WSCM anteroom: peace in the global village?

The anteroom of the WSCM has only two displays. The first is a large poster (or posters) with a description of the museum:

The Winnipeg School of Communication has local importance recalling now forgotten chapters of Winnipeg’s twentieth century history:

  • The downtown University of Manitoba campus
  • The outstanding people who taught at UM in those days and their outstanding pupils like S.I. Hayakawa , Marshall McLuhan, Tom Easterbrook and Carlton Williams.

Hayakawa (later the President of San Francisco State University and US Senator for California) and McLuhan were neighbours in the 1920s in Fort Rouge and remained in intermittent touch for the next half century. McLuhan and Easterbrook (later chairman of the Political Economy Department at the University of Toronto) were University of Manitoba classmates who toured England together in 1932. Williams (later President of the University of Western Ontario) was in the same year as McLuhan at Kelvin and the two continued at UM together. The personal and professional relationship of McLuhan, Easterbrook and Williams lasted the rest of their lives. And they were 3 of the 5 professors — McLuhan in English, Easterbrook in Political Economy and Williams in Psychology — who led the Culture and Communication seminar at the University of Toronto in the 1950s. It was this seminar and its Explorations journal which provided the springboard for McLuhan’s renowned communications work in 1960s and ’70s.

This museum tells the multimedia story of these people, of their importance to communications theory and of their multiple interactions with one another.

But is the Winnipeg School of Communication of only local and historical interest?

McLuhan famously foresaw a world of generalized warfare, universal spying, cultural breakdown, and the hijacking of entire nations — a world in which human survival comes into question. Ominously, he was not mistaken. The global dystopia he predicted 70 years ago is increasingly upon us today.

At the same time, however, McLuhan attempted to describe an exit strategy, a ‘strategy for survival’. And it is here that the international — not local — and contemporary — not past — interest of the Winnipeg School is to be located. What is  the possibility of peace in the global village under nuclear conditions?

Seeds of an investigation of that question were planted in Winnipeg over 100 years ago. But its implementation has hardly started to this day, despite all the work of the Winnipeg School. Hence its development remains an urgent matter for the future — if we are to have a future.

Another poster cites McLuhan’s first mention of the ‘global village’ from a speech given in Winnipeg in 1959:

Another aspect of the (…) instantaneous flow of information from every part of a situation, from every quarter, is that we develop a new attitude to space, a new attitude to time. The globe becomes a very small village-like affair, under electronic conditions, in which whatever happens to anybody, happens to everybody; and living in this very small new space, as it were, causes us paradoxically to take very long views, in the matter of time. (‘New Business Rules In Our Electronic Age’, a speech before the Winnipeg Ad and Sales Club, May 11, 1959)