Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Acoustic Space | Marshall McLuhan & Links to Medieval Philosophers & Beyond

Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute
by Emma Findlay-White & Robert K. Logan

Marshall McLuhan is widely recognized as a visionary commentator of media and the means by which modern society communicates.

The notion of acoustic space is one of the key ideas in Marshall McLuhan’s understanding of media. McLuhan used his notion of acoustic space to characterize communication within the oral tradition. He contrasted acoustic space with space that characterized literate communication with writing especially alphabetic writing and then print. He suggested that the notion of “acoustic space” could be used to describe the conveyance of electric information via telegraph, telephone, radio, television, and would certainly have added, and indeed embraced, the digital age that he so presciently foresaw.

What we intend to show is that his notion of acoustic space in which the center is everywhere and margins nowhere, which is so key to his understanding of both the oral tradition and electrically configured information and by extension to digital information is actually rooted in his background as a medieval scholar. While his notion of acoustic space especially used to describe electric and digital information is considered quite modern and forward thinking, its genesis can be found in the medieval understanding of God as an omniscient being that can never be proven to exist, but whose presence is considered indisputable by the faithful. From the sacred trapping of medieval mysticism in the 12th century to the secular world of modern mass media, McLuhan was a conduit to the 21st century where communication technologies have supplanted God(s) as the omniscient entity controlling the world.

McLuhan defined acoustic space in many equivalent ways throughout his career but the idea of having its centers everywhere and margins nowhere comes from the way by which auditory signals are received from all directions at the same time. By the same token, electrically configured information is received all over the globe virtually simultaneously. This connection between electric and auditory information can be traced as far back as 1957 to his collaboration among his circle of colleagues at the University of Toronto (The Toronto School), and those who participated in the journal Explorations that McLuhan co-edited with Ted Carpenter. McLuhan developed this notion based on a suggestion from his colleague, Carl Williams, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto and a former student of E. A. Bott. Continue reading at the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute

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