Friday, December 22, 2006

Marshall McLuhan: Oracle Of The Age

Revered Canadian Intellectual Marshall McLuhan first coined the phrase Global Village to describe the way in which electronic medias like radio, film and televsion allowed communication to occur on a far more rapid scale than at any other time in history, removing distances to create the first single global community.

McLuhan died in 1980 leaving behind a remarkable body of work. Scarcely more than 25 years later his theories are now considered so prescient that Wired Magazine lists him on its masthead as a patron saint.

Today in an unprecedented way McLuhan's ideas are taking shape in the modern world at a speed that even he may not have envisioned.

The internet and the many communication devices that have become ubiquitous in the every day work and entertainment world have accelerated the rate at which the planet is indeed becoming a Global Village. It has become commonplace for people to work at home in touch with both the office and the rest of the world through the many applications of the internet.

In the modern economy the very idea of a job is no longer tied to the former limitations of geography: outsourcing of work to more competitively priced foreign locations is a growing phenomenon spurring on the growth of the service economies of India and China and other developing nations. McLuhan may not have lived to see these changes but it is inspiring to review his originial ideas and underline his optimism for the emerging new world of which he may have foretold.

During his time the abstraction of McLuhan's ideas may have been beyond the comprehension of many of his peers. When heard today they are completely familiar as Sinclair describes them:
McLuhan argued that those changes would lead to implosion, not explosion. The world, he said, would fall in on itself. The globe would become joined through the blood system of electric wires that would shrink the planet into a single community with an all-inclusive nowness. And a smaller world obviates time - its relevance no longer important to a worldwide society where nothing or no one ever stops. Time and space become timelessness and spacelessness. The result is a Global Village based on a single consciousness in the preliterate oral tradition (Antecol)

Reading this it becomes clear why McLuhan is held in such high regard, for along with the prediction of the present there is a compelling optimism that the world will become a better more familiar place for the changes technology will bring. There is a sense that with our economies inextricably interlinked our nationlistic enmities will diminish and the history of warring of nations will become a thing of the past. Sullivan describes the essence of the hope that McLuhan first hinted at :
The Global Village of the Internet model supports the idea of a shift from 20th-century homo economicus rooted in a world of transactions aimed at future well-being to 21st-century communal man embedded in orderly, just, and virtue-enhancing processes focused on living well in the present. But it does not appear to support the movement towards a stronger embeddedness of peoples in narrow national and cultural identities (Sullivan 181)

Looking back at McLuhan's theories today it is remarkable how accurately he has captured the spirit of modernity in his writings. The “Global Village”is no longer a concept but a gradually emerging world order and it is hoped that McLuhan's optimism for it is realized.

Works Cited

Antecol, Michael. "Understanding McLuhan: Television and the Creation of the Global Village." ETC.: A Review of General Semantics 54.4 (1997): 454+. Questia. 6 Apr. 2006 . Sullivan, Jeremiah J. The Future of Corporate Globalization: From the Extended Order to the Global Village. Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 2002. Questia. 6 Apr. 2006 .

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