|Our current economic crisis is partly due to the fact that, almost 30 years later, we still haven't got McLuhan's message - there is a paradigmatic shift from an industrial society, based on energy, to a post-industrial society, based on information. We are bailing out the auto companies, while the infrastructure has shifted from transportation to telecommunication. We are be-moaning the drop in the traditional industrial-society economy, while retail sales are shifting to the new information-society economy. People are buying less at Walmart but more at Amazon, the Walmart of the internet. |
Nor have we mastered McLuhan's media. Memory to store information and speech to transmit information was adequate for a hunter-gatherer society. However, to deal with the much more complex information society, we need to extend memory with multimedia and speech with the internet. Those media extensions are essential. We can do little without them. I can multiply two one-digit numbers "in my head" only because I have memorized the multiplication tables. To multiply two two-digit numbers, I reach for pencil and paper or, now, for my iPod Touch.
The really important mergers are not AOL with Time/Warner or Google with YouTube but the merger of our minds with media. Yet the only mention of such media in the context of our crisis in capitalism is expressions of amazement that young people are still buying luxury items like iPhone despite the economic downturn.
Two of my recent purchases are an iPod Touch (iPhone without the phone and monthly payments) and a pair of spectacles. No one would dismiss my glasses as a "gadget", as articles in the business section do the iPhone. Yet all my glasses can do is magnify print and images, which I can do with my iPod touch (which cost half as much) by simply spreading my fingers.
I can also use it as a clock, a calendar, a calculator, a notepad, and an address book, to receive and send e-mails, to surf the net, to check the weather and my stocks, to get directions, to listen to music and audiobooks, to store and display photos, to watch videos, to play myriad games, and to shop on the net. The iPhone is a universal clay tablet. Once we finally realized that a camera does not need to look like a camera and a phone does not need to look like a phone, we returned to the clay tablet, which many consider the first extension of the human mind.
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