Saturday, September 5, 2009

Conflicted in the 21st century


"The medium is the message."

Marshall McLuhan wrote that famous unfortunate sentence forty-five years ago in his most celebrated work, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.

Now, if that title alone doesn't make your heart flutter with adoration as you briskly snap your fingers in hip approval, (the early sixties beatniks snapped their fingers to applaud) ...read on, McDuff!

"Five word proclamations are cool."

There, I just wrote one myself.

"The medium is the message."

But if you persist in plunging (with a sturdy plumber's helper) the depths of McLuhan -- who, by the way, is also credited with giving us the term "global village," damn his simpleton soul -- you run into passages such as the following from the same ponderous treatise on American culture.

Mind you, this gobbledegook has been hailed as genius for decades:

If the work of the city is the remaking or translating of man into a more suitable form than his nomadic ancestors achieved, then might not our current translation of our entire lives into the spiritual form of information seem to make of the entire globe, and of the human family, a single consciousness?

Well, now. As the green guard of the gates of Oz proclaimed, "That's a horse of a different color!" Or, as we sneered in those days...

"Far out, man!"

We all want to be smart. We wish we were smarter than we fear we are not. We try to achieve wisdom by wearing its overcoat and shiny shoes. That's just human nature, I think. We want people to like us, that's all. Well, that's not all, exactly. We also want our spouses and children and grandchildren to think we are the smartest people in their very personal lives. It would be lovely if they said so at our funeral.

Only now, just after my 58th birthday, having spent half a century trying to measure up and show it off, have I suddenly realized what I need to do about myself.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

It doesn't matter that my job involves telling hundreds of thousands of people what's going on in the world (as far as I can guess or presume to sell as truth.) Occasionally I also give them one man's free perspective for the mere purpose of kick-starting a few brains. That's what I get paid to do.

I do not get paid to be smarter than I really am.

I'm starting to think my family is on to me, anyway.

Forty-five years after he published his ultimate intellectual achievment I wonder if McLuhan would be shocked to find that the age of information is a Chucky Cheese cacophony of noise, a digital blender of childish delights, proclamations, accusations and constructed horrors.

We have so many sources of information, rumor, implication, insinuation, views, opinions, counter-opinions, perspective, conspiracy theories and wild-ass guesses we've just about run out of any reason at all to try to understand the world all by ourselves.

I have absolutely no need for my brain for such purpose. I've decided from now on to use it just to amuse myself.

I guess you're on your own.

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