8/2/11

Marshall McLuhan Environment As Art

The World Is Show Business

We have now become aware of the possibility of
arranging the entire human environment as a work
of art, as a teaching machine designed to maximize
perception and to make everyday learning a proc-
ess of discovery. Application of this knowledge
would be the equivalent of a thermostat controlling
room temperature. It would seem only reasonable
to extend such controls to all the sensory thresh-
olds of our being. We have no reason to be grate-
ful to those who juggle these thresholds in the
name of haphazard innovation.

An astronomer looking through a 200-inch tele-
scope exclaimed that it was going to rain. His
assistant asked, "How can you tell?" "Because
my corns hurt."

Environments are not passive wrappings, but are,
rather, active processes which are invisible. The
groundrules, pervasive structure, and over-all pat-
terns of environments elude easy perception. Anti-
environments, or countersituations made by artists,
provide means of direct attention and enable us
to see and understand more clearly. The interplay
between the old and the new environments cre-
ates many problems and confusions. The main
obstacle to a clear understanding of the effects of
the new media is our deeply embedded habit of
regarding all phenomena from a fixed point of
view. We speak, for instance, of "gaining perspec-
tive." This psychological process derives uncon-
sciously from print technology.

Print technology created the public. Electric tech-
nology created the mass. The public consists of
separate individuals walking around with separate,
fixed points of view. The new technology demands
that we abandon the luxury of this posture, this
fragmentary outlook.

The method of our time is to use not a single but
multiple models for exploration—the technique of
the suspended judgment is the discovery of the
twentieth century as the technique of invention
was the discovery of the nineteenth.