On Entering the Electric Age


[Aside] A great deal of Marshall McLuhan's work was criticized by his contemporaries, both for its convoluted style and lack of scientific rigour. Less apparent were the intelligent critiques that drilled down through McLuhan's sometimes opaque prose to challenge his probes — those aphorisms written in "electronic fashion" to stimulate the minds of the Electric Age.

For those willing to take the journey (which was all McLuhan really asked in the first place), the results were noteworthy. A collection of these may be found in McLuhan: Hot & Cool, which was dubbed "a philosophical discotheque" by Harper's magazine.

I would like to add something to the debate: one of McLuhan's primary frameworks was the distinction between pre-literate, literate, and post-literate societies, which are classified based on the dominant mode(s) of communication of the day. Pre-literate societies communicate primarily by the spoken word; literate societies emerged from the introduction of the phonetic alphabet and the Gutenberg press and communicate predominantly through book form; and post-literate societies are those that are characterized by the electric communications technologies of telegraph, telephone, radio, television, personal computer, satellite, etc. McLuhan's hypothesis was that post-literate societies — that is, those who live in the electric age of communications, such as ourselves — would very much resemble pre-literate (ie. "tribal") societies in the way that they acted, both as individuals and as a collective.

The problem I have with McLuhan's framework is that I don't think it adequately considers the vector of change. Those entering the Electric Age (the future ancestors of Kroker's virtual class) are emerging from the visually-oriented, linear mindset of the literate age and all that it represents, and no matter how closely we may indeed resemble pre-literate tribal peoples in their behaviours and sensory ratios, it must be noted that this will be a categorically different group of people given that we are vectoring away from the Print Age.

Buckle your seatbelt, Dorothy, 'cause Kansas is goin' bye-bye.



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