The term global village describes the phenomenon of the entire world becoming more interconnected as the result of the propagation of media technologies throughout the world. Marshall McLuhan, who was a Canadian thinker, coined the term 'global village' in the s. It indicates daily production and consumption of media, images and content by global audiences. Within the global village framework people transcend the micro- meso- and macro-dynamics of their life on a daily basis. They get involved in complex communities of networks stretching worldwide.
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Email: tremblay. Running counter to the general trend stressing their similarities, he highlights their differences. Rejecting their techological-determinist standpoint, the author proposes a comprehensive and critical summary of their analytical frameworks and methodologies, seeking to assess the influence they have had on his own perspective, tracing the contributions they have made to the evolution of communication research.
Marshall McLuhan is by far the best-known and most cited Canadian author in the world. Unfortunately, this reputation has not been accompanied by a thorough knowledge of his work. Harold A. Innis is not as well known abroad. His books have not been translated into several languages, unlike those of McLuhan, and his influence, with few exceptions, has not expanded beyond the Canadian border.
Only a few scholars, including the distinguished American James Carey, have given him careful attention and have found inspiration in his work. However, he left an important legacy to Canadian academia among scholars studying communication phenomena, especially those whose approach belongs to the galaxy of political economy. By virtue of my training and my teaching duties, I have come to read several major works of Innis and McLuhan.
While I cannot claim to be an expert on the writings of either of them, both have exercised a profound influence on me at two different times in my career. So I am grateful for having been given the opportunity to publicly acknowledge my debt and to make a critical assessment of what I believe to be their main contributions to communication sciences.
Everyone interested in the relationship between communication technology and social, economic, and political organization; everyone interested in culture in its broad sense ways of thinking, feeling, knowing ; everyone interested in literary and artistic production, distribution, and consumption of cultural, informational, and communicational products; and everyone interested in the impact of media on the lives of individuals and societies should at some point read the works of Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan.
More specifically, as indicated by the title of my article, I address the themes of the global village and of the empire, as they not only are in everyday news, but are central to the work of these two Canadian writers.
The two Toronto professors share the same interest in the media of communication that they placed at the heart of their work. Innis is often presented as the precursor of McLuhan, especially since McLuhan claimed in his preface to a new edition of Empire and Communications and in his introduction to a reissue of The Bias of Communication that Innis had influenced him.
But, as we shall see, a careful analysis of their work reveals more differences than similarities between the two thinkers. One was trained in economics, the other in literary studies. While Innis followed a traditional academic career, McLuhan chose a more unconventional path.
While Innis rigorously applied social-science methods to his research, McLuhan sought to emulate the way artists work. While Innis was interested in the fate of communities, McLuhan was more concerned with the ordinary life of individuals. Innis remained pessimistic until the end of his life regarding the future of modern societies, believing that that they had been unable to achieve the balance necessary for their survival.
Innis attempted to determine the conditions of equilibrium and sustainability of societies, empires, and civilizations. By contrast, McLuhan sought to understand the causes, meaning, and direction of changes resulting from the invention of new media and their impact on the lives of modern or postmodern if you prefer men and women.
I had just finished college and was about to undertake undergraduate studies in sociology at Laval University. I do not know whether McLuhan is the main factor behind my interest in communications, but I am convinced that he has at least greatly contributed to confirming it.
However, I have always had an ambivalent relationship with his work. I have often been uncomfortable with his conceptual imprecisions and his rough assertions. I have always been sceptical of his theory of perception and have never agreed with his technological determinism. However, I have frequently been stimulated by his daring metaphors, his surprising comparisons, and his original interpretations of literary and artistic works.
If I had to summarize briefly my relationship with McLuhan, I would say he is a writer with whom I often disagree but who challenges me, questions me, stimulates me, and makes me react. To paraphrase him, I do not agree with the content of his work, but no matter; it is my interaction with the medium that counts! How valuable it is to have an author who drives you to think!
I guess McLuhan was proud to play this role. Unfortunately, people are usually prone to repeating his most famous maxims as dogmas, often in the wrong way. McLuhan was arguably one of the first writers to draw public attention to the existence of communication technologies, their characteristics, and how they work, rather than just to the messages these technologies transmitted.
Until the s, researchers had only been interested in specific effects of different types of messages for purposes of propaganda or advertising , and public debate about the media was obsessed with the morality of the programs that were broadcast.
The works of McLuhan came as a timely reminder of the importance of technology dissemination and transmission networks. The style he adopted, consisting of concise and flamboyant formulae, as well as the dramatic and mysterious aspect of his message, made him an oracle of communications.
One could find plenty of quotes that have made McLuhan, despite his occasional protestations, one of the most illustrious heralds of technological determinism. In his work, society and the individual are shaped by the media. Social, economic, cultural, or political factors, when referred to, only have a minor impact in comparison with technological overdetermination.
In some pages, McLuhan places great emphasis on the mechanical and industrial aspect of media production: division and hierarchy of operations, interchangeability of components, as well as mechanical reproduction and linear thinking. The restructuring of human work and association was shaped by the technique of fragmentation that is the essence of machine technology.
The essence of automation technology is the opposite. It is integral and decentralist in depth, just as the machine was fragmentary, centralist, and superficial in its patterning of human relationships. McLuhan, , p.
But if he shares with them the statement of a mechanical, industrial culture, he provides a very different analysis of this phenomenon. For researchers of the Frankfurt School, it is the modern communication technologies, invented in the early twentieth century—particularly radio and cinema—that are responsible for the industrialization of culture. For McLuhan, the mechanization of culture is rather the product of the printing press, invented in the fifteenth century.
The one-dimensional man, for McLuhan, is not the result of the expansion of mass culture and the capitalist system, as Herbert Marcuse wrote. On the contrary, for the author of The Gutenberg Galaxy , it is basically the product of print culture made possible by the invention of the printing press. It is a complete reversal of perspective in relation to theories of the Frankfurt School.
This analysis of the industrialization of culture and communication could have led McLuhan to develop an economic or sociological perspective. Each medium would extend one or the other or a combination of our five senses, or our brain, of which the computer is supposed to be an extension. The media, according to McLuhan, are more or less hot or cool depending on how many senses they extend.
A medium is hot if it extends only one sense, transmits highly defined information, and involves a low participation activity. It is a relatively simple definition, but its application is very complex. This is certainly the case in the work of McLuhan, where the media appear more or less hot or cool depending on the point of comparison. Thus, for example, alphabetic writing is hotter than handwritten ideographic writing but cooler than alphabetic writing in print.
Radio is sometimes presented as cool, sometimes as hot, et cetera. As a result, perception is atrophied, fragmented, unbalanced. This is what has happened in the Gutenberg era. The overuse of the eye entailed by book culture has led to the linearity, hierarchy, specialization, and division of knowledge, as well as to the separation between science and art and between thought and action. I have never met a specialist in perception who could confirm this! Similarly, when McLuhan says that writing is a hot medium because it is an extension of the eye, the ultimate producer of linearity and segmentation in his theory, he puts his finger in his own eye, if you will forgive my making such an easy joke.
According to scientific theories of perception, vision works first by capturing gestalts large forms rather than by sequential scanning, and it proceeds only secondarily to a systematic exploration of the observed object. These are the same eyes that perceive images and texts. If writing is linear, it is because it is a substituting code reflecting spoken words, which are perceived in a sequence, one after the other, not because it appeals to the eye. The understanding of speech, which calls to the ear and not to the eye, is linear and not global.
Isolated reading is, of course, a communicative situation very different from face-to-face conversation. But there is much more than opposition between sight and hearing. The contexts of communication are different, and the dimensions to be considered beyond the purely sensory characteristics include psychological, sociological, and environmental factors.
McLuhan was a specialist in English literature, especially that of sixteenth-century Britain. He wrote his doctoral thesis on the rhetoric of Thomas Nashe, a famous Elizabethan satirist born in who died around McLuhan became interested in modern media, initially, only to better understand his students, who he felt were quite remote from his own sensibility. McLuhan was raised in a Protestant family and converted to Catholicism in adulthood.
I do not know the extent to which his conversion played a role in shaping his thinking. McLuhan had to find a way to reconcile his thought with the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly its social doctrine on communications. In other words, the media create an environment that determines the existence of human beings, but if they can become aware of this environment, they can escape from it. He does not specify how it happens, which remains rather magical, but finally, respect for the doctrine is safe!
McLuhan, we have said, is a literary scholar. One can regularly find traces of this in his works, most notably in the form of numerous references to William Shakespeare and James Joyce, among others. A Renaissance expert, he surprisingly looks for the principles of his method in the period that preceded it—namely, the Middle Ages.
To follow a method coherent with his media theory. Given that the printing press has produced the kind of linear reasoning—analytical, fragmented, and sequential—that is not able to account for the complexity and comprehensiveness of the Marconi era, we must find tools to understand and explain more recent phenomena elsewhere. McLuhan seeks and finds them in the pre-Gutenberg thought. Refusing to write a record that sets out an orderly structure of argument, the oracle of Toronto proceeds by aphorisms and metaphors dealing with many different themes, gloss after gloss, without any apparent logical structure.
The various sections of his books can be read in any order. To speak of his method, McLuhan likes to refer to mosaic and stained glass. As opposed to systematic and linear alphabetic writing, he prefers light that penetrates the object and reconstructs it piece after piece, like a mosaic.
In other words, McLuhan chose a scholastic approach rather than a Cartesian one, giving preference to interpretation rather than explanation. Considering such a return to ways of thinking dating back before the Reformation, one cannot help but refer again to his conversion to Catholicism. McLuhan does not explain; he explores. He liked to say he had no viewpoint, unlike his opponents who, according to him, opposed his views because they could not depart from their points of view.
The position he adopted was consistent with his theory of the media but left no room for critical debate. One could take it or leave it. This perhaps explains why McLuhan has engendered the most virulent opposition alongside the most uncritical partisanship.
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