McLuhan in Wired Magazine

I stumbled on a faux interview with McLuhan in Wired from 1996. It is prefaced as follows:

Scholars agree that Marshall McLuhan’s earliest books were written by him, but there is mystery and uncertainty about who really wrote his subsequent works. McLuhan would lie on a couch, head on a pillow, and spout ideas, for hours. Sometimes assistants would transcribe as McLuhan dictated, sometimes they would later write down what McLuhan had said, and sometimes they would write down what they thought McLuhan had said. Somehow books were assembled from these notes and recollections, and then McLuhan signed his name to them. This indefinite manner of creation was never a problem for McLuhan, who often insisted that facts were not as important as fallacies.

The fallacies of this interview with McLuhan are as follows: About a year ago, someone calling himself Marshall McLuhan began posting anonymously on a popular mailing list called Zone (zone@wired.com). Gary Wolf began a correspondence with the poster via a chain of anonymous remailers. McLuhan (who would have been 85 this year) said he now lives in a beach town in Southern California named “Parma.” (This town does not exist.) One after another, tiny hints, confirmed by third parties close to McLuhan decades ago, convinced Wolf that if the poster was not McLuhan himself, it was a bot programmed with an eerie command of McLuhan’s life and inimitable perspective. After many rounds of e-mail, the conversation got down to the meat of the matter: What does McLuhan think about all this new digital technology?

The things Wolf makes “McLuhan” says are quite funny and smart. For example McLuhan is asked his thought on advertising. His reply is as follows:

Let me tell you about the economy of Parma, where I live. It has a secret economy, a mixture of software firms and natural-juice franchises whose factories are the unused rec rooms and converted triple-car garages of a suburban lifestyle that no longer holds interest. The juice franchises in Parma do not actually squeeze juice – this is handled remotely by friends and relatives of the franchisees, who strike deals with national distributors of organic produce. The franchise handles the marketing campaign: developing slogans, bottle designs, billboards, and TV commercials.

You see, the advertising is far more expensive and difficult than the juicing. This has been the case generally with advertising for several decades: by now it should be obvious that a product is merely an inducement to the consumer to purchase the advertising. The Net will only further this movement.

It is quite conceivable to me that a juice franchise could stop charging for its beverage altogether and simply give it away to people who pay to receive the advertising. (Emphasis mine)

Read it all here.

Wired has a page that lists all their references to McLuhan. I enjoyed The Wisdom of Saint Marshall, the Holy Fool and Kelly’s interview with Derrick de Kerckhove too.

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4 thoughts on “McLuhan in Wired Magazine

  1. I hated that ‘interview’ with McLuhan. To my mind, it was an attempt to rewrite McLuhan to match Wired’s new commercial-friendly stance.

    Here’s what I wrote in ‘The Rise and Fall of Wired’:

    4. Reinventing McLuhan

    “There is a deep-seated repugnance in the human breast against understanding the processes in which we are involved. Such understanding involves far too much responsibility for our actions.”

    Marshall McLuhan. In Wired 4.01

    Wired likes to reinvent itself in the .01 issues. In 1996…

    The Wisdom of Saint Marshall, the Holy Fool. Wired 4.01 http://www.wired.com/wired/4.01/features/saint.marshal.html Add odd look at McLuhan, a counterpoint to some of Wired’s earlier pronouncements. The original McLuhan, you see, was a religious zealot. Time for a makeover.

    Channeling McLuhan. Wired 4.01 Channeling McLuhan But I heard a new slogan recently that appears to be perfect for this new economy: “Welcome to the future – it’s broken.” Yes – and in a similar fashion, Wired’s recent fixation on the ‘new economy’ is broken.

    When the Channeling McLuhan article came out, I thought it was an interesting way of presenting McLuhan’s thoughts. Well – it was an interesting presentation, but in retrospect, and most certainly in the context of today’s discussion, it can be seen only as a reshaping of McLuhan’s thoughts. A way to change the corporate mission without alerting the faithful. Consider By Gary Wolf’s presentation of McLuhan’s supposed take on today’s issues (all are direct quotes from the article):

    – Cypherpunks think they are rebels with a cause, but they are really sentimentalists.
    – I realize and am trying to demonstrate that these anonymous remailers are among the great publicity devices of all time.
    – We fear that the owners of the monopoly will crush us, but this never happens.
    – The capitalist understands that to improve competition, he must encourage monopolies.
    – Just as the advent of printing created a market for medieval culture, the advent of the Net will build an audience for book authors.
    – The advertising gives the group of consumers its identity and raison d’etre, and with a little bit of priming the group then begins to interact and entertain itself.
    – The Net is the premier invention of the digital era. It is not about finding anything. It is about superfluous connections and wasting time.

    Welcome to the New Wired. Where the internet is a device for wasting time and consuming advertising, and where corporate control of the net is an objective to be lauded.

    Wired 4.02 embraces the New McLuhan big time: a Steve Jobs feature, a glowing look at the Spam King, a defense of low wages, a restatement of the anti-cypherpunk thesis, and a trashing of India’s software industry. In Wired 4.03, Time’s managing editor, Walter Isaacson and Jim Barksdale, the former head of Federal Express and McCaw Cellular. And the smarming was on…

    http://www.downes.ca/wired/

    • Thank you for this great comment Stephen! I’ve now completely read your wonderful piece on the Rise and Fall of Wired and would love to ask you a few questions.

      • Do you now still read Wired? If yes, why? I personally have read Wired from A to Z since about the year 2000 (so well after the transformation) and do get a lot of value out of it. Yes, the Jaguar advertisements and 4K LCD screen advertorials do show the audience they cater for, but nearly every edition does have at least one good article for me.
      • I agree fully with you when you write: “In times of revolution, the Edge is found where the new science is found. It is found in the underground. It is found in rebellion. It is found at the point of change. It is found where new values collide with old. It is found in new understandings of the world. It is found in new senses of self.” Do you know of any sustained media that provide this edge? For me your daily newsletter provides part of this, but I am always looking for other ways to dwell on the margin. Do you have advice or maybe even methodologies for that?
      • > Do you now still read Wired?
        No. I used to read it on the plane, but recently have stopped reading magazines generally – paying $8 – $10 for 20 minutes worth of reading (which is the average issue of Wired for me) isn’t a good value.

        > Do you know of any sustained media that provide this edge?
        No. All media becomes co-opeted eventually, it seems. My own newsletter is an exception only because I can produce it independently. I think the edge is found more in practice than in media.

        > Do you have advice or maybe even methodologies for that?
        I don’t have methodologies per se but I have practices (loosely construed). See my presentation ‘Against Digital Research Methdologies’.
        http://www.downes.ca/presentation/315

        In my own case, I have always sought to keep my thinking and ideas fresh by seeking out a diversity of experiences and ideas; this includes travel (which my work fortunately gives me the opportunity to do) but also reading widely, browsing aimlessly, exploring my community (I try to drive down every highway in the country, and cycle down every road in my community, at least once). I’m not so much a people person, which is a limitation, but I have an insatiable curiousity and study and probe everything in my environment (I find photography is an excellent tool for this).

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