Monthly Archives: September 2013

McLuhan’s language 2 (Lamberti)

In her recent book, Marshall McLuhan’s Mosaic (UTP 2012), Elena Lamberti correctly warns that “those who cannot see through the form of a medium inevitably misread and make a mess of its mediation” (56, italics added). Lamberti’s book itself, however, illustrates the problems which result when this advice is ignored.

In the following passage, she recommends taking “an imagist approach” to McLuhan’s language, one which would “read in depth and grasp the complex implications”.  But she fails to take such “an imagist approach” in making her own case:

,..McLuhan did not use words to represent the world in a mimetic way, but worked upon language in order to render the ongoing cultural and societal processes through it. He adopted an imagist approach to language, not a referential one. Terms such as civilization and book must therefore be read through, as semantic boxes containing a broader set of concepts.  (…) In McLuhan’s thought — as translated in his writings — book and literacy/literate are therefore images that immediately render the environment he was probing — an environment which the new electric media started to remodel from the middle of the nineteenth century, slowly inducing a sort of cultural schizophrenia, which McLuhan rendered through the expression ‘from the eye to the ear’.  This image immediately translates the passage from the mechanic to the electric cultural mode, that is, from linear (implying an atomistic visual approach to space) to acoustic (implying an oral space-time-oriented approach to duration).  ‘From eye to ear’ is a one-liner which invites us to read in depth and grasp the complex implications of the passage from an old to a new space-time sensibility projecting us into an acoustic space we have to experience through our five senses. (Marshall McLuhan’s Mosaic, 59-60)

Here Lamberti herself takes an “atomistic visual approach” at the very moment when she would urge its rejection in favor of an “imagist”, “complex” and “electric” one. Thus she inexplicably writes that McLuhan’s words as images “immediately (!) render the (!) environment he was probing” and that his work “immediately (!) translates the (!) passage from the (!) mechanic to the (!) electric cultural mode”.  But can anything be “immediate” when the “medium is the message” and when, therefore, everything needs to be “read through” as “containing a broader set of concepts”? Can there be such a thing as “the environment” in this case? Especially can there be “the mechanic” or “the electric” one? And what about “the passage” that she describes as leading between the two? Where did all these “atomistic” singularities come from in a “depth” situation with its “complex implications” of figure and ground?

One sign of the crisis that makes its appearance here is Lamberti’s reference to “a sort of cultural schizophrenia”. The implication of this phrase is that the “one-liner” she cites — “from the eye to the ear” — along with its inverse — from the ear to the eye — does not name two isolated historical “environments” which replace each other in sequence (supposedly depending on the rise of different communications technologies). Instead, in order for “a sort of cultural schizophrenia” to be possible at all, it must be the case that both ear and eye can be active at the same time. Indeed, when everything is “simultaneous”, when everything is subject to “the speed of light” and is “all at once”, when Lamberti’s “complex implications” are always the case, then not only can both ear and eye be present at the same time, they both must be present at all times. As McLuhan specifies:

the concentric with its endless intersection of planes is necessary for insight. In fact, it is the technique of insight, and as such is necessary for media study, since no medium has its meaning or existence alone, but only in constant interplay with other media. (UM 26)

Simply put, for McLuhan there is no such thing as that diachronic sequence of discrete ear and eye perceptual modes so loved by McLuhan scholarship:

Everybody who exists within any man-made service environment experiences all the effects that he would undergo in any environment as such. (TT 90)

Compare: any chemical question of course involves all of chemistry. So with media analysis.

Another sign of the same cross-road crisis which Lamberti might encounter here (but seems not to notice) is her repeated recourse to linear narrative:

an [eye] environment which the new electric media started to remodel from the middle of the nineteenth century, slowly inducing (…) the passage from the mechanic to the electric cultural mode, that is, from linear (…) to acoustic (…) the passage from an old to a new space-time sensibility.

This “passage” or “remodel” from “from linear (…) to acoustic“, from “old to (…) new (…) sensibility“, is strangely one which Lamberti’s own text has failed to implicate. For it itself remains decidedly and insistently “linear”. The “passage” she names is simply one of chronological time: “from the middle of the nineteenth century, slowly inducing”.

Now it is not the case that Lamberti has not gone ‘far enough’. For that, too, is linear. Instead, a kind of backwards somersault is required here which would go “through the looking glass” and “through the vanishing point” via “dropout”. Lamberti would have to ask: if “sensibility” has become questionable (because known to be both plural and “all at once”), what should my “sensibility” be in making my “approach” to these matters of “sensibility” and “approach”?

Here, as McLuhan never tires of insisting, only limitation and ignorance provide the needed signposts. For if we cannot let go of previous standpoints and certainties, if we cannot acknowledge their limitation, if we cannot see through our wisdom to its ignorance, we remain bound to the RVM. And this encloses us within a bubble with no possible perception of reality. Hence it is that:

All solutions are in the very words by which people confuse and hide their problems. (TT 103)

Only by interrogating what we do not know, first requiring perception of it, can we find our way.

As will have to be repeatedly unpacked in further posts, we need to find a way to retreat in preliminary fashion to that which is preliminary:

dialogue as a process of creating the new came before, and goes beyond, the change of “equivalents” that merely reflect or repeat the old. (TT 22, italics added)


Plenary judgment

Root post: Media as atomic structures

“Plenary judgment” or “overall view” does not imply the possibility or desirability of some mystical state where all things would be intuited in their fullness.  Such a cloud of unknowing is what McLuhan repeatedly critiques as “merger”. Instead, much as in the physical sciences (although here even more significantly, since it is now itself subject to investigation), it is exactly limitation which enables “plenary judgment” and this in several senses.

First, if human beings could not know their current view of things as partial or biased (“finn-again”), therefore as “evitable” (TT 6) in some ways, they would not be able to start again with a “re-cognition” in which an “overall view” of “the full spectrum of the human senses and faculties” (TT 14) can emerge. Such a “reversal” away from “concept”, such a “replay” of what and how was previously experienced, is exactly what McLuhan terms “percept”.

Put another way, if all human experience were not some “role” or “mask” in a “global theatre”, some “in-vestment” which is always a “put-on” or vestiture (that, exactly therefore, can always be taken-off and changed), it would not be possible for humans to learn anything. Humans learn language (where before they heard only noise) and generally learn to socialize in some particular way, and then later learn new skills and, in some cases, learn the essentials of some whole new area, only because re-investment (“recognition and replay”) is fundamental to them. They are that nature which is essentially biased and therefore fundamentally capable of change (including a change of outlook in which the elements of a domain emerge into focus).

Second, when an “overall view” emerges (as it did, say, with Mendeleev’s table in 1869), what characterizes that view as opposed to previous views is exactly its particularly. In particular ways capable of general reproduction, it posits relationships and makes predictions which anybody can test.  More, its particularity in the sense of not being the whole truth is exactly what drives further research — forever.

It was just such fundamentality of particularity which struck McLuhan in Popper’s falsification thesis. As Eric McLuhan describes in Laws of Media,:

Sir Karl Popper’s (right-brain) statement that a scientific law is one so stated as to be capable of falsification made it both possible and necessary to formulate the laws of the media. (LM 93).

This thesis is “right-brain” because it is “inclusive”, and it is “inclusive” (presupposing plurality and complexity) because it rests on a foundation of fin-itude.  Finitude always implicates a gap — or gaps — “where the action is”. Insight turns on such a gap of finitude (away from a previous view) and turns to such a gap of finitude (in a revisioned particular object) and exists in such a gap of finitude (between the multiple planes through which the revisioned particular object is now known):

the concentric with its endless intersection of planes is necessary for insight. In fact, it is the technique of insight, and as such is necessary for media study, since no medium has its meaning or existence alone, but only in constant interplay with other media. (UM 26)

Mendeleev’s table put forward the testable correlation (“intersection”, “interplay”) between the “plane” of physical materials and the further “plane” of the schematic organization of the table.  Such “intersection” is “endless” and “constant”, not because it suddenly answers all possible chemical questions for all time, but rather the reverse: because it opens a new field for “endless” and “constant” investigation.  There are gaps to its coverage which will endlessly engender new insights: they are “where the action is”.



The ‘Values Discussion Group’ of 1949

Root post: The bias of communication

As set out in William Buxton’s fine report, ‘The “Values” Discussion Group at the University of Toronto, February – May 1949‘, McLuhan participated in an informal seminar with Innis in early 1949 where bias was one of the central topics:

the members of the group examined how the prevailing social, economic, and political conditions affected the writings of economists and philosophers. In particular, they gave consideration to “what extent do certain conditions of change cause these scholars to deal with more or less highly abstract propositions than at other times they would?” This led to a discussion of the way in which various scholarly fields, including history, economics, and philosophy, dealt with questions of standpoint, premises, and bias. (Fourth Meeting, March 1, 1949)

The presentation by Innis (Eighth Meeting on April 5, 1949) was a trial run for his ‘Bias of Communication’ lecture two weeks later in Ann Arbor.

The ‘Values Discussion Group’ was chaired by William Thomas (Tom) Easterbrook (1907-1985), McLuhan’s old Winnipeg friend and University of Manitoba classmate, who had traveled in England with McLuhan in 1932. After graduating with McLuhan from Manitoba in the same class of ’33, Easterbrook became a student and later colleague of Harold Innis in the Department of Political Economy at UT. The two were close enough that Innis arranged for the publication of Easterbrook’s PhD thesis, Farm Credit in Canada (UTP, 1938), and personally contributed a foreword to it. Then, in a final sign of their personal and professional association, it was Easterbrook who took over Innis’ communications course when Innis became seriously ill with cancer in 1951 before dying of the disease in 1952.

After McLuhan arrived in Toronto in 1946, he was joined there in 1947 by Easterbrook. Since receiving his doctorate from UT in 1938, Easterbrook had been teaching at Brandon College in Manitoba (1938-1941), doing post-grad work with a 1941 Guggenheim award and then working for the Manitoba Post-War Reconstruction Committee.  Coincidentally, Innis also worked in Manitoba in the immediate post-war years as a member of the Manitoba Royal Commission on Adult Education. (The section of the report of the commission authored by Innis is reprinted as an appendix to The Bias of Communication.) Once the two of them were together again in Toronto, McLuhan must have been motivated by his decades old friendship with Easterbrook to learn about his friend’s work and, perhaps particularly, given McLuhan’s long-standing interest in communication, about Easterbrook’s close knowledge of Innis’ new research interests in that area. For  Easterbrook was familiar with ground-breaking research Innis had been doing since around 1940 on the history of communications.

In his 1964 ‘Introduction’ to Innis’ Bias of Communication, McLuhan reports that the first thing he read by Innis was his 1947 presidential address to the Royal Society of Canada, ‘Minerva’s Owl‘, which UTP issued in print in 1948. The coincidence of these dates with Easterbrook’s return to UT is significant. Then, once McLuhan had grasped the potential importance of Innis for his own developing work, he was able to establish personal contact with him through Easterbrook as seen in (and perhaps as first realized in) this ‘Values Discussion Group’ of 1949.

McLuhan’s language

McLuhan speaks to us from across a fundamental divide. He speaks to us from an inclusive position where everything in the human domain is always both phenomenal and ontological at once. (See ‘RVM or through the looking glass?‘)

This same phenomenal/ontological inclusivity holds in the physical realm where every material is both something that can be handled as it is found or made and something that can be represented, precisely, by a chemical formula.  

This phenomenal/ontological inclusivity in the physical realm resulted from the isolation of the structure of the chemical element in the nineteenth century.  The chemical formulas which became possible in this way map the ontological status of materials which always also have a corresponding phenomenal reality:  they are known to appear in just this or just that way.  Or, conversely, any and every material is known without exception to have an exact chemical formula.

Any misfit between the two phenomenal/ontological sides of this fundamental relation is indicative of a need for research which may reveal new information about either or both. Any misfit is, therefore, revelatory.

The relation is held constant, while its sides are investigated on the basis that it always holds.

Now McLuhan would have us approach any and all artifacts in the human domain in the same way and on a parallel basis.

The “meaning of meaning” is relationship. (TT3)



The bias of communication

Innis taught us how to use the bias of culture and communication as an instrument of research. By directing attention to the bias or distorting power of the dominant imagery and technology of any culture, he showed us how to understand cultures. (‘Media and Cultural Change’ McLuhan’s introduction to The Bias of Communication by Harold Innis, 1964)

When Marshall McLuhan arrived at the University of Toronto after the second world war at the age of 35, fundamental pieces of his mature position were already in place. These included:

1. the importance of “inter-communication” or “essential community” in all areas of modern life — personal, familial, commercial, religious, social, national and international. McLuhan had imbued this notion 15 years earlier at the University of Manitoba through one of his professors there, Henry Wilkes Wright (1878-1959), and particularly through Wright’s 1925 book The Moral Standards of Democracy.  McLuhan studied this book intensively in the early 1930s. Andrew McLuhan confirms that McLuhan’s copy of this book, which the McLuhan family has donated to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at UT, is heavily annotated. McLuhan’s interest in communication was then furthered at Cambridge through the work of I A Richards and, particularly, F R Leavis. The title of a collection of Leavis essays from Scrutiny published in 1933, For Continuity, expresses an idea, communication through time, that was important enough to McLuhan that it played a major role in his conversion to Catholicism a couple years later in 1937. Communication as continuity, but not as identity, particularly through time, was central to McLuhan’s very different attractions to the two great scholars he would befriend at the University of Toronto after his arrival there in 1946, Etienne Gilson and Harold Innis.

2. the notion that there are three “approaches” to experience whose definition is at once an “ancient quarrel” in human history and an outstanding topic of research in the domain of the human sciences and humanities. Here again, both Wright and his University of Manitoba colleague, Rupert Clendon Lodge (1886–1961) were important in supplying McLuhan not so much with an idea as with a tradition for life-long rumination. Both Wright and Lodge had backgrounds in neo-Hegelianism; importantly (beyond McLuhan, for Canadian intellectual history at large), both had contributed to the memorial volume for John Watson‘s 50th anniversary at Queen’s, Philosophical Essays Presented to John Watson. Another contributor (of 13) to that volume was Henry Carr (1880-1963), then the superior of St. Michael’s College, later the founding president of the Institute of Medieval Studies at St Mike’s (in 1929) and the person most responsible for bringing Etienne Gilson to Canada. Gilson and McLuhan would be colleagues at St Mike’s for decades following McLuhan’s appointment there in 1946, but before then Gilson had already decisively influenced the direction of McLuhan’s research. For it was Gilson (not without decided influence from Hegel on his own thought) who supplied a link between the triple “ancient quarrel” of neo-Hegelianism, which McLuhan had from Wright and Lodge, and McLuhan’s Catholicism.  This link was, of course, the history of the trivium which formed the cornerstone of McLuhan’s 1943 PhD thesis.

3. the conviction that human life is intelligible even while being (or exactly on account of being) definitively finite.  McLuhan had this conviction from Aquinas and Chesterton, and again from Gilson, but also in a different way from Leavis. It was this conviction he would later express in a letter to Martin Esslin: “One of the advantages of being a Catholic is that it confers a complete intellectual freedom to examine any and all phenomena with the absolute assurance of their intelligibility.” (Sept 23, 1971, Letters 440)

What McLuhan did not yet see when he arrived in Toronto in 1946 was how to bring these insights together into a unified program. It was just here where his new colleague at the University of Toronto, Harold Adam Innis (1894-1952), was able to supply the decisive clue in the very title of his April 1949 lecture — ‘The Bias of Communication’.

It would take McLuhan decades to understand the implications of this insight: they would emerge fully only in Take Today, his 1972 book with Barrington Nevitt.  The basic idea can be formulated as follows:

(1) All human action and experience presupposes a certain style or structure of communication.

(2) Communication is inherently biased and therefore inherently plural, since bias is inherently plural (bias would not be ‘bias’ if it were singular).

(3) The full range of communication, hence the full range of human action and experience, can be mapped on the range of bias.

(4) Bias ranges over 3 settings or “preferences”: (a) exclusive preference for one side of a communicative pair; (b) exclusive preference for the other side of that communicative pair; (c) dual or inclusive preference for both sides of that communicative pair (an inclusive preference which is possible precisely because exclusive preferences for both sides are just as possible).

(5) That humans are capable of mapping the range of bias is fundamentally related to the plurality of bias.  Bias could not be plural (and bias would not be ‘bias’ if it were singular) if humans were not capable, somehow, of navigating between biases: “the executive as dropout”. From the navigational position between biases (“the gap is where the action is”), humans can achieve understanding not only for both sides of any one communicative pair ( thereby exercising dual or inclusive “preference” in regard to it) , but in fact for all possible preference states or biases for that pair (where “stress” or “emphasis” differences introduce further variations even within a single “preference”). The same holds for all such pairs. 

In this way McLuhan was able to bring together his existing ideas of the centrality of communication in all human action and experience with the triplicity of “approaches” found in the “comparative philosophy” of Rupert Lodge, in the disciplines of the trivium and in Hegel’s “absolute” forms.  At the same time, the intelligibility of this domain could be revisioned as consisting in an ongoing set of sciences based on the structures of bias identified in this way.

Texts in Take Today setting out the importance of bias (limitation) are given here.

Also see media as atomic structures.




‘Limitation’ in Take Today

Root posts: The bias of communicationPlenary judgment

When McLuhan writes of “Finn-again” at the beginning (22) and end (297) of Take Today, he is not referring only to Finnegans Wake and to the Irish hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill (aka Finn MacCool). He is also specifying the essential (‘again’ and ‘again’) role of ‘fin’ as end, limit and border. Indeed, throughout Take Today, McLuhan emphasizes this essential role of limitation:

Less familiar as “bridge” is the “tragic flaw” (hamartia), of which Aristotle speaks in the Poetics. Without this interval of ignorance or awareness in his character, the tragic hero cannot bridge one state to another. The flaw is an area of interface and mutation, without which he cannot get better, but can only be hung up. (9)

man is enriched (…) by the recognition of his own limitations. (242)

As we return to role playing under the impulse of electric circuitry, we also confront once more the mysteries of both malignancy and magnanimity in the human heart. (276)

Breakdown as Breakthrough
The principle of this action is stated by Aristotle in his description of the tragic hero. The hero’s suffering or agon or struggle for new identity is made possible by a “tragic flaw” or defect. That is the classical case of breakdown as breakthrough. Without this flaw or gap, he could not make the discovery that changes both himself and his actions. As Charles Olson explains in his book Proprioception:
The fault can be a very simple one — a mere unawareness, for example — but if he has no fault he cannot change for the better, but only for the worse (…) he must pass through an experience which opens his eyes to an error of his own.
What Aristotelians have ignored is that the “flaw” is the needed gap that permits “interface” and change. When the individual is entirely at one with his world or organization, he is headed for a hang-up of merging and unconsciousness, which is sterility in life or in business. (282)

In an information environment the most valuable resource is the recognition of specialists’ ignorance. (287)

For the comprehensivist it is the “noise” of the total environment that he must now convert into the program of his global theater. (293)

In fact, we have now to replace nature itself, remaking it as an art form perfectly accommodated to the totality of human needs and aspirations. Such an enterprise requires nothing less than inclusive awareness of human resources and limitations. (294-295)



Media as atomic structures

Root posts: On the new opening of a domainThe bias of communication

Marshall McLuhan aimed to initiate the scientific investigation and mapping of the domain of human sciences and humanities through the identification of the structure of its atomic elements — “media”.

Atoms in the physical sciences are not ‘a-tomic’ (Greek: ‘un-cuttable’) in the sense that they have no smaller components. Particle physics is the study of just how complex (and therefore ‘cuttable’) these atomic structures are.  The chemical atoms are  ‘uncuttable’ only in the sense — only in the fundamental sense — that important definition and investigation must focus on them. Exactly so with McLuhan’s media.

The basic ‘particles’ of media are “eye and ear”:

There are only two basic extreme forms of human organization. They have innumerable variants or “parti-colored” forms. The extreme forms are the civilized and the tribal (eye and ear)… (TT 22)

All material elements are expressions of the formula (PE)n. Their atoms are composed of some matching number (n) of protons and electrons (PE), plus some roughly matching number of neutrons (Nx), where x approximates n, but can also be zero. The “two basic extreme forms” of the chemical element are therefore the proton and the electron. All of the chemical elements — and all the “innumerable” things compounded of those elements — are “variants” of their combination.

In a comparable way, all elementary media are a relation R of the “basic extreme forms” of eYe and eAr — eYe R eAr — but here the relation R does not consist of some quantifiable matching number, but of some variable quality of “preference” and “stress”. (The designations eYe and eAr are intended only to indicate that these are formal structures and not senses as found objects. The same holds for toUch which McLuhan generally treats as R. This sort of refocus from found object to formal structure explains how it is that McLuhan can speak of using the eye as an ear or can think of TV as a medium of touch, not of vision.  An analogous turn from found object to structure occurs with chemistry or, indeed, with any scientific law like Galileo’s law of falling bodies.)

“Preference” is the valorization or marking or identification with either the eYe or eAr side of R — or with both sides at once (“all at once”). “Preference” is therefore an expression of R:

The “meaning of meaning” is relationship. (TT 3)

A Mendeleev’s table of elemental media would set out the complete range of R.  As early as 1944, the 33-year-old McLuhan concluded an essay on his Cambridge teachers, Richards, Empson and Leavis, with reference to:

the journey which remains to be accomplished before winning an overall view, which is plenary critical judgment. (‘Poetic and Rhetorical Exegesis: The Case for Leavis against Richards and Empson’, Sewanee Review, 52(2), 1944, 276)

Such judgement would be “overall” and “plenary” in two senses.  First, it would envision the complete range of the ways in which humans ‘make sense’ and would judge in light of this range.  To compare: chemistry is a map of the range of the ways in which physical materials exist; chemical analysis situates substances and reactions in light of this range. Second, since such judgement would itself fall within this range, it would itself be “overall” and “plenary” in the sense that it would be that way of ‘making sense’ best able, or perhaps uniquely able, to initiate and accomplish such judgement.

“Stress” is the color of “preference”.  The valorization of eYe, for example, can be made in a violently one-sided way against eAr or it can be made in a way which also acknowledges the virtues of eAr. The same is true for eAr preference. Every “preference” state is further marked by some such “stress”.

Following on “preference”, therefore, “stress” is a further specification of R:

The “meaning of meaning” is relationship. (TT 3)

The difference between the domain of the physical sciences and the domain of the human sciences is that R is fundamentally invariable in the former and fundamentally variable in the latter. In this sense, among many others, the medium (R) is the message.

Further, just as the solution to all problems in physical nature lie within chemistry, so in the human sciences “all solutions are in the very words by which people confuse and hide their problems” (TT 103). Here again, in a different sense,  the medium (the revisioned domain of human sciences and humanities) is the message.

Further still, just as the identification of the chemical element was the key to the revisioned domain of physical sciences that has developed in the last two centuries, so the medium as the elementary structure in the domain of the human sciences is the key to a parallel development in it:  the medium (as the elementary structure) is the message

“Preference” and “stress” as markers of R are markers of bias. And it is exactly the bias of communication that enables rigorous investigation of the human domain.

Subsequent post: Plenary judgment

RVM or through the looking glass?

Reading McLuhan, everything depends on whether his texts are seen in the RVM or “through the looking glass”.

On the one (RVM) hand: “whenever we encounter the unfamiliar, we will translate it into something we already know. It is this that seems to make the present almost impossible to apprehend (…) the use of the present as a nostalgic mirror of the past” (‘The Future of Morality: inner vs outer quest’, 1967, 176).

On the other (through the looking glass) hand: “Once science went through the vanishing point into acoustic or resonant space, both scientists and economists were left on the wrong side of the looking glass, because they were mostly unable to make what Bertrand Russell cited (on the first page of his ABC of Relativity) as the indispensable preliminary act needed for grasping Einstein: “What is demanded is a change in our imaginative picture of the world…” (TT 69).

This change is “the indispensable preliminary act”: it must come before starting to read McLuhan. But what kind of action comes before the beginning? What kind of boundary line or limit [Latin, limes, limitis] must be crossed before [pre] the starting line? And what kind of time is implicated where the essential action is “preliminary” in this way?

The result of this “indispensable preliminary act” is the initiation of perception or “insight”:

the concentric with its endless intersection of planes is necessary for insight. In fact, it is the technique of insight, and as such is necessary for media study, since no medium has its meaning or existence alone, but only in constant interplay with other media. (UM 26)

“Intersection of planes” or “interplay” or “in-sight” is a matter of seeing through. In the same place McLuhan calls it “overlay in depth” — not limitation to a single plane, like Narcissus, but penetration into multiple planes, like Alice.

When McLuhan is read via such in-sight, ‘media’ are not, or are not only, print, radio, television, etc, they are also the elementary structures of the now fundamentally revisioned domain of human sciences.  

And the ‘senses’ are not, or are not only, sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch, they are also the structural components of the atomic elements of this domain — media. 

And ‘managers’ are not, or are not only, business functionaries, they are also the shadowy “executive” through whom — as whom — humans, all humans, have the strange power to “flip” identities and worlds:

As all monopolies of knowledge break down in our world of information speed-up, the role of executive opens up to Everyman. There are managers galore for the global theater. (TT 295)

It’s Reigning Executives Everywhere Today (TT 281)

every manager creates a service environment or ground that is an extension of himself. He puts on his organization like “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The managing process is both a creation and an extension of man. As such, it is a medium that processes its users, who are its content. (TT 13)

The next job is to process all branches of executive function in such a way that a man can be sent to any part of the organization anywhere, anytime, and feel quite at home. (TT 283)

“The organization” is the world or, indeed, the universe. The human need is to “feel quite at home” in it, “anywhere, anytime”.  McLuhan proposes investigation of the “managing process” as the way in which this might eventuate.

Humans somehow participate in a “managing process” in which they themselves “are its content”, in which they themselves are a result. A result of a strange “preliminary” action…

But when does this happen? And who does this? And how? Who is this “nobody” who goes “through the vanishing point” and “through the looking glass”,  the “executive as dropout”?  Who is this “emperor” who somehow “puts on” “new clothes” as both their “user” and their “content”?

the ultimate question: who am I? (The Global Village,147)