Opening Music: The Ballad of Marshall McLuhan by The Radio Free Vestibules

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Welcome and Opening Remarks

Jody Berland, Associate Professor, Division of Humanities, York University and Editor: TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies

Innis and McLuhan: Environmentalists

Innis and McLuhan are seldom cited in the environmentalists’ literature. Nonetheless, both can be understood as contributing substantially to what I call a “Culture of Ecology,” that is modes of analysis, symbolizing, and in the end acting that are broadly consistent with ecological principles.

I’ve noted elsewhere that Innis’s media/communication thesis foreshadowed important aspects of the ecological thought and media criticism of David Suzuki. Moreover, both his staples and media theses propose bi-directional interactions among the material environment, human thought and messaging, and human activity in the context of political/economic power and control - a holism positing radical interdependencies that is quite consistent with ecological thought, but at odds with incremental, partial analyses characterizing much of western mainstream thinking.

In terms of ecological modes of thought, McLuhan went even further than Innis, however, actually terming his mode of analysis an 'ecological approach.' Electric media, he claimed, merge individuals and environment into an interdependent, simultaneous system. Moreover, McLuhan depicted human artifacts as extensions of the body and/or mind; for him, as for ecologists today, human nature evolves due to 'extra-genetic' (cultural/technological) changes— a position quite distinct from mainstream political and economic thought.

To attain a Culture of Ecology, a radical transformation in modes of thought is required. Innis and McLuhan are both beacons in this regard.

Robert E. Babe is the first holder of the Jean Monty/BCE Chair in Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario. Authored books include: Canadian Communication Thought: Ten Foundational Writers; Telecommunications in Canada; and Communication and the Transformation of Economics. Just finished is a book manuscript entitled, Cultural Ecology.

McLuhan and Speed in the Age of Digital Reproduction

Marshall McLuhan offered a critique of media that probed, among other social and psychic consequences, the shift from the experience of time to the experience of speed. Simultaneity, instantaneously and the uncertainty and unpredictability of living in the global present were among his concerns from early on; accelerating speed became a significant theme in his later, lesser known, writings.

Instead of the evolution towards a global village of simultaneous social action and unified consciousness that McLuhan spoke of in the 1960s, during the 1970s he began to see new technologies of ultra-rapid communication as giving impetus to greater acceleration with paradoxical effects and detrimental consequences. In his last posthumously published book The Global Village, he announced that we are no longer living in a community of speed, but at the 'beginning of a speed of light society.' As technology penetrates the human and social body more deeply, McLuhan warned that we were not designed to live at the speed of light. The later McLuhan began to rethink his earlier technotopian views of computing in order to observe the satisfactions and dissatisfactions, positive and negative results, of living in a 'speed of light society.'

Bob Hanke’s work on McLuhan will appear in G. Genosko (Ed.), Marshall McLuhan: Critical Evaluations in Cultural Theory (Routledge, 2005) and P. Grosswiler (Ed.) Transforming McLuhan: Critical, Cultural and Postmodern Perspectives (Hampton Press, forthcoming). His has recently written on the political economy of Indymedia practice (Canadian Journal of Communication, forthcoming) and co-edited TOPIA 11, a special thematic issue on Culture and Technology. He is a co-founding member of CAMERA—Committee on Alternative Media Experimentation, Research & Analysis. CAMERA’s first pilot video project is tentatively titled 'Understanding Media Poll-itics.'

Is TV Still Sticky in the Age of a Digital McLuhan?

At the end of the cathode ray tubes dominance of televisual hardware, new flat screens are emerging in domestic, commercial and public spaces the so-called plasma and liquid crystal display (LCD) and organic light-emitting diode technologies (OLED). These sets are commercially valorized through new media rhetorics. Nothing of the tactile experience of the tube upon which McLuhan reflected seems to have been lost in the dying days of the reign CRT. But surely, after the ray gun, the 'scanning finger' is lost to the projector. Is, then, digital TV tactile? Is TV still cool? Is McLuhan forever out of focus in the age of smart, high-definition TV?

Gary Genosko is Canada Research Chair in Technoculture at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. Recently, he edited the three volume collection Marshall McLuhan: Critical Evaluations in Cultural Theory, forthcoming from Routledge. He is editor of The Semiotic Review of Books, and coeditor of the special issue on Technology and Culture of TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies. His ebook, McLuhan and Baudrillard: The Masters of Implosion, is available from Taylor&Francis.

McLuhan and the Death of Art

The great literary critic George Steiner once noted that McLuhan introduced us to a new form of cultural practice which he characterized as art that dies, that takes place in the temporal fabric of everyday life and disappears. This talk will be concerned with the kinds of ephemerality that interested McLuhan: advertisements, the live performance, the writings of James Joyce, and the media. It will consider the meanings of the ephemeral and the sacred in light of the commercial media that plagued McLuhans thinking and in the context of more recent global art interventions’ and synchronized political actions in the anti-globalization and peace movements.

Janine Marchessault is a Canada Research Chair in Art, Digital Media and Globalization at York University where she is Associate Professor in the Department of Film and Video. She has recently completed a book on Marshall McLuhan, Cosmic Media (2004 Sage Publications). She is a founding editor of the journal Public and has co-edited numerous anthologies including Wild Science: Reading Medicine, Feminism and the Media (1999) (with Kim Sawchuk), Gendering the Nation: Canadian Women’s Cinema (2000) (with Kay Artmatage, Kass Banning and Brenda Longfellow) and Fluid Screens: Digital Aesthetics and Intermedia (with Susan Lord) (forthcoming).

In partnership with Probe 2004,
the McLuhan International
Festival of the Future