Monday, January 23, 2012

The Extensions of Man - Marshall MacLuhan

So I have to say that MacLuhan's ideas are probably the most stimulating thing I've come across in terms of how I view the affect of technology in people in a while.

While I strongly disagree with how he shuns the idea that the value of any technology is determined by how we use it, I can see how his disposition toward technological determinism is at least somewhat justified.

After all, the instant knowledge and gratification that comes through internet access has shaped our culture in clearly identifiable ways. While many may see this as a reason to despair over the 'degradation of our society' there must be something that can be said of our ability to make choices for ourselves and practice self-control. After all, the greater the opportunity to practice self-control and be aware of it, the better we can become at honing the related virtues.

In this way, I think that there is a balance or compromise that can be made between the extremes of technological determinism and self determinism which MacLuhan finds himself conflicted over. Also, I cannot see why media while having their own 'flavors' of influence can't also contain an important message through their content. In my mind, both are equally important.

With that said, maybe MacLuhan is right in thinking that we are hopelessly shaped by the media we used. I know that I've been influenced despite my will.

It's easy to see how MacLuhan's ideas have become embedded in the way we approach media too. I've heard the idea that technology is an extension of ourselves through the popular physicist Michio Kaku as well as from other sources that I can't remember as of now.

The idea that "the Freudian censor" is a reaction for learning material rather than to filter out morally contradictory ideas makes a lot of sense to me too.

I also like Nietzsche's idea that understanding stops action. Personally, I know that the more I understand other's viewpoints, the more docile and accepting I become of them. In that way, I think that the instant communication and increased degree of collective consciousness that we have achieved with modern media is promoting peace in a way that we haven't quite seen before in history.

Albeit, society has also fragmented into cliques (or tribalized as MacLuhan would put it) that does prevent mutual understanding in many places.

In any case, I am still of the persuasion that mankind may never fully outgrow its propensity for war, disagreement, and conflict.

I looked up some of MacLuhan's ideas/philosophy here:

I'm not sure whether to call MacLuhan a visionary or label him as a loony, but his ideas are certainly galvanizing and insightful at most times.

I could say much more, but MacLuhan's ideas speak for themselves much better than I can, so I'll just post a few here:

"The only way not to feel alienated in the new media environment, McLuhan said, is to understand what is going on in the present, to be keenly aware of one's environment. Most people, however, do not do this: they live in the past. They suffer from a "rear-view mirror" mentality. Their thoughts and feelings belong to the preceding generation (we've all met people who are "still living in the 1960s or 1980s," still talking about former presidents, the "good old days," the innocent past)."

"Media are extensions of human beings and affect our outlook and attitudes, our feelings about culture, schools, politics, studies, moral values, societal norms. They can totally disrupt our social existence and equilibrium."

"The introspective life of long, long thoughts and distant goals...cannot coexist with the mosaic form of the TV image that commands immediate participation in depth and admits of no delays."

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