8/30/11

Marshall McLuhan on Jules Verne


Any believable prediction will be wrong.
Even so imaginative a writer as Jules Verne failed
to envisage the speed with which electric tech-
nology would produce informational media. He
rashly predicted that television would be invented
in the XXIXth Century.

Science-fiction writing today presents situations
that enable us to perceive the potential of new
technologies. Formerly, the problem was to in-
vent new forms of labor-saving. Today, the reverse
is the problem. Now we have to adjust, not to in-
vent. We have to find the environments in which
it will be possible to live with our new inventions.
Big Business has learned to tap the s-f writer.

Television completes the cycle of the human sen-
sorium. With the omnipresent ear and the moving
eye, we have abolished writing, the specialized
acoustic-visual metaphor that established the dy-
namics of Western civilization.

In television there occurs an extension of the sense
of active, exploratory touch which involves all the
senses simultaneously, rather than that of sight
alone. You have to be "with" it. But in all electric
phenomena, the visual is only one component in
a complex interplay. Since, in the age of informa-
tion, most transactions are managed electrically,
the electric technology has meant for Western
man a considerable drop in the visual component,
in his experience, and a corresponding increase
in the activity of his other senses.

Television demands participation and involvement
in depth of the whole being. It will not work as a
background. It engages you. Perhaps this is why
so many people feel that their identity has been
threatened. This charge of the light brigade has
heightened our general awareness of the shape
and meaning of lives and events to a level of ex-
treme sensitivity.

It was the funeral of President Kennedy that most
strongly proved the power of television to invest
an occasion with the character of corporate par-
ticipation. It involves an entire population in a ritual
process. (By comparison, press, movies, and radio
are mere packaging devices for consumers.) In
television, images are projected at you. You are
the screen. The images wrap around you. You are
the vanishing point. This creates a sort of inward-
ness, a sort of reverse perspective which has much
in common with Oriental art.


Any correct prediction will be unbelievable...