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Killacky: Cyberspace Visionary

03/16/11 5:55PM By John Killacky
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(HOST)  Commentator John Killacky has been indulging in a popular winter pastime - relaxing with a good book - one that's re-introduced him to what he calls "a cyberspace visionary."

(KILLACKY)  I just finished reading Douglas Coupland’s biography of 1960s communications guru Marshall McLuhan.  Back in those days of hand-written letters, clunky telephones, scratchy radio, and blurry black-and-white television, McLuhan predicted technology would eventually create a "global village" in a seamless web of electronic interdependence.

His writing warned against the dehumanizing effect of mass media, and his concept of "The medium is the message" seems astoundingly prescient today.  Technology has altered the way we experience the world.

McLuhan died in 1980, just about the time the Internet was introduced.  Mark Zuckerberg was not even born. I was still composing letters on a typewriter, using carbon paper to make a duplicate and whiteout to correct mistakes. Mimeograph machines were replaced by photocopiers.  Faxes were the latest office innovation.

Desk computers with floppy disks replaced my typewriter, but before long Bill Gates and Steve Jobs introduced game-changing adaptations.  Email supplanted office memos and phone calls.  Digital scanners made faxing irrelevant.  A few years from now, smart phones and iPads will outnumber desktop devices.  With Skype and texting, we will see how quickly email feels pre-historic.

Marshall McLuhan was prophetic in warning us: "We shape our tools, and afterward our tools shape us."  Remember, this was decades before Google launched its search engine and Wikipedia enabled crowd sourcing of information and co-authoring of meaning.  He understood the complexity of consumer web culture long before Amazon existed to ensnare us.

McLuhan astutely observed the impact of television on war: "Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America - not on the battlefields of Vietnam."  I imagine him reveling in today’s Facebook and Twitter revolutions in Egypt and the Middle East.

But my enthusiasm for McLuhan was dampened at the office.  Many of my staff had never heard of him; they were born after he died.  An iconic intellectual from the 1960s, whose writing was once required reading in college classrooms, seems forgotten by the next generation.  

Here in the Green Mountains you can visit Marshall McLuhan on YouTube with his cranky absent-minded persona and marvel at his keen insights.  You can watch his Tom Wolfe interview on Prime Time or his cameo appearance in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.  How fitting that he lives on in the virtual world he imagined before it existed.

And how right he was!  I now want to understand what lies ahead.  If only someone could point me to a true techno-sage.  There are so many pretenders to McLuhan’s virtual crown tweeting away; I’m a little dizzy right now.

Related Links

McLuhan on YouTube
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