Visionary is a term that I seem to hear fairly often. Recently I was reading the agenda for a symposium, and one of the keynote speakers described himself as a visionary, which seems a bit over the top, somehow. I believe the visionary-ness of what someone has said or has done must reside with the beholder of those words or events.
So…what does the vision contain that bestows upon the seer the term visionary? A very interesting Canadian author, professor, and cultural observer, B. W. Powe, wrote a book called The Solitary Outlaw, in which he describes the visionary aspects of five men: Pierre Trudeau, Wyndham Lewis, Glenn Gould, Elias Canetti, and Marshall McLuhan. I was a student of Powe’s at Humber a number of years ago, and he had been part of one of the last (if not the last) MA cohorts that McLuhan had mentored.
About McLuhan, Powe says “… he (McLuhan) anchored himself with a thoroughly traditional Catholic background and another side of him was visionary, was breakthrough thinker, was iconoclastic, was smashing things up, was trying to find ways to say things that no one had said before, was saying things that no one had said before.” ( See Higgins and Porter’s Powe Interview).
McLuhan himself was extremely fond of working ideas out while talking about them. In fact, he would often say something outlandish, and then immediately challenge his students: ““Are you going to let me get away with that?” McLuhan wanted to provoke his students or his audience to think threw things for themselves. Remember because McLuhan believed that every new medium numbed its users and made them unaware of its effects (my emphasis) he felt the need to exaggerate to make users aware of the effects of that new medium. He wrote in Understanding Media “I am in the position of Louis Pasteur telling doctors that their greatest enemy was quite invisible, and quite unrecognized by them”” (See Robert Logan’s McLuhan Misunderstood: Setting the Record Straight)
A lack of awareness of the effects of a new medium is something I believe I see every day, among college students. Actually, not just in students, but because students are participating in an environment that is promising specific educational opportunities, these effects are especially important to them.
I believe these are a few causes of the effects of new and social media:
- Short bursts of information
- Image heavy, text light
- Requirements and requests for information immediacy
- Electronic identity
But (you can read this in the title of my blog) what exactly are the effects?
Well, I believe that the web and its associated social media has changed me. My attention is less patient and more difficultly focused, and I am less able to read for extended periods of time. I (and others I speak with) feel the ocean-like quantity (and quality) of the information…I find myself wanting to move too quickly through it, just trying to get though more of it. It’s like visiting a library, but it’s one that looks like the warehouse at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie…endless and non-navigable.
Perhaps we (like McLuhan) need an emotional or spiritual anchor to be able to properly perceive the effects of our new media environment. Perhaps we, like his students, need to be provoked and challenged so we don’t find ourselves too comfortable, drifting and searching on the surface of the information media ocean.