completed and feedback posted to Brightspace for everyone who submitted. John reminded you to read both elements of the feedback carefully: your level for each criterion on the rubric and the general comment. If anyone would like individual feedback a tutorial can be arranged in SL.

We then had an interesting discussion on the value of Marshall McLuhan’s thinking for today’s society. John encouraged you to use voice rather than text so that you start getting some experience of speaking virtually. This is good practice for delivering the presentation of the Team Project and also allows for a quicker response and more dynamic interaction. However, it emerged that not everyone was in a position to use voice. Some of you were in a cafe, another didn’t have a functioning mic and others just didn’t want to! So we proceeded with a combination of talk and text.

The discussion began by considering the impact of different media on society. The shift from an oral to written culture, McLuhan suggested, had a very particular impact on people that was only beginning to be recognised in his era. He was interested in the impact resulting from the change to a visual culture. He argued that literacy as a form of awareness is objective. It supports the ability to stand back and observe situations objectively. The, at that time, new medium of television was introducing a visual awareness, one that is subjective, because it is so involving.

We tried to review the impact that the last 40 or so years of television has had on society, particularly in light of the emergence of the web and access-on-demand. This change from a mass medium that saw audiences numbered in the millions consuming the same programme at the same time to asynchronous viewing must surely impact on our awareness. The emergence of the ‘echo-chamber’ effect, where social media insulates us in a bubble of our peers seems to have made society vulnerable to detrimental manipulation as seen in the election of Trump and the result of the Brexit referendum.

We noticed how difficult it can be not to end up making value judgements and the impossibility of predicting how individuals and society will react. Referring to McLuhan’s concern that 20th century man was shuffling towards the 21st century in the shackles of the 19th century, we concluded that awareness is a key ability we need to nurture. By attempting to remain aware of the impact that technology is having on us we can at least minimise a blinkered descent into the unknown.

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Class 5: McLuhan and Stiegler

October 24, 2018

The discussion this week began with the question of some of the things that make us, as human beings, different from other inhabitants of the planet. Starting with the suggestion of opposable thumbs we eventually landed the human facility to develop sophisticated tools as the key differentiator.

Writing in the second half of the 20th century Marshall McLuhan suggested that tools are an extension of what we can do and, ultimately, an extension of ourselves. John referred to the reading from the previous week where the example was offered that if you pick up a hammer you don’t simply have a hammer in your hand you have a ‘hammerhead’ You’ve changed both the hammer and your hand. You have created a new functionality that neither object had before. While this gives you an ability to do things you couldn’t previously it also limits your perspective: you are now predisposed to hammering nails into things! Tools change the the way we interact with the world – they change us – they change society – they have an effect on our environment.

To understand the power of our tools McLuhan asked us to consider how we perceive the world around us; how is information coming to us: through our eyes, ears, finger tips? We talked about the nature of painting versus photography; radio versus tv and live interaction versus virtual reality. For example, listening to the radio is often done in conjunction with other tasks such as cooking, tidying or driving whereas tv tends to absorb all our attention (using tv as an example required some imagination on your part as none of you actually looks at tv the way my generation does but, the analogy was clear). This is a simple demonstration of how the medium, while somewhat invisible, shapes our behaviour.

Bernard Stiegler proposes the use of the Greek word Pharmakon in relation to tools, to acknowledge they are both the cure and the illness. He is thinking particularly of media technology. While tv absorbed the viewer’s attention fully there has been a distinct shift in our consumption of contemporary digital media (particularly social media). The result is a move from deep attention and engagement to a fragmentation of attention in short bursts, across a range of platforms.

The danger, as McLuhan put it, is that we are ‘shuffling towards the 21st century in the shackles of 19th century perceptions’. He urged us to try and be aware of the impact the tools we use repeatedly is having on our perception and understanding of our reality. This becomes increasingly important once we realise that our way of living is bringing about the demise of the planet’s ability to sustain our civilisation.

These are some of the concepts you should engage with in developing your project.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE NEXT CLASS:

  1. Read: Digital Identity Development is a Process. [accessed 25 October 2018].
  2. Read: Syrian lesbian blogger is revealed conclusively to be a married man. [accessed 25 October 2018].
  3. Look at: the infographic Personal Branding: 10 Steps to a New Professional You. [accessed 25 October 2018].
  4. Write the fifth post: to your blog describing and reflecting on the progress of your group towards developing an approach to the project.

ADDITIONAL READING:

  1. The Medium is the Massage is Marshall McLuhan’s best known work, written in partnership with graphic designer Quentin Fiore [accessed 25 October 2018].
  2. The other well-known concept developed by McLuhan is the Global Village [accessed 25 October 2018].
  3. Extrapolating on McLuhan: How Media Environments of the Given, the Represented, and the Induced Shape and Reshape Our Sensorium provides a deeper analysis of McLuhan. [accessed 25 October 2018].
  4. Reading Bernard Stiegler is a useful introduction to Stiegler’s work by academic and blog writer Sam Kinsley.
  5. Dive right into Stiegler and read Escaping the Anthropocene if enjoyed the theme of the discussion in class [accessed 25 October 2018].
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Class 4: Media and messages

November 2, 2017

As we moved into November a few scheduling clashes and misfortunes (coupled with this being reading week at DIT) led to the class being held on Thursday this week rather than the usual Wednesday. In addition, the class summary is being posted very much later than usual. Apologies from John and Glenn for disturbing the normal routine but it could not be helped (and thank you for your understanding).

All of you had read the blog post about ‘painfully coming to grips with The Medium is the Message’ and some of you even went on to read the more academic text describing Marshall McLuhan’s influence on ‘reshaping our sensorium’. This led to a lively and informed discussion about McLuhan’s philosophical ideas as expressed in his 1967 collaboration with graphic designer Quentin Fiore, The Medium is the Massage.

We arrived at an understanding of the basis of his theory that mankind is defined by the ability to develop tools – tools that then reshape and redefine the very nature of man and society. Furthermore, we noted that language, and communication in general, is really a tool that has had, and continues to have, the greatest influence on our society. The rapid development of communication technology throughout the 20th Century, culminating with the mass entertainment format of television, was identified by McLuhan to be as significant as the development of speech, writing and printing.

It is clear that we cannot know in what way our tools will affect society. But, McLuhan goes further and suggests that these very tools ‘massage’ us into believing they are merely neutral channels of communication while in fact the tools are having a greater impact on our development than the messages they carry. This development is incremental and not easy to perceive. We cannot predict the future so at best we should try maintain an awareness of the influences of our tools.

We suggested that the digital revolution currently playing out seems to be even more evidence in favour of McLuhan’s theories. His concept of the Global Village coming to life with virtual reality and social media. We will look at this again next class in the context to the group project.

No activities were set for the following week.

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Class 8: Is the medium the message?

March 22, 2015

Last week students were asked to watch a lecture by Prof Axel Bruns but the link was faulty – while the slides accompanying the talk were visible the lecture itself was missing. So, the correct link will  be posted this week and we will discuss the idea of ‘Prosumer to Produser: Understanding User-Led Content’ in another class.

This week in class we discussed Marshall McLuhan’s proposal that the ‘medium is the message’. Use of the smart phone emerged as the dominant theme, particularly the way in which it appears to have replaced face-to-face encounters for many people today.

marshall-mcluhan-quote-the-medium-is-the-message-this-is-merely-to.

ACTIVITIES FOR NEXT CLASS:

  • Watch and listen: to the lecture ‘From Prosumer to Produser: Understanding User-Led Content Creation‘ by Prof Axel Bruns (Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland Institute of Technology) explains his theory of user-led collaborative content creation.
  • Write the eighth post to your blog explaining how Marshall McLuhan’s theories inform the thinking behind this class.
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