Dennie Heye on Chapters 26 to 29 for #UMRG

Dennie Heye has written the following about chapter 26 to 29.


To be honest, it took me a while to get into McLuhan’s writing. It reminded me of the theoretical books and articles I read during my university studies – but with the difference that McLuhan makes you think at least once every chapter and his thinking is still valid after decades.

Below my mindmap based on the chapters typewriter, telephone, phonograph and movies for others to peruse. It’s an interactive (expandable) PDF of the mindmap, hopefully this works for all.

Click to download/open PDF

Click to download/open PDF

I have outlined the questions that I would like to offer for discussion below. Unfortunately I will not be present during next week’s call to take part in the discussion:

1. McLuhan states that the telephone has decentralized every operation and bypasses hierarchical arrangements in business. This made me think how e-mail instant messaging and now social media has continued this trend. to this day. But still many (older?) organisations are still run via hierarchical “command and control” structures, although everyone knows that these structures are not how things get done, communicated or decided. Why do organisations still put so much effort and “respect” in hierarchical (management) structures, when the current set of technology tools could lead to more transparent communication, better informed decision making and more fluid operations?

2. In the chapter about the telephone, McLuhan writes: “”In any given structure, the rate of staff accumulation is not related to the work” and “The work to be done is actually the movement of information”. I have always worked in complex, global, large organizations and I am sometimes amazed how much staff is involved in moving information around. We handle, reprocess, (re)validate, re-work, discuss, re-route information all day – just look at the job titles nowadays: process owners, business analysts, information architect, compliancy officer etc. .I wonder how much of this work is part of a “ritual” (or perhaps even busy work?) or actually work that is crucial to make the organization realize it’s goals?

3. On the last page of the chapter about the phonograph, McLuhan puts a great set of short definitions:

Telephone: speech without walls
Phonograph: music hall without walls
Photograph: museum without walls
Electric light: space without walls
Move / radio / tv: classroom without walls

How would McLuhan have defined the Internet in the above list?

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McLuhan on Innovation

This thinking about innovation is very common nowadays, but McLuhan wrote the following in 1964 and just has a particular way with words that I very much appreciate. From page 336 (of the ISBN 978-1584230731 edition):

Any innovation threatens the equilibrium of existing organization. In big industry new ideas are invited to rear their heads so that they can be clobbered at once. The idea department of a big firm is a sort of lab for isolating dangerous viruses. When one is found, it is assigned to a group for neutralizing and immunizing treatment. It is comical, therefore, when anybody applies to a big corporation with a new idea that would result in a great “increase of production and sales.” Such an increase would be a disaster for the existing management. They would have to make way for new management. Therefore, no new idea ever starts from within a big operation. It must assail the organization from outside, through some small but competing organization.

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.

Discussing #UMRG Chapters 23, 24 and 25

On Monday, May 6th, at 16:00 CET we will have our next virtual meeting for #UMRG. Click this link to see the meeting in your own timezone.

We will use Adobe Connect. Click on the following link to join the meeting:

http://meet79324623.adobeconnect.com/umrg-7

This week we will have a guest: game designer Kars Alfrink from Hubbub. Rhonda Jessen has written a summary and asks us two questions, while I have also asked a few questions about games on the basis of some McLuhan quotes. There should be a lot of discussion, so make sure the microphone of your computer is working. Go here if you think you need help with Adobe Connect.

See you there!

P.S. Can somebody please remind me at the beginning of the session to press the record button? Thanks!

Rhonda Jessen on Chapters 23 to 25 for #UMRG

Rhonda Jessen has used Haiku Deck to create a visually stunning summary of chapters 23 to 25.


You can download a PDF version of the slides or watch them on Haikudeck by clicking the image below.

Ads, Games & Telegraph on Haiku Deck

Ads, Games & Telegraph on Haiku Deck

Rhonda would like us to talk about the following questions:

  • If both games and technologies are counter-irritants or ways of adjusting to the stress of the specialized; then is the increasing specialization of games and technologies a result of increased stress or improved technological know-how?
  • McLuhan suggests that we sent our nervous systems outside our bodies with the telegraph, and extended our nervous systems with satellite broadcasting. Would he have argued that social media throws our consciousness into the universe or that it compresses it to mere narcissism?

Questions about Games and McLuhan for #UMRG

In anticipation of Kars Alfrink joining us this Monday I thought I would post some questions about games (for Kars and the others to ponder on) on the basis of his chapter on the topic.

McLuhan sees games as an extensions of social and group selves:

As extensions of the popular response to the workaday stress, games become faithful models of a culture. They incorporate both the action and the reaction of whole populations in a single dynamic image.

This means we can learn a lot about a society through observing its games:

The games of a people reveal a great deal about them.

My question would be: What does the current world of gaming (e.g. the gamification hype or the move to virtual rather than physical world or any other trend) tell us about our current society?

McLuhan seems to think that games need specators:

Art and games need rules, conventions, and spectators. [..] Great teams often play practice games without any audience at all. This is not sport in our sense, because much of the quality of interplay, the very medium of interplay, as it were, is the feeling of the audience.

My question: Is this indeed the case? What is the difference between participation and observation? What does a spectator add?

Finally, McLuhan seems to say that games make us whole:

We think of humor as a mark of sanity for a good reason: in fun and play we recover the integral person, who in the workaday world or in professional life can use only a small sector of his being. [..] Art and games enable us to stand aside from the material pressures of routine and convention, observing and questioning.

They can even help us be more creative and break out of our regular patterns:

Men without art, and men without the popular arts of games, tend toward automatism. [..] John Kenneth Gailbraith argues that business must now study art, for the artist makes models of problems and situations that have not yet emerged in the larger matrix of society, giving the artistically perceptive businessman a decade of leeway in his planning.

My question is the following: Could games be used as a tool to help people be more innovative in the corporate world (meaning the world of business)? What would the impact be? In which ways is work a game already?

Looking forward to our discussion!