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Marshall Herbert McLuhan (1911-80) was a Canadian cultural theorist born in Edmonton, Alberta.
McLuhan founded the University of Toronto‘s Centre for Culture and Technology (1963) and became something of an intellectual pop star in Canada and beyond.
While his phrase “the medium is the message” is widely known, few seem to understand just what it means.
Most interpret McLuhan as saying, however, that media form rather than content determines a message’s impact and significance.
For instance, the medium of television (i.e. audio-visual transmission of ideas and moving images) involves the viewer in an entirely different manner than the medium of a light bulb (i.e. visual transmission of light), a printed book (i.e. visual transmission of ideas and possibly static images), a photograph (i.e. visual transmission of a static image) or a radio (i.e. audio transmission of ideas and music).
McLuhan has been criticized for minimizing the importance of media content (e.g. information and ideas) at the expense of its mode of transmission, and also for not adequately addressing the role of social power in the media.
Perhaps his greatest insight was his visionary claim that, due to technology, we live in a so-called “Global Village.” This idea was forwarded well before the invention and success of the internet (along with e-mail, instant messaging, chat rooms, blog comments, videocalls, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube), now a daily reality for many people.
McLuhan also believed that technology is an extension of the body and that the media shapes entire communities. With the advent of organically based computer processors, virtual realityheadsets, microchip pet tracing and medical implants, we can only guess just how deeply into the body technology will penetrate.
His main works are The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) and The Medium is the Message (1967).
Search Think Free » Baudrillard (Jean A.), Myth
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- Why e-books will never replace real books. (slate.com)
- The Shallows (ft.com)
- Why e-books will never replace real books. – By Jan Swafford – Slate Magazine (slate.com)
- Non-Human Media (bogost.com)
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The internet (a.k.a. WWW, World Wide Web, the web, the net) is changing so rapidly that every time I come back to update this entry (that is, every few years), I find it hopelessly outdated.
First developed by the USA military in response to the Russian Sputnik satellite of 1957, the web really came to maturity in the 1990s, but free Telnet access had been available in the US since 1975.
Since dominating the market in the 90s, the web remains relatively new and fast changing. And although it didn’t create a global utopia, the internet does represent a whole new vista for mankind’s ability to share information.
Not just a massive, worldwide encyclopedia, the web is a medium – some would say “space” – where those with access to a computer and an ISP (internet service provider) may create their own web sites to express personal views, share information, communicate or sell goods and services.
In its beginnings, many hailed the internet as the new organ of democracy, others saw it as the royal road to riches. Then came the so-called dot.com winter where a large number of internet businesses went bust. Early idealistic and get-rich-quick thinking about the internet was gradually replaced by a more realistic view of its tremendous potential.
Although an exciting media technology, the web operates within existing global structures. As such, its economic and transformational potential depends on a variety of factors and, at bottom, choices made by human beings and their governing bodies.
While the web continues to get bigger and faster, specialty features like customized headline search involving RSS (really simple syndication) and various applications (Apps), in combination with new wireless technologies have made the internet an even more effective tool for gathering information. And social media sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, WordPress, Flickr and free software like Skype have pretty much changed the way we relate as a species.
All this change has taken place with a simultaneous growth in hardware. Computer processors are always getting speedier, and short and long term memories larger. So a good computer of just a few years ago is really just a mediocre one today. And anyone who surfs the web a lot will be able to tell the difference in less than two seconds flat!
- Celebrating Marshall McLuhan (sandmanhotelgroup.wordpress.com)
- Further Reflections on McLuhan, TV, and the Web (billives.typepad.com)
- Internet can be crucial to a teen’s psychological development (scienceblog.com)
- McLuhan At 100: Five Things To Read (huffingtonpost.ca)
- Addicted to the Internet (laurenlocks.wordpress.com)
- Early Media Prophet Is Now Getting His Due (nytimes.com)
- Minutes to a Healthier You: Walk Away From the Laptop (fitsugar.com)
- ‘Finding yourself’ on Facebook (eurekalert.org)
- Marshall McLuhan’s legacy: Don’t downplay the comic books (cbc.ca)
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Records are scant but Guternberg likely began printing in Strasbourg (1430-44), seeking to reproduce the religious manuscripts of the day. He constructed a printing press in 1448 with the financial backing of Johann Fust. Around 1455 he printed a 42-line Bible, which historians call the “Gutenberg Bible,” a word respected for its aesthetic charm.
The Chinese had been block-printing with stamps and seals since the Shang dynasty (BCE 1766 – 1122) but the innovation of movable type sparked a technological revolution that continues into the 21st century. The impact of movable type on literacy – and society in general – is much discussed in contemporary sociology and cultural studies courses.
What you probably don’t hear in these courses, however, is that we’re not really sure if Gutenberg was the inventor of movable type. The uncertainty arose when researchers realized subtle differences between some characters within different printed copies of the same work.
Elaborate computer scans have apparently confirmed that these differences indicate that Gutenberg did not use one indestructible mould but, rather, had to employ some other method to mass produce copies of a single work. And this exact method is still subject to debate.
The following except from Wikipedia explains:
The invention of the making of types with punch, matrix and mold has been widely attributed to Gutenberg. However, recent evidence suggests that Gutenberg’s process was somewhat different. If he used the punch and matrix approach, all his letters should have been nearly identical, with some variations due to miscasting and inking. However, the type used in Gutenberg’s earliest work shows other variations.
In 2001, the physicist Blaise Agüera y Arcas and Princeton librarian Paul Needham, used digital scans of a Papal bull in the Scheide Library, Princeton, to carefully compare the same letters (types) appearing in different parts of the printed text. The irregularities in Gutenberg’s type, particularly in simple characters such as the hyphen, suggested that the variations could not have come from either ink smear or from wear and damage on the pieces of metal on the types themselves. While some identical types are clearly used on other pages, other variations, subjected to detailed image analysis, suggested that they could not have been produced from the same matrix. Transmitted light pictures of the page also appeared to reveal substructures in the type that could not arise from traditional punchcutting techniques. They hypothesized that the method may have involved impressing simple shapes to create alphabets in “cuneiform” style in a matrix made of some soft material, perhaps sand. Casting the type would destroy the mould, and the matrix would need to be recreated to make each additional sort. This could explain the variations in the type, as well as the substructures observed in the printed images.
Thus, they feel that “the decisive factor for the birth of typography”, the use of reusable moulds for casting type, might have been a more progressive process than was previously thought. They suggest that the additional step of using the punch to create a mould that could be reused many times was not taken until twenty years later, in the 1470s. Others have not accepted some or all of their suggestions, and have interpreted the evidence in other ways, and the truth of the matter remains very uncertain. †
- The Printed Word (djcadchina.wordpress.com)
- Museum of Printing History: A Field Report (webagent99.com)
- Gutenberg the Geek, reviewed (buzzmachine.com)
- Where Gutenberg worked (buzzmachine.com)
- From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg (thehindu.com)
In the academic world it’s often assumed that the acquisition of different languages makes for a better, more valuable scholar. While this often may be the case, it’s not always.
For Bourdieu and other sociologists like Max Weber, social institutions – like universities – tend to legitimize themselves. Western universities, for example, are compelled to justify high tuition fees coupled with boring, run of the mill professors exhibiting mediocre analytical skills and a limited ability to think creatively.
As socially recognized and highly competitive organs of knowledge dissemination, universities strive to produce a certain quota of publications. Meanwhile, many scholars and the reading public tend to uncritically associate the knowledge of original languages with rational, coherent thought and scholarly legitimacy.
This is a book for people, not for scholars. Real scholars will read the Sanskrit; would-be scholars, or scholars from other fields, will fight their way through the translations of Geldner (German), Renou (French), Elizarenkova (Russian) and others; they will search the journals for articles on each verse, and on each word; they will pore over the dictionaries and concordances (Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, The Rig Veda, London: Penguin, 1981, p. 11).
And in footnote:
See appendix 3 for a bibliography of translations into European languages (Ibid).
While O’Flaherty lists noteworthy Asian commentators and Asian translators who render the Veda into European languages, interestingly enough, no mention is made of translations into contemporary Asian languages like Japanese, Korean or Mandarin.
She says the European translations are intended to encourage the “would-be scholar to make a better guess” than her own “educated guess on several problematic points” arrived at “by using the available scholarship” (Ibid., p. 12).
Does O’Flaherty contradict herself by elevating the ability of so-called “real scholars” while conceding that knowledge of an original language does not guarantee “correct” understanding?
If knowledge of original languages did guarantee correct understanding, the meanings of specific words and phrases in most ancient texts would not be continually debated and re-translated. By way of example, there’s no need to try to figure out what Sir Isaac Newton was trying to say with his three laws of motion, because we all get it. Ancient words and phrases, however, are continually being reinterpreted by self-proclaimed experts on the basis of new archeological findings, shifting academic approaches and societal changes.
With the exception of O’Flaherty and a handful of others, most translators go to great lengths to try to justify their particular rendering of problematic terms. They attempt to convince the reader that their ability to discern original meanings is as strong or stronger than all the other ‘specialists.’
And not only that. Many scholars push narrow-minded or far-fetched claims to make their translation of certain terms conform to their own point of view. In short, linguists and translators can disagree quite dramatically. These conflicted meanings arguably arise partly from incompetence, ignorance, ambition, and opinionated or wishful thinking.
Translation is clearly subject to human bias. Even with concerted and informed attempts to offer accurate translations, it’s doubtful that these biases may be eradicated. And even if translators could go through a time machine and be present when the ancient texts were actually written, the central obstacle to a precise and exact understanding of certain terms would persist: The translators themselves did not write the original text.
It seems safe to say that one can, in most instances, never fully understand another person’s mode of thinking and intent. To complicate things, consider contemporary English literature about which English-speaking scholars produce seemingly endless commentaries about the actual or “intended” meanings of certain English words and symbols. These intense debates occur within the very same language as that of the original texts.
Here, the student of religion may argue that religious texts differ from fiction because the former refer to fixed, unalterable truths. But this claim is complicated by the fact that the meaning of some religious terms change over time-such as angel and asura.
Moreover, the religious believer could say they have an advantage over regimented scholars because they possess higher forms of perception-that is, the alleged true meaning of a term is revealed or infused by God, even when reading that term in translation.
The scholar of religion cannot really prove or disprove such a claim. But scholars do point out that many apparently ‘revealed truths’ among believers often seem to contradict one another.
Meanwhile, several postmodern writers intentionally write texts with open-ended, ambiguous meanings. This creates, they say, a living dialogue between writer and reader instead of a dead monologue from writer to reader. The result, they seem to believe, is a ‘literary novel’ of higher value than say, ‘trashy pulp fiction.’ But arbitrary distinctions like this can become ingrained among literary circles, and are often loaded with unsavory, elitist connotations.
Another point to consider is that some believe that writers, themselves, may not be fully aware of their own intended meanings. And this is the underlying basis to a psychoanalytic approach to literature.
Clearly, scholars can and do produce insightful works without much knowledge of original languages. A good example would be John Kerr’s A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein (1993). Kerr openly admits to drawing upon the work of several translators. And perhaps this is a stronger method than merely relying on one’s own particular and possibly idiosyncratic translation of original texts.
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The word myth is derived from the Greek mythos, meaning anything passed on orally.
Homer used mythos to signify stories and conversation based on fact instead of fiction. Later, Plato used mythos to refer to discourses containing shades of truth but which, for the most part, are fiction.
Among its contemporary meanings, myth often points back to a quasi-historical epoch or heroic character.
The term mythology may be used synonymously with myth or, more commonly, with a body of myths. ‘Mythology’ also involves a somewhat analytical (as in scholarly or philosophical) view of myths. A mythologist is someone who studies myths in this way, whereas a mythographer is more a compiler of myths.
Some mythologists trace historical conditions and archeological findings under the assumption that myths are just stories loosely based on historical events (as with the Hindu Ramayana).
In The Greek Myths Robert Graves says this about all myths—i.e. myth is something like a political cartoon.
Some rationalists contend that myth is an early protoscience that attempts to explain natural mysteries, not unlike contemporary science.
The functionalist theory sees myth as serving a positive social purpose. Emile Durkheim, for instance, argued that so-called primitive religion bonded community members and defined precise social classes and roles. The notion that social roles are defined and legitimized by mythology and sacred scripture seems to be partially supported by the Hindu caste system, by Greek and Nordic social stratification and by the Bible and the Koran.
Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory views myth as a folk tale that reveals more about psychological than historical truths. Freud sees myth mostly in terms of wish-fulfillment, denial and sublimation.
Despite Robert Graves’ attack on C. G. Jung for being too metaphysical, Jung himself says myths are “psychological truths” that are historical because they reveal the attitudes of a group at a particular juncture in history. Interestingly, Jung admits to creating his own modern myth through his psychological theories. He also admits to using scientific language to convince otherwise skeptical readers as to the relevance of his ideas.
In a sense, then, Jung’s approach to myth-making could be seen as somewhat postmodern in that he knows full well he’s creating a social truth, if not a permanent truth. While some third-rate thinkers may see this as some kind of moral threat, it’s not that at all. Jung’s goal in myth-making is to create a sense of meaning and purpose appropriate to his times.
Joseph Campbell notes that myth, in combination with rites and ceremonies, serves a pedagogical function. Campbell says myth provides a thread of sensibility running through various stages of life, teaching us how to belong and contribute to society, from birth to childhood, adolescence, adulthood, middle age and eventually to the grave.
In the Tibetan Book of The Dead, the importance of myth extends beyond the grave.
The structuralist theory of Claude Levi-Strauss looks at myth as something arising out of pre-set, universal linguistic structures. For Levi-Strauss, meaning is not separate but explicit to the structure of myths, which apparently pose a series of binary oppositions (e.g. good-evil, male-female, hot-cold, helpful-harmful) that demonstrate how the human mind thinks.
Levi-Strauss’ views have been challenged by Sir Evans Pritchard who says not all mythic systems are constructed in simple binary oppositions. Other opponents say that meaning may exist on top of structure. The statement “the yellow laugh looked wet” for example, is grammatically correct but most would see it as meaningless.
The poststructuralist Michel Foucault sees practically all statements and related practices in terms of myth or ‘fictions.’ For Foucault, societal morals, scientific truths as well as economic, ideological and political imperatives are myths which, when invested with social power, exhibit tangible effects. Sometimes these very real effects of myth are pleasurable and other times not.
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The use of computer hardware and software to create an artificial (i.e. ‘virtual’) environment.
The user normally enters the environment by wearing a headset that blocks normal vision. The environment is manipulated with an electronic glove – or a similar device – connecting the user to the computer.
The term has been traced back to the brilliant French playwrite Antonin Artaud who believed that the internal world of so-called fantasy and the imagination was just as real as the outside world.
This view parallels to some degree C. G. Jung’s reflections on the art of alchemy, where relationships with matter and particularly with other people are viewed as something analogous to chemical interactions. And the hypothesized Jungian dynamics of transference, counter-transference and especially syntonic counter-transference point in a similar direction.
Artaud’s understanding of virtual reality also touches on the notion articulated by John Donne that no man is an island–that is, neither distance nor even death entirely separates one individual from another.
No man is an island, entire of itself
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main
Virtual reality is having a significant impact on business, medicine and the entertainment industry, where virtual users enjoy, relax or express violent and sexual impulses in socially acceptable ways.
But not everyone sees it this way. Some say that violent virtual reality games should be reexamined in the event that they may promote rather than prevent actual violence.
This is a relatively familiar debate stemming back to the days before home computers. Before the PC the effects of violent TV shows, especially on children, were studied by researchers and public health officials.
Scientific and consumer watchdog concerns about public safety, however, have not deterred virtual reality from taking off. There’s always money to be made through the commodification of sex and violence and definite laws must be passed to regulate the process.
The idea of virtual reality also figures prominently in science fiction TV (e.g. Star Trek‘s holodeck) and movies like Total Recall (1990) and The Matrix (1999) where users enter computer generated worlds indistinguishable from day to day life.
Given the fact of today’s microchip implant technologies, these fantastic scenarios seem probable for the not too distant future.
» Burrows (William S.), Gould (Glenn), McLuhan (Marshall Herbert)
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