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7.2 Toronto School - new McLuhans

A number of young scholars, each heralded by their supporters as the "new McLuhan", are carrying on the Toronto School tradition of Innis and McLuhan. Whereas Innis focused on the first transition, McLuhan on the second transition, those young scholars are focusing on the third transition which is currently taking place.

The first of those (in order of seniority) is Robert Logan (1939- ). His three major books within the Toronto tradition are The Alphabet Effect [LOGAN 1986], The Fifth Language [LOGAN 1995], and The Sixth Language [LOGAN 2000].

The second is Paul Levinson (1940- ). His most recent books are The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution [LEVINSON 1997] and Digital McLuhan: A Guide to the Information Millennium [LEVINSON 1999].

The third is a McLuhan literally as well as metaphorically. Eric McLuhan (1941- ), a son of Marshall McLuhan, worked with his father on Laws of Media [MCLUHAN M & MCLUHAN E]. Although this book started out as a revision of Understanding Media: Extensions of Man, it finished up when finally published 8 years after his father's death to contain as much of the point of view of Eric as of Marshall. Eric has since published a book on his own entitled Electric Language which continues to explore his perspective [MCLUHAN E].

The fourth is Arthur Kroker (1945- ) who, as the only Montrealer in the Toronto School, is appropriately more flamboyant. After a traditional book, Technology and the Canadian Mind in which he brilliantly surveyed the work of Innis, McLuhan and George Grant [KROKER 1984], he has produced a spate of un-traditional books on the fourth generation of media - for example, Spasm: Virtual Reality, Android Music, Electric Flesh [KROKER 1993] and Data Trash: The Theory of the Virtual Class [KROKER & WEINSTEIN].

The fifth is Derrick de Kerckhove (1946- ), who was a student and colleague of Marshall McLuhan before taking over his position as Director of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology. His two major contributions to the Toronto tradition are his recent books - The Skin of Culture: Investigating the New Electronic Reality [DE KERCKHOVE 1995] and Connected Intelligence: The Arrival of the Web Society [DE KERCKHOVE 1997].

The "baby" of the group is Bruce W. Powe (1955- ). He wrote a book describing Marshall McLuhan (along with two other Canadians, Pierre Trudeau and Glenn Gould, an almost-Canadian born on a yacht off Amherst, Nova Scotia, Wyndham Lewis, and an Italian, Elias Canetti) as The Solitary Outlaw [POWE 1987]. No doubt impressed by a country in which the Prime Minister for 16 years can creditably be described as a "solitary outlaw", he went on to do a very unCanadian thing - he presented a glowing picture of our country as A Tremendous Canada of Light [POWE 1993]. His exploration of the impact of the fourth generation of media continues with Outage: A Journey into Electric City [POWE 1995].

Although his major focus is the role of the intellectual in a world of declining literacy, Powe could be better described as a poet rather than a scholar. Of the other five "new McLuhans" , only Levinson is trained within the discipline of communication studies. The others are scholars in various different disciplines - Logan is a physicist, Eric McLuhan followed his father into English Literature focusing on the work of one of his father's heroes, James Joyce, Kroker is a Political Scientist, and de Kerckhove was a Professor in the Department of French. In this sense, they also follow in the Toronto tradition - Innis studied political science and McLuhan studied English Literature. All members of the Toronto School transcended their disciplines to become generalists. The diversity of points of view they therefore bring to Media Studies accounts for much of the richness of the tradition. The continuation of the Big Story of historical time - the co-evolution of the person and media as extensions - is in good hands.