Monday, June 13, 2016

Marshall McLuhan | The Learned Societies of Canada Conference, June 1961

When President Kennedy was newly elected, the editor of the Christian Science Monitor said to Philip Deane, ‘We now have our first beatnik President.’

I am sure that when I was chosen as guest speaker for this occasion many felt inspired to observe that 'We now have our first beatnik guest speaker.' McLuhan will not only show the relation between electronics and the Humanities, but between the small car and Bridget Bardot. He will take off in all directions at once, proving that since the disappearance of seams from nylons there is no value in lineality. The disappearance of the line in hosiery he will make to appear to be related to the disappearance of the chorus line, the receiving line, the stag line, and the party-line. He may point to the dread omen that no child would roll the hula hoop. He will probably suggest that skin-diving and TV-viewing are the same thing. That the teaching machines perfect the procedure of archetypal criticism. That the wrap-around space of the small car and the wrap-around audience of the new platform stage are not only the same form, but that North America is undergoing a massive Bauhaus program of haptic innovation which causes the leering teenager to spring up where before had grown the docile adolescent.

But even if I avoid all these fascinating themes there remains a great deal to be said about new rôles and new procedures for the Humanities in the electronic age. It was Peter Drucker, former professor of philosophy and now Dean of the School of Management in New York University, which said in effect at the outset of his Landmarks of Tomorrow:

‘For the first time in human history higher education is not a privilege, a frill or a luxury. It is a necessity of production.’

That is not to say that higher education is being supplanted by commerce, but rather that the age-old gap between them is harder to find. In a recent book, Classrooms in the Factories, Clark and Sloan report that the annual budget for classroom teaching in industry is more than four times the annual budget for primary, secondary, and higher education. And that estimate takes no account of the extensive training programs for military personnel. The G. E. management centre for executive training at Crotonville on the Hudson has four classes of forty executives each year. The budget is 46 million. Never did he know the true meaning of liberal education, says Peter Drucker in the book already mentioned, until he entered the field of management consulting. He refers to the immediate relevance of encyclopedic liberal knowledge in the conduct of current corporation design and action. Indeed, the corporations are much more aware of their need for new high-level liberal education then are the universities. The Ciceronian ideal of the doctus orator is current again. In The Liberal Hour, Kenneth Galbraith has a chapter on 'Economics and Art,' in which he both ridicules the old commercial notion of art as frivolity and urges the relevance of art as a navigational guide in all business today. The supremacy of design in creating and marketing is one factor. The other factor is that the artist’s designs provide the advance models' future development. Careful study of new artistic models gives any firm ten or twenty years breathing spell in planning and development. The old-fashioned business man who played it off the cuff and read only the current signs is now doomed by the speed of the new technology. So the artist moves from the ivory tower to the control tower in modern industry.

With regard to the new needs of industry in the electronic age a recent spokesman insisted that one out of every ten elementary school children must proceed to a Ph.D. if the American situation is to be maintained. No matter what the area of study be, so it be done in depth, that is the vision of American business in education today, for good or ill…

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