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All the World’s an Electronic Stage – Rediscovering McLuhan

I was thinking about the migration of personal technology away from computers and towards mobile “appliances,” which got me to thinking about the eruption of the applications that have quickly followed in the wake of the mobile jetski; Twitter, Loopt, Kyte, Shazam, Starwalk, Red Laser..etc.

I had already been thinking a lot about the “world as gameboard” – about the city as a locus of mass diversity and social transformation and the whole sense of how we are maintaining and tracking personal connections based largely on quick blips – fragments of information.

An article a few weeks ago in the NY Times, said that social scientists were calling this phenomenon “ambient awareness.”

As an event producer, I recognized this notion of “ambient awareness,” as exactly what people do at a party – how they energetically interact with each other and with the crowd – oftentimes even without speaking – which at certain decibel levels is a challenge in itself.

Anyway, that got me thinking of that old Marshall McLuhan idea of a “global village.”

I did a search on McLuhan and came across a bunch of videos. There were a lot more of them than I realized. (Here’s a link to a bunch of them) In one particular one, he said this..

“The global village is a world in which you don’t necessarily have harmony. You have extreme concern with everybody else’s business – and much involvement in everybody else’s life. It’s a sort of Ann Landers column writ large. And it doesn’t necessarily mean harmony and peace and quiet, but it does mean huge involvement in everybody else’s affairs. And so the global village is as big as the planet and as small the village post office.”

“..huge involvement in everybody else’s affairs.”

That hit me like a flat panel display. The guy was so incredibly prescient! He knew THEN what we are just coming ‘round to experiencing NOW – and he knew it 50 years ago!

The “global village” – even in his lifetime, he called it the “global theater.” He knew that we were being re-tribalized to shed our isolation and to wrap ourselves in this electronic skin, so that we might be able to play a multitude of “roles” and play them in relationship to an almost unlimited number of other actors.

I looked at more videos, and in each, he made 2 or 3 or more completely mind-bending statements. And the capper? He was a rapper – The guy was way too cool and way too funny. He knew that humor was meant to address grievances. Like he said.. “I wouldn’t have seen it, if I hadn‘t believed it.”

Another of his quotes, referring to the artist – “..he is always thought of being way ahead of his time because he lives in the present.” That’s him to a T – nailed in the now, blowing his jazz – just like Louis and Dizzy and Bird.

In the search results was a video by another Joyce scholar and another of my all-time favorite jazz-heads – Terence McKenna, who said this..

“They made of him an icon of cultural incomprehensibility. Not since Einstein have you been so pre-programmed in advance to believe you “ain’t going to understand this guy.” And that’s what they said about McLuhan, and consequently his message and his insight failed. We will have to reinvent McLuhan around the turn of the century because we are producing forms of media of such interactive power and potential social impact that we’re going to have to go back and re-think all of this.”

Everywhere we go now, McLuhan’s vision as well as his redemption precedes us. Like an electronic Nostradamus, he knew where technology was leading us, and he knew it was going to be a wild ride.

[A really tasty way to review McLuhan video clips arranged thematically is via this relatively new site called.. Marshall McLuhan Speaks.]

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