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Understanding McLuhan.

Marshall McLuhan's most famous quote is, "The medium is the message." By this he meant that all media have effects on the human psyche quite apart from the explicit bits of information they might convey. So what was the effect that this CD-ROM had on my psyche as I was mousing about and clicking on my computer? Well, besides learning lots about McLuhan, I had FUN!

The CD-ROM includes the complete texts of McLuhan's best known books, The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media. It also offers in-depth interviews with current writers and critics including Neil Postman, Camille Paglia, and Lewis Lapham; a two hour audio lecture on communication given at Columbia University in 1978 (accompanied by a complete transcript); McLuhan's observations on topics as wideranging as advertising, art, politics, go-go dancers, and the breakdown of the nuclear family; and an extensive McLuhan bibliography.

McLuhan came to public attention in the sixties with The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), a study of the revolution in sensibility wrought by the printing press, and Understanding Media (1964), which looked at various "media" including money, clothing, and cars, as well as print and television. He also coined the term "global village" to describe the new world produced by electronic broadcasting. Neil Postman has said McLuhan was basically asking, "Does the form of any media of communication affect our social relations, our political ideas, our psychic habits, and our sensorium?". McLuhan posited some intellectually daring ways to analyze this question including a controversial "hot" and "cool" medium taxonomy. Perhaps his iconoclastic approach to media studies had something to do with his belief that most people go through life in a somnambulistic state and it was his goal to wake them up.

There seems to be something of a McLuhan revival going on these days. Wired, the popular high-tech magazine, recently put McLuhan's name on the masthead as their "patron saint," and in 1994 MIT Press reissued Understanding Media with an introduction by Lewis Lapham. Perhaps this revival is occurring because, comparable to TV's domination of the 50s and 60s, the Internet and Virtual Reality are affecting how we perceive the world. Or perhaps there is concern that the decline of literacy and the ascendancy of TV has led to virulent non-reflective tribalism (e.g., L.A. street gangs, the war in Bosnia, etc.).

In any event if you want to know what McLuhan had to say, and has to say, about media and its effects then this CDROM (containing one hour of video, 3 hours of audio, and 3,000 screens of text) is the place to begin.

Martin H. Levinson, Ph.D.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Institute of General Semantics
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Levinson, Martin H.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Date:Jun 22, 1997
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