Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Marshall McLuhan: End of the Book as We Know It...

Marshall McLuhan, Nick Denton from Gawker

The book has seen its heyday. Even text's role is changing. What will that mean to those who still like to read? What will it mean to those who don't?  The book replaced by the vook??

“People don’t really want to read text,” Denton said. “They want videos, they want images, bigger, more lavish.” In other words, consumers are looking for online media products that more closely resemble TV and magazines.*  I had already known this but Denton's way of putting it further on really demonstrated an understanding of what role text and by implication reading would play, "Text, he contended, is more useful for providing context and explanation for more visual kinds of media, rather than serving as the primary medium itself."**  This statement was made quite recently, in fact yesterday at the Mixx Conference in New York.

Of course this idea of text's new role was understood no better than by Marshall McLuhan, a visionary of the 1960s who was so far ahead of his time that it is only now that we are seeing his predictions coming true.  Yet the transition began with the proliferation of television and radio.  Most who know anything about McLuhan know his famous proverb, "The Medium is the Message."  Most in his day, did not understand it.  They trivialized it.  Here is an early TV broadcast of 1960 done by CBS to try to explain McLuhan's views as well as other interviews with him during his lifetime. If you cannot see the embedded video here is the link: http://tinyurl.com/4we38kf.

McLuhan was of all things, en English college professor at the University of Toronto.  After the publication of his book, The Medium is the Message: An Inventory of Effects with Quentin Fiore, academicians thought him simplistic and mostly rejected his grand summarizing theories of the development of media in history.  Even his colleagues discouraged students from studying with him.

But what do we see today with the advent of all that the internet has brought us?  A very close reality to his predictions.  One of the most important predictions he made was the book would no longer be the dominant way in which ideas would be transmitted.  Polls are bringing this out in 2004 a headline reads, Literary Reading in Dramatic Decline.  In 2007, 25% of Americans had not ready any books in that year.  He stated that reading was a solitary activity which in this age of mass communications and social networks was undesirable by most.

Literary man he said was created by the invention of the printing press.  Where information was static and unchanging.  But in this neo-tribal society, created by television and social networks, people wanted group activities.  They wanted collaboration. This new Tribal Man wanted to be part of the tribe or group they visualized themselves belonging to.

It is true that television and the internet affect people in very different ways.  Television is a passive experience while the internet encourages interactivity and involvement.  Terrence McKenna who was influenced by McLuhan understood television as a medium very well.  Watch this video:

We have become a visual people.  This can be seen by younger generations turning to youtube's how to section to understand a process or an activity.  They would rather watch something about it than read about it.  So text is to become an adornment to the visual media.  It is a "master of ceremonies" that introduces the "big star" in the show - videos or photos.  This is the definition of a vook.

What kind of world will this bring?  It has already arrived.  It is a world where many books will go unread for lack of relevance.  Since the sense of sight and hearing are the two senses being enhanced by these media, the brain will accommodate itself to these influences and want even more of the visual or auditory.  This same transition happened with the advent of the printing press which deemphasized experience and underscored the analytical, logical and individualistic aspects of humanity.  A massive transition is going on.  It is unstoppable.  It is a tsunami.  It is a paradigm shift.  Like it or not, the best thing we can all do is to adjust to it and use it for the utmost good it can produce rather than bemoan it and try in vain to stop it or retard its progress.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with all of this and definitely see the pattern that you discuss. That being said, I am confused by two things; the popularity of texting and blogs. Why is it that kids prefer to text over talking on the phone? I've seen students text sitting right next to each other rather than talk. how does this fit into this so called paradigm shift?