Tatiana Petrova on Chapters 11, 12, 13 and 14 for #UMRG

Tatiana Petrova provided me with the following (wonderful!) summary of chapters 11, 12, 13 and 14:

Themes that go through chapters

  • Definition of consciousness as interplay among our senses.
  • Recognition of the similar interplay between extensions of our senses.
  • Stated need for social, electrically ordered consciousness that can comprehend the complexity of dynamics of extensions and stay “in touch” with totality of them. Need to overcome alienation caused by mechanical technologies that extended beyond our reach of touch.
  • Statement that dominance of visual (fragmenting) mediums give way to instant, organic, electric integration.
  • Ambivalent longing for tribal culture.
Attempt to sum up Thoughts/questions
Interplay between the mediums / extensions.One medium takes a lead for a period of time dictating not only developments of other extensions but also dictating the structure of human inner life. (e.g. print & Renaissance painting → idea of infinity → infinitesimal calculus & drive for growth). “The effect of any kind of technology engenders a new equilibrium in us that brings quite new technologies to birth….”Senses have ability to translate into each other through “common sense” = Greek “consensus”. Similarly, extensions have the ability to translate into each other as well. McLuhan stresses an acute need for outer, communal, consensus that can consolidate, make comprehendible the dynamic interplay among extensions. He dreams of electrically ordered world-wide social integration – universality of conscious being for mankind.
“Our mechanical technologies for extending and separating the functions of our physical beings have brought us near to a state of disintegration by putting us out of touch with ourselves”.“What we have today, instead of a social consciousness electrically ordered, however, is a private subconsciousness or individual ‘point of view’ rigorously imposed by older mechanical technology. This is a perfectly natural result of ‘culture lag’ or conflict, in a world suspended between two technologies.
McLuhan defines consciousness as interplay among our senses. “…consciousness is itself a ratio or proportion among the sensuous components of experience, and is not something added to such sense experience.” This puzzled me, because I’m a believer, in systemic principle – no system can be explained thoroughly from within the system, it requires an external factor playing into it. Locked system becomes a swamp. I wouldn’t preach in favor of intervention of “cosmic visitors”, but I wouldn’t buy into the McLuhan’s closed definition either. What are your thoughts on this?
He offers the following logic of development of human consciousness:Natural, mystical unity (collective unconsciousness) →
Analytical fragmentation and alienation (consciousness as we know it) →
New “synesthesia” (consciousness 2.0)
He alludes to what that new form of shared consciousness can be. In chapter 11 he talks about “infinity of functional process” (Spengler) operated by computers that provides extension to our nervous system in electrical technologies.
In chapter 13 he writes: “An immediate simulation of consciousness would by-pass speech in a kind of massive extrasensory perception…”
Highlight is mine… these kind of words give me goose bumps & remind me of Felix Hoenikker in Vonnegut’s “Cat’s cradle”…
Does he talk about artificial intellect? Would the world, where staying in touch is “outsourced” to an artificial intellect, still be a world of human species? Think “Matrix” or “Lawnmower Man”. How do you feel about this kind of world and this kind of “evolution”?
“…The instant character of electric information movement does not enlarge, but involves, the family of man in the cohesive state of village living.” Does it? It does give access to information but does it necessarily spark the new sense of touch, the new consciousness that McLuhan calls for?
Step down of visual sense / extensions
“Both time (as measured visually and segmentally) and space (as uniform, pictorial, and enclosed) disappear in the electronic age of instant information. In the age of instant information man ends his job of fragmented specializing and assumes the role of information gathering. Today information gathering resumes the inclusive concept of “culture,” exactly as the primitive food-gatherer worked in complete equilibrium with his entire environment.” What is the meaning of information gathering in non-specialised world?
Medium: Number
Extension of touch, ability to reach out and grab distant things.“The mysterious need of crowds to grow and to reach out, equally characteristic of large accumulations of wealth, can be understood if money and numbers are, indeed, technologies that extend the power of touch and the grasp of the hand.”Number has power to set up drive toward unlimited growth. Industrialization and mass production accelerated the role of the number. How about ancient need for security? Comfort of being wrapped in own kin. Not to be grabbed.
starwars bison
Touch as most intimate and interrelated activity, necessary to integral existence, key to consciousness. “… not just skin contact with things, but the very life of things in our minds”.Evolution of number:Number in ancient world is magically associated with physical things one can reach out to. It blends mystery and tactical manipulation. It is a symbol.
Science (“shadow of number”) tended to reduce things to numerical quantities. Number becomes a tool – compressed image, result of visual abstraction.
Ideas of homogeneity, correspondence, succession and infinity preempt and permeate classic mathematics (McLuhan here stresses the role of phonetic alphabet, printing, and Renaissance painting to demonstrate interrelations of senses and extensions).
“Grown-ups love figures… When you tell them you’ve made a new friend they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you ‘What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?’ Instead they demand ‘How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?’ Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Binary system of electric age doesn’t need writing. Instant speed and scale of information processing makes visualization impossible. Linearity and point of view are not necessary in new mathematics and physics. What does number become in this world? Since we’re into this computing / electric technology for several decades now do we indeed witness departure of visual dominance?
Medium: Clothing & HousingBoth are extensions of our skin & organ functions in individual (clothing) and social (housing) space:

  • Heat control, or more broadly storage and channeling of energy
  • Interaction with the (social) environment.
    McLuhan particularly elaborates on how dress design and architecture carry a message (are a message) of self-expression adjusted to the common, dominant sense (dress for an eye vs. dress to “be handled”). Clothing & Housing”… shape and rearrange patterns of human association and community”.
  • Translation of fundamental understanding of reality into human space (e.g. tribal home as embodiment of the cosmic image, or church building as embodiment of understanding the divine). According to McLuhan this relation got broken with the rise of visual era as visual segregation and social specialization call for compartmented utilitarian space.

As with other technologies McLuhan declares the end of visual dominance for clothing & housing:

“After centuries of being fully clad and of being contained in uniform visual space, the electric age ushers us into a world in which we live and breathe and listen with the entire epidermis”. Modern engineering provides flexibility that comes close to natural, organic, and has potential to bring us closer to the tribal cosmic unity.

Throughout the chapter 13 McLuhan talks about electric light. It’s another good example of interplay between mediums and its two-way influence on our inner life.

Medium: Money

McLuhan defines money “as a social means of extending and amplifying work and skill in an easily accessible and portable form…” It has visual dimension – separates work from other social functions and, like writing, translates one type of product / work / skill into another. It also has tactical (numeric) dimension – the power to reach and grasp distant things, power to extend space. Money depends on communal participation and at the same time shape communities by facilitating exchange (social interdependence) and by altering social order (accumulation and distribution of surpluses).

Evolution of money:

commodity → paper → credit card

As we go from one form / phase to another:

  • speed and reach of transactions increase
  • role of social convention becomes more prominent
  • meaning shifts towards exchange of information, rather than staple or skill
  • therefore the whole concept becomes more and more abstract – “standard of value” (JM Keynes) less and less burdened with moral values (M McLuhan)

As with mathematics, printing prepares the ground for fixed-priced economy by “… psychological conditioning in the ways of uniformity and repeatability”.

“When men become uneasy about … social values achieved by uniformity and repetition, doing for mankind that which mankind wants, we can take it as a mark of the decline of mechanical technology.”

According to McLuhan, the electric age is destined to change the nature of work and the very concept of money:

  • “Where the whole man is involved there is no work. Work begins with the division of labor and the specialization of functions and tasks in sedentary, agricultural communities. In the computer age we are once more totally involved in our roles. In the electric age the ‘job of work’ yields to dedication and commitment, as in the tribe.”
I very much agree with and treasure the opening sentence here. But I really can’t picture (hahaha) the electric, tribal, non-specialized work. Are we there yet? Are we heading there? Anybody has an example? Is it about all people going creative and doing what they love, while outsourcing all the unloved jobs to developing world / robots / clones?
  • “Today, electric technology puts the very concept of money in jeopardy, as the new dynamics of human interdependence shift from fragmenting media such as printing to inclusive or mass media like the telegraph”.
Well, physical expression of money is in jeopardy (e.g. I rarely have cash in pocket nowadays). But I’m not so sure about the concept of money. Didn’t internet banking rescue the concept for electrical age (for good or for ill)?

My favorite quotation from these chapters: “For the specialist is one who never makes small mistakes while moving toward the grand fallacy”.


2 thoughts on “Tatiana Petrova on Chapters 11, 12, 13 and 14 for #UMRG

  1. Pingback: Discussing #UMRG Chapters 11, 12, 13 and 14 | Understanding Media

  2. Hi Tatiana, your comment about systems and the external factor has been lingering with me for a while. I’m not sure I fully understand McLuhan’s description – maybe I can ask you to comment more about this?

    Can the ‘experience’ serve as the external factor? For example, do you think McLuhan is saying that consciousness is created by sensuous experience, but the type of consciousness (including level of awareness?) depends on the ratio alone?

    Thanks for the summary.

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