Who’s Tweeting Marshall McLuhan

This Post was originally written for my Algonquin College Social Media course in July 2011.  I have posted it here for wider a reading audience.  Rob

The observation of the centennial of Marshall McLuhan’s birth (July 21 1911) sparked more than a few articles and opinion pieces about ‘what McLuhan would think of the internet today”.  This of course is a subject that McLuhan had approached as he discussed and wrote about electronic communication two decades before it became a reality in its infancy.  The Montreal Gazette’s Peggy Curran (@peggylcurran) wrote an excellent piece published July 17th entitled “McLuhan’s legacy is alive and tweeting” http://www.montrealgazette.com/search/McLuhan+legacy+alive+tweeting/5112113/story.html

McLuhan’s the “medium is the message’ described how new mediums were changing how we conversed and interacted and communicated or didn’t communicate with each other.  With the advent of Social Media we are back to having conversations, the medium has changed.  People are back to listening, conversing and telling and more listening.   We have had decades where the mediums have been one way, people listening for the most part.

To emphasize that Social Media will and can continue the conversation that McLuhan started, the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) invited readers to watch a 1977 broadcast of an interview with Marshall McLuhan and then to “Tweet like McLuhan” .  The responses would be used by a writer guised in on Twitter as @fauxMcLuhan.  The hashtag #tweetlikeMcLuhan has the responses provided many 21st century McLuhanism’s, also comments and Mcluhan Tweets have been posted at   http://pool.abc.net.au/media/tweet-mcluhan with @fauxMcLuhan commenting on the posts.

Back to how we have come full circle with this new-fangled medium called the internet.  Before radio and Telephone there were little in the way of a medium to take us away from each other, newspapers only distracted us for so long, as did books…we ended up talking about what we were reading.  Then radio and TV made their appearances.  Chairs and furniture were rearranged to allow for maximum listening and viewing pleasure.  Hours upon hours could be spent listening to the radio.  When TV came along society changed, we became listeners, always needing to hear (and see) what was being beamed our way.  There were conversations of course about what was shown, but you couldn’t talk to Ed Sullivan or Milton Berle to tell them how much the show this was great, or not so great – we could only tell our friends.

Let’s scoot ahead 50 years, late in the first decade of the 21st century and how we have managed to come full circle in having real time conversations with not only our friends but with those we don’t know but share interests and knowledge.  In “Twitterville” (page 93) Shel Israel (@shelisrael) describes how TV’s golden moment in  broadcasting and mass marketing  came from studios in Burbank, ads were put in front of people to see and hear, like a monologue.  The new golden moment is “Twitterville” and micro mass marketing where it is a conversation, it’s personal and what communities think have greater influence than traditional brand marketing.

Pat Curran writes in her McLuhan piece that McLuhan himself wrote over 40 years (1962) before the internet and Social Media became part of our lives that “he envisioned the computer as a research and communication device as an extension of consciousness which would do the work of a Television, Library, encyclopedia and personalized shopping plaza.”

Has McLuhan been proven right? More over if the Message is the Medium and as Social Media evolves and has the people become more and more the Social in Social Media have we come full circle?  With Technology, have we been able to replicate what no technology allowed us to do in the first place, converse and communicate one to one?


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