I have recently received by parcel post (I know, old school, buy what’s better than getting stuff in the mail?!) a set of Journals called ‘Explorations’. This is a Journal originally edited by Marshall McLuhan and Edward Carpenter (a Canadian anthropologist who spent much time in the Arctic) from 1953 to 1957, supported by U of T, and the long gone newspaper The Toronto Telegram. It was designed to be a groundbreaking model of cross-disciplinary collaboration, with specialists in psychology, communications, ethnology, anthropology, architecture, poetry, economics, and other avenues of study.
I have tried in the past to find original issues but they’re pretty rare and expensive. Then a couple of weeks ago I noticed that an American publisher had re-issued them, and I placed an order.
Issue #1 has an essay by McLuhan titled “Culture Without Literacy”, which seems ultra-current despite being written 64 years ago. It begins with a eye catching line: “The ordinary desire of everybody to have everybody else think alike…has some explosive implications…”. Another line also stands out: “…the terrifying thing about the new media for most of us is their inevitable evocation of irrational response.” McLuhan thought the irrational was the by-product of the instantaneous character of electronic communication, and a major change from linear communication…the written word, “…the first instrument of mass culture”.
These ideas seem to speak to some of the comments I read and posted last week around President Trump’s unusually effective Twitter posts (which function as oral communication?), and the facility with which social media platforms like Facebook are able to nurture like-minded zones of agreement.
There were also some comments last week about Twitter being anxiety and chaos inducing. Is part of the nature of social media the promotion of an irrational response in the participant? Observing current college classrooms, I believe I see some of this reaction in student reluctance to “dive deeper” in their studies, or in a resistance to accept professors’ advice, thinking a superficial understanding of a topic may be enough for them. Perhaps these behaviours have always been embedded in the nature of some students, but the current social media environment may be enabling a false sense of knowing, an irrational belief that this level is sufficient, and an immediately accessible like-minded crowd to reinforce these attutudes.