Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Why Bother with Marshall McLuhan

The New Atlantis
by Alan Jacobs

In October 1958 an organization called the National Association of Educational Broadcasters held its annual convention in Omaha, Nebraska, and featured as its keynote speaker a Canadian professor of English named Marshall McLuhan.

McLuhan gave what appears to have been a dazzling speech, as was his wont, and on the basis of it the NAEB — a forward-thinking body — commissioned him to produce for them a syllabus for a year-long eleventh-grade course devoted to the study of media, especially new and visual media. They wanted American high-school students to understand “the various and often contradictory qualities and effects of media,” and believed that McLuhan was just the person to explain such matters. McLuhan gladly accepted the commission and set to work.

But the syllabus and accompanying “textbook” he eventually produced baffled the leadership of the NAEB. They discerned that McLuhan had given them an ambitious and intellectually dynamic project, but could not see how to use it in a high-school classroom. One can scarcely blame them for their befuddlement, given that this was McLuhan’s idea of an appropriate discussion question for eleventh-graders: “Speech as organized stutter is based on time. What does speech do to space?” Continue reading at The New Atlantis

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