Friday, June 20, 2008

TheMediaDude Loves McLuhan

Found this little gem in my boss's office. Her always fascinating and widely read blog is at

In case you don't know, Marshall McLuhan was an amazing media theorist in the late 60's who was one of the first to mention the positive effects of television. It doesn't rot your mind but puts you in touch with the rest of the world. Unlike reading, which is a passive medium, television actively engages you and "touches" you through the screen.

I loved him the first time I read him, but I tried to read him again and couldn't get through it. He uses flowery language and makes bug statements without backing them up. One thing I learned in academia was to always give rational, which McLuhan often doesn't. Still, his concepts affected my greatly. Plus, he was in Annie Hall. How cool is that?

I'm now reading an article by Harold Innis, one of Marshall's inspirations and contemporaries in Toronto. Innis discusses how different types of media can influence, create, and destroy empires. I can't go through any of the amazing examples right now. And I've tried. Let's just say that the spread of the written word led to the loss of thousands of years of information that, before writing, had only transferred through oral tradition. What we know as "history" is a fraction of what really happened.


your sil said...

I disagree with the theory that all reading is passive and all tv watching is active (as do most authors and pschologists). Many of us turn on the tv simply to tune out the rest of the world thereby disengaging our senses, while others become quite engaged in what we are watching - feeling the characters' pain, happiness, and other emotions, etc.

Ursula Le Guin: "Once you’ve pressed the ON button, the TV goes on, and on, and on, and all you have to do is sit and stare. But reading is active, an act of attention, of absorbed alertness–not all that different from hunting, in fact, or from gathering. In its silence, a book is a challenge: it can’t lull you with surging music or deafen you with screeching laugh tracks or fire gunshots in your living room; you have to listen to it in your head. A book won’t move your eyes for you the way images on a screen do. It won’t move your mind unless you give it your mind, or your heart unless you put your heart in it. It won’t do the work for you. To read a story well is to follow it, to act it, to feel it, to become it–everything short of writing it, in fact. Reading is not “interactive” with a set of rules or options, as games are; reading is actual collaboration with the writer’s mind. No wonder not everybody is up to it."

Both TV and books require you to use your imagination for the other senses. And both require you to use your imagination to model the characters and the emotions. Point: either can be passive or active depends on who you ask I guess.

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