For the past 30 years I have lived and worked inside the machines generally called mass media. I am a business journalist and editor-in-chief turned Web media and communities consultant. I am a passionate consumer, observer and practitioner of anything media. Since the mid-90s the Web has been a source of wonder and marvels, personally and professionally. Still is. #
And all this time I have been working under the inspiring and protective shadow of a giant, Marshall McLuhan. I have never really studied McLuhan. I read about him first through magazines, then I had great conversations about his work with Georges Khal, cofounder of Mainmise magazine, when I had the privilege to assist him in making Le Répertoire québécois des outils planétaires, inspired by Stewart Brand‘s Whole Earth Catalog. I read McLuhan’s books in French and later in English. #
Then the man who helped me reach another level of journalism, Jean Paré, editor-in-chief and publisher of Canada news magazine L’actualité, happened to be the original French translator of Understanding Media and The Gutenberg Galaxy. A few years afterward, I had the privilege to have Florian Sauvageau as columnist in my magazine and McLuhan was part of our long discussions. Florian is Professor, Department of Information and Communication at Université Laval and also the author of the preface of Pour comprendre les médias. I mean, all this time I was making media as journalist, editor-in-chief and associate publisher. McLuhan is not for me an outside topic, he is part of the fabric of what I know and how I think about media. #
When all is said and done, I guess that just two points are enough to sum up the huge influence Marshall McLuhan and Understanding Media have in media machina: #
- The first point is that media can be understood.
- The other one is that when analyzing any media, we have to pay attention to the relationships this media has with all our senses and all our fields and grids of perception, in the physical, animal and cultural realms.
That’s about it. #
The rest is, well, literature. #
I won’t enter the debates about what Marshall McLuhan meant by this or that. I don’t care, and probably he didn’t either. There are a lot of us in the “fans of McLuhan” corner, but he also has had his share of detractors, especially in academic circles. I have no problem with that. I have always worked as a media craftsman and I am only interested in what’s useful. What strikes me the most when reading McLuhan is the raw physicality of his perceptions and descriptions of media, not their theoretical relevance. #
A way to put it simply, I see Marshall McLuhan as an English scholar and genius who stumbled on a machine and described it in his language and with his tools, those of a professor of English literature and literary critic*. When we stop looking at the diverse interpretations of McLuhan writings, when we stop being transfixed by the glittering of his brilliant formulas, when we stop thinking about him at all and just look at what he is talking about, then we can see the machine appearing in the middle of the proverbial living room, in the middle of his work. #
Thanks to McLuhan, I think that all mass media and all branches of marketing are interlocking mechanisms that can be observed, understood, taken down to measurable parts and reassembled in multiple ways. Some will work, some won’t. Because they are machines and they follow logical rules of natural phenomena. #
And I have never doubted that I would observe a few of these mechanisms because Marshall McLuhan was always there, saying, ‘there is a machine here. #
See notes. #
used with permission of the artist