“The quote ‘We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.’ is often mistakenly attributed to Marshall McLuhan. It does NOT appear in ‘Understanding Media’, as Wilson Miner confidently asserts in the presentation below, indeed it does not appear in any published work by McLuhan at all. The quote was actually written by Father John Culkin, SJ, a Professor of Communication at Fordham University in New York and friend of McLuhan. But though the quote is Culkin’s, I would argue that the idea is McLuhan’s, as it comes up in an article by Culkin about McLuhan: Culkin, J.M. (1967, March 18). A schoolman’s guide to Marshall McLuhan. Saturday Review, pp. 51-53, 71-72. The idea presented in the quote is entirely consistent with McLuhan’s thinking on technology in general.” – akuskis
“Television has conditioned us to tolerate visually entertaining material measured out in spoonful’s of time, to the detriment of rational public discourse and reasoned public affairs”. Postman alerted us to what, in my view, is happening with the media in this election. There are “ready and present dangers and offers compelling suggestions as to how to withstand the media onslaught. … all techniques and technologies that permit people of a particular culture to exchange messages.” Neal Postman
“The TV critic Todd VanDerWerff once compared the Fox format to ABC’s ‘Lost’: you need to immerse yourself entirely to grok the breadth of its world-building paranoias and mythologies.” Emily Nussbaum
“That desire which every man feels of being remembered and lamented is often mortified when we remark how little concern is caused by the eternal departure even of those who have passed their lives with public honours, and been distinguished by extraordinary performances. It is not possible to be regarded with tenderness except by a few. That merit which gives greatness and renown diffuses its influence to a wide compass, but acts weakly on every single breast; it is placed at a distance from common spectators, and shines like one of the remote stars, of which the light reaches us, but not the heat. The wit, the hero, the philosopher, whom their tempers or their fortunes have hindered from intimate relations, die, without any other effect than that of adding a new topic to the conversation of the day. They impress none with any fresh conviction of the fragility of our nature, because none had any particular interest in their lives, or was united to them by a reciprocation of endearments.” Dr Johnson
I didn’t mean to yell at that kid from Spotify and I feel awful about it.
He’s some poor kid in Sweden trying to make it at his first real job. All those years of long hours doing summer menial labor, making sure every piece of Ikea furniture that went out was sure to be at least two fasteners and one allen wrench short, just to pay for the education that got him a marketing job.
And what happens?
Some mean old fart gets all bent out of shape over one measly question, “Do you practice mindfulness?”
In retrospect, saying something like, “Gotta go, my mother’s calling.” or “My ride’s here.” would have been better choice than anything that began, “LET ME SET YOU STRAIGHT ABOUT A LITTLE SOMETHING, BUSTER!”
It wasn’t his fault.
Wasn’t the election’s fault either.
Like the full moon’s pull on the tides, my mood over the past month has been pushed and yanked around over something that happened about three weeks ago. I went to a conference on new tech and the morning session gave me quite a shock. As with all such gatherings I tried to sit next to someone who either looks terminally sleepy or is so involved in work that small talk is out of the question. This time around I sat next to Mr. Busy. He had an open briefcase, a stack of manilla folders under one arm and he was talking a mile a minute into his phone. I didn’t ask if the seat next to him was taken – wouldn’t have mattered – he never noticed me.
Most of the keynote went well. Mr. Busy paid no attention to the speaker as he went full-metal fussbudget on his briefcase. Near the end the speaker said something about being on good terms with the people who email you and how it’s a good thing to reach out to the people who comment on your web site and create relationship that will lead to better comments.
Well that did it.
Mr. Busy got up and started yelling at the keynote speaker. Nobody was going to make him interact with a bunch of people who have nothing better to do than “sit around in their underpants and leave comments on some blog!” He admitted he had a web site, but it only existed at the request of his publisher and it wasn’t his idea. OH NO, because thousands and thousands of his books on fireplace and chimney repair had sold all over North America and had been translated into 12 languages. So if you think he’s going to talk to some beer-swilling freaks who stay up all night “banging on the Facebook” you’d better think again.
I was riveted and riveted to the point that I finally began to study his face. He looked to be no more than in his late 30s. The longer I looked the more upset I became. There was no question – I was the oldest person in the room and here’s some punk giving the speech I was supposed be giving.
The little creep was stealing my alleged thunder.
Not that I had any problem with what was being presented, it’s more the principle of the thing. There should have been some sort of … you know … some sort of unspoken age-before-beauty arrangement where he’d offer me first crack at going on and on about how nobody and nothin’s any good any more. Which is what it comes down to – he should have at least given me a look that said, “You want this or is it mine?” and then he could have ranted all he wanted and I would have been just fine with it.
You gotta wonder what he was expecting though. The invite included a cocktail reception thrown by those swell kids at Google’s Media Lab.
But enough about why I’m emotionally distraught. Maybe you should watch this while I get ready to changes gears.
When the 1960s were still roaring along in full force, two sons of the old Empire and Dominion, Arthur C. Clarke and Marshall McLuhan spent no small amount of time looking at a popular notion of the time – Man as Toolmaker. (MaT) The concept’s popularity slowly declined over the ensuing decades, but while they were at it they managed to explore the topic in very intriguing ways. It was the central theme of Clark’s ‘2001’ and, as mentioned above, McLuahn was misquoted frequently as saying eventually tools shape man. Yet while both were far-sighted thinkers neither really put forth any idea of what happens when a given tool ceases to exist.
Which bring us to your tv set.
As tools go – it has done plenty to shape Boomer culture as we’ve always had one around the house. It created communal memory ( e.g. Kennedy assassination, moon landings.) It served as social lubricant (e.g. “Hey, did you see Hoss give Little Joe a piggyback ride last night?“) and created no end of metaphors or analogies. (e.g. “WOW! This is just like the time Hoss gave Little Joe a piggyback ride!) We’ve formed tribes around its offerings (Trekkies) and used it as a companion when we were sick or lonely.
Be that as it may – we’re reaching the point where in the next 10 years owning one would make as much sense as making a stone ax to have around the house. Audiences are declining, the networks and local stations are finding it increasingly harder to stay profitable while the cable companies are resigned their future as Internet providers. Increasing the medium and the device that delivers it are increasingly seen as something for the elderly.
Sure, there was a golden era of radio, but radio moved on and managed to survive the loss of Jack Benny or Fred Allen. Also radio was not as largely present for so long. TV overtook radio in the 1950s as the dominant domestic tool which leaves us with nothing to compare in living memory.
Here’s comes the part about the election.
A couple of posts back I took the blame for Trump, but that took some thought. Now I have to take the blame for how the media got it so wrong.
I can do it with my eyes closed, but then I couldn’t see to type, could I?
The point of all this MaT business comes down to how people are – very much – shaped by their tools. The people who currently run the large scale media are lost in their own past. Too many at the top are still executing what they learned in the 80s and some are still are still clutching to the 50 year-old paradigm of horserace coverage.
Put another way – the stone ax was the starting point for all the folks who bought into the MaT concept. But what happens when the stone ax can’t break iron?
Which is what just happened.
As each stone ax broke and the only solution was to bring another stone ax.
Sure, but only in the sense that it was merely cursing the stone ax for not doing its job.
More to the point – Alaska Wolf Joe likes to remind me that us Boomers are their own worst unconscious idealogical tyrants. His point is that in our own minds we are our own best Stalinists.
That probably needs some expansion, but we’ll save that for another time.
Meanwhile we all need to take a deep breath and wonder about that time ahead of us when we ask the nursing home attendants if they can help us remember something about two men named Hoss and Little Joe.