McLuhan in UT President’s Report 1970

The overall theme of the Centre for Culture and Technology in 1969-70 concerned technology as creative action. All technology comes into a new configuration against an existing ground of institutions and social goals. The new technology, since Sputnik in 19571, has put a figure around the planet itself. This literally creates a monster, since the planet has been the ground of all previous human figures and operations. The planet is now a figure within a man-made ground of satellites and information. This is the formula for the monster, when figure merges into ground, or ground merges into figure. This is the formula used by Hieronymus Bosch in his paintings. It is also the formula of the surrealists – Dali and the fur-lined tea cup, and Mona Lisa’s moustache. The consequent loss of all human bearings and identity in this switch of traditional figure-ground, is accompanied by the familiar release of violent emotion and frustration. Violence, like the tragic agon, seeks new divisions, new patterns, and new equilibrium in a disrupted situation. Environmentalism becomes an obsession in a world in which Nature has “ended” and human programming of the space-ship earth becomes mandatory.

The seminar devoted a good portion of its time to ecological interests, as these were prompted by new technologies from Sputnik onwards. We studied the scrapping of the preceding technologies as well as the retrieval of ancient ones. In Viet Nam the elephant and tiger traps are ancient paleolithic devices now pitted against helicopter and radar warfare. Every new technology prompts a recall of a much older one. The young today are adept in the occult. The last two centuries of rationalism have been swept into the dustbin with much dispatch. These themes enabled full play for the wide diversity of interest represented in the seminar group.

A very large demand for speakers from the Centre has been met in part by the Centre Associate, Harley Parker, who is presently in South Africa consulting with government personnel on the effects of media on apartheid, and other matters. (A list of talks given by Mr. Parker during the past year is given elsewhere.)2

Centre studies on the effect of colour TV, for example, in upgrading the black image and downgrading the white image, have pointed to the great dangers latent in colour TV in many ethnic areas. In the same way, the effects of radio in intensifying tribal passions, especially in preliterate areas, has been the basis for considerable seminar discussion this year. Likewise, the effects of radio in creating the booze panic of the twenties, and the effects of television in creating the drug panic of the sixties have been canvassed in various seminar discussions during which psychologists and drug investigators were present.

The Rev. Maurice McLuhan, a new Research Associate of the Centre, has devoted much of his time to study of the nature and causes of student unrest. He attended a White House Conference in Washington on this subject a few months ago and has been in much request from various places since then. He has decided to concentrate on understanding student activism in relation to the new information environment.

The studies of Dr. Herbert E. Krugman, which were prompted by the McLuhan media hypothesis, constitute a welcome aid and enlargement to the studies at the Centre. Backed by a large staff of psychologists, and large funds for research, Dr. Krugman has begun a series of diversified tests. His initial report substantiated the proposition that the medium is indeed the message. He found that the content of media had little effect on the neurological responses of the subjects, although the various media had very pronounced effects, independent of their content. Dr. Krugman concludes his studies by saying:

In short, television man, the passive media audience, is an active but clumsy participant in life, while print man, the active media audience, is a selective, less active and more mature participant in life. Never mind now which is better. McLuhan was aware of the difference while none of our mass communication theory was relevant.
What then is the new theory of mass communication, not just for television but for video-phone, GE’s Video Projector and other and newer devices of the future? I suggest that communication theory is still a transportation theory, but with a difference. The old theory was concerned with the fact that the message was transported. The new theory must be concerned with the fact that the viewer is transported, taken on a trip, an instant trip — even to the moon and beyond.

Dr. Krugman’s study makes a very satisfactory extension to the Gappon-Banks experiments on media and changing sensory quotients done at the Centre for Culture and Technology in 1966-67 with a grant from IBM.3

 

  1. McLuhan (or at least the President’s Report) has ‘1956’ here.
  2. See the President’s Report, 77: Mr. H.W. Parker, on “The new technological society and the retrieval of all primitive modes of human awareness” to the student body at Lakehead University; on “The role of tactility in the educational process” to Sheridan College of Applied Arts and Technology; on “The new satellite environment creates a totally new political and educational climate” to the Liberal Party annual national conference; on “The end of bricks and mortar in the new education: the student can now use the city as a classroom” to the Association of School Boards, Des Moines, Iowa; on “Roles vs. jobs, costumes vs. dress, in the new Age of Involvement” to the San Jose Students’ Association, University of California; on “Our unknown environments” to the College Union, Fresno State College, University of California; on “Some of the unrecognized factors in student unrest” to the Monterey Peninsula College; on “The artist as the antenna of the race: the artist is engaged in writing a detailed history of the future because he lives in the present” to the International Culture Center conference at Punta Ala, Italy; on “Art as a means of knowing ‘where it’s at.’ Art as a consensual probe for social invectors” to the Center for Continuing Education, University of Southern Florida; on “A world view of the impact of communications” at Loyola University, Montreal; on “The Global Theatre. The new problems facing the plain clothes priests and nuns in the global theatre” to the Seminar Seventy conference on Youth, the Church and the World at Buck Hill Falls, Pa.; on “Images of violence” to the student organization, University of Utah; on “Good taste is the first refuge of the witless: a refugee camp for frightened Philistines” to the Design Society of America; on “Technology as creative action” to the Conference on Communication in Action, University of Natal, South Africa.
  3.  McLuhan reporting as Director of the Centre for Culture and Technology, President’s Report for the Year Ended June 1970, 86-87.