A couple of things have especially fascinated me ever since I was in High School (which is quite a long time ago, but which experience remains fresh and relevant in my mind): how we learn, how we teach others, and how we try to figure out how those two phenomena really work, and why.
The first book I ever saw by McLuhan was “The Medium is the Massage” (as the story goes, the first copies of the book made a mistake…it was meant to say “Message” not “Massage”, but McLuhan thought it was a terrific joke and let it stand). You have probably seen it at some point…it’s a weird mix of unusual and unusually framed images, and scattered among them are (using an uncanny variety of texts and font sizes) a series of short statements and aphorisms.
As a young student, I was a fairly linear thinker and I had no idea how to interpret the book. McLuhan was alive and well at the time, but what I learned and saw of him didn’t help. He was an very unusual man and thinker, and a very unusual academic; he was popular and the general public knew who he was, but almost no one seemed to “get” him.
The first course I ever taught was called “Visual Communications” and it was based around John Berger’s 1970’s book and ideas around the mechanical reproduction of art, and the effect this has on us. The professor who had designed the course had also added a generous sprinkling of McLuhan, and although there was not a formal text for the course, he had distributed (within copyright guidelines) bits and pieces of McLuhan. I had been coming across re-enervated opinion of McLuhan for a number of years. It seemed that in the late 70’s and in the 80’s (he passed away in 1980) his reputation had crashed to some extent and he was, for a time, a bit disregarded. Then came the internet, and media theorists and writers seemed to re-discover McLuhan, realizing that he had been a bit of an oracle, predicting “the global village” and the expansion and effects of electronic media. Anyway, teaching the course I began to re-read McLuhan in earnest and I’m still doing so.
I’m certainly no expert, but as time passes, I realize more and more he has not lost his relevance and incisive intelligence and wisdom around teaching and learning. He is especially powerful when he examines the effects of the electronic environments we have created (even unleashed) upon ourselves.
I coordinated and taught in a program called “Media Foundation” at Humber College, for 6 years. In that time I worked with hundreds of terrific students, and I had the opportunity to speak with them and try to understand how they see and experience information, learning, and communication. I believe I have learned a few things, and one is that High School has changed a great deal in 40 years (brilliant, you say…what an insight!). What I mean, though, is that students encounter such an enormous flood of electronic media, they have less time and energy to experience “legacy” media (by this I mostly mean the printed word on paper). I am interested in the effects and outcomes in our educational environments that result from this deluge, and I have found Marshall McLuhan to be a dependable (admittedly still somewhat indecipherable) guide and mentor.