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Episode 47: McLuhan Returns! Understanding Media Today

October 23 @ 4:00 pm 5:30 pm PDT

From the dawn of the television and through the Mad Men era there was one media prophet to whom the world would turn: Professor Marshall McLuhan. It was McLuhan who observed that the Medium is the Message, and that electronic media would turn us all into participants in a Global Village. His 1964 book Understanding Media remains foundational to building and understanding the use of new media: it informs to everything we do in Silicon Valley and Hollywood.

Today we’ll be joined by Andrew McLuhan, grandson of Marshall and director of the McLuhan Institute. During this fascinating episode we’ll apply McLuhan’s revolutionary ideas to the present era where the media conditions and structures our reality in increasingly potent ways. This is especially true in a time of algorithmic bias, 24/7 phone addiction, ubiquitous data and content created by everyone. When McLuhan said we’d all live in a global village he warned it wouldn’t be “Kum ba yah”: we’d more tribal, divided, selfie centered, always aware of each others business. By 1974 he announced his obsession with “the impact of electric speed on decision making: the flip form hardware to software, from jobs to roles, and from central to decentralize forms at electric speed.”

Friday will be an especially fun day for the conversation. 1976 Marshall McLuhan appeared on the Today Show the morning after the presidential debate between Ford and Carter to tell us what happened from a media use-case perspective. In that case the sound was broken for 20 minutes and McLuhan declared it a “revolt of the bloody medium over the message!” He went on to point out that scripted debates knew nothing of the medium of TV. Our episode will air after the final Presidential debate and should be fodder for conversation. Andrew pointed out that he’s Canadian and doesn’t know that much about US politics. We responded “Much better that way. The content of US politics might get in the way of determining exactly what’s going on. We’re more interested in who’s hot who’s cold, what purpose these debates fulfill, how they may be one of the few shared real-time moments, are they authentic or manufactured, the rise of disinformation with the rise of the democratization, our flip to oral culture, etc.”

We’ll use video, McLuhan’s unpublished notes, even his personal scrapbook on tomorrow’s show as we update our understanding of media.

Also joining today, John Clippinger from MIT Media Lab who’s been applying McLuhan’s ideas to decentralized, autonomous, self-organizing systems.. A leader in AI and augmentation, Clippinger has been engaged in creating the extensions to man (and his nervous system) and their consequences for over 30 years. “