I am reading the
Playboy interview again. I am returning to it to explore two
hypothesis. One is that McLuhan is doing
psychology of a social phenomena. The other
that he identified cyberspace, though did not
name it as such. It is easy to see from these two hypothesis how
if there is one guru, mentor, theorist my explorations here that
it is McLuhan.
Because of today's terrific speed-up of information moving,
we have a chance to apprehend, predict and influence the
environmental forces shaping us — and thus win back control of
our own destinies. The new extensions of man and the environment
they generate are the central manifestations of the evolutionary
process, and yet we still cannot free ourselves of the delusion
that it is how a medium is used that counts, rather than what it
does to us and with us. This is the zombie stance of the
technological idiot. It's to escape this Narcissus trance
that I've tried to trace and reveal the impact of media on
man, from the beginning of recorded time to the present.
predict and influence the environmental forces
That there are such forces shaping implies a sort of collective
unconscious. He is a brave man to think we can move out of that
Narcissus trance, yet that is his mission – becoming conscious of
the environment we are in.
The new extensions of man and the environment they
Media generates an environmental force we live in a new
world – this is what we would now call cyberspace.
Here is another passage from about half way through the interview:
The electronically induced technological extensions of our
central nervous systems, which I spoke of earlier, are immersing
us in a world-pool of information movement and are thus enabling
man to incorporate within himself the whole of mankind. The
aloof and dissociated role of the literate man of the Western
world is succumbing to the new, intense depth participation
engendered by the electronic media and bringing us back in touch
with ourselves as well as with one another. But the instant
nature of electric-information movement is decentralizing —
rather than enlarging — the family of man into a new state of
multitudinous tribal existences. Particularly in countries where
literate values are deeply institutionalized, this is a highly
traumatic process, since the clash of the old segmented visual
culture and the new integral electronic culture creates a crisis
of identity, a vacuum of the self, which generates tremendous
violence — violence that is simply an identity quest, private
or corporate, social or commercial.
immersing us in a world-pool of information
So we are in a new world we are IN it. But what an interesting and
paradoxical line follows: "incorporate within himself
the whole of mankind" We are both absorbed by the new
environment and at the same time we become, what we can now call a
node in a hologram, each one of us is also the whole. This is very
like the sense we have of the unconscious and collective
unconscious, we seem to be both in it and it is in us. Soul has the
same feel to it, it is not just my soul nor is it all out there. I
love, how in this fairly sober interview McLuhan captures this idea
poetically and emphatically with the word: world-pool…
world-pool, it is just a quirk of history that
this was not the word we use for cyberspace.
I think he is talking about cyberspace and doing
psychology. That is not to say that all that he says seems right.
That is not the point. His approach to the world-pool is what gives
him his real significance as a thinker.
One aspects that is worth probing is the
place of the virtual.
He had not come across the concept of 'virtual' life as we
know it today. He is making a clear distinction between the
mechanical world of Gutenberg and the new electronic era. And
there is a qualitative shift there. The "literate" phase
is distinct from this electronic age of "intense depth
participation". He also speaks of it as going from the tribal
oral culture, through a literate visual more fragmented culture, to
the new return to tribal aural culture. That may be quite right,
but the real qualitative shift comes with the first symbol,
somewhere we move into a very slow moving virtual realm that
intensifies but is in fact cyberspace from the word go.