The Technium

Prophesies of McLuhan


[Translations: Japanese]

“Products are becoming services.” (1966)

“The future of the future is the present.” (1968)

“The global village is nosy busibodies writ large. (1968)

Those are but three pithy quotes from the legendary Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan was an odd guy. He spoke in cryptic oracle-like phrases that often did not make sense. While he is remembered for many quotes that were indeed prophetic, a lot of what he said either sounded ridiculous or banal. You can make your own conclusion by watching McLuhan in this clips of his early appearances on TV, cataloged here.

McLuhanSpeaks.jpg

Remember the time. In 1966-68, the average person had never made a long-distance phone call in the US, and almost no one had ever called overseas. Few had travelled out of their home state. If you watched TV news, very little of the world outside of the US showed up, except for Viet Nam. There was no operating “global village” — it could only be seen, if it was seen, as something coming.

Even today, nearly 50 years later, the idea that products are becoming services is, for many people, a radical mind-blowing thought. Yeah, they say, stuff becoming a service the way you subscribe to all kinds of things you used to buy, like music or movies. While this is very evident today, it was not at all obvious 50 years ago when you paid hard cash for music on phonographs (no credit cards!).

And “the future of the future is the present” was so far ahead of its time that it is only making sense now. Listen to science fiction genius William Gibson talk about his new novels, which are set in the future-present. The future is so strange that one needs to only advance five minutes ahead to find an unknown world.

Quotes like these are McLuhan at his best. But he arrived at them because he allowed himself to say a lot of foolish stuff as well. He was an unleashed, uninhibited masher-upper of ideas, and from his habit of churning up stuff that he only half-believed himself, he produced sparks of genius. And he was an unabashed Catholic mystic, too.

Just listen to Marshall speak.




Comments
  • Bill

    Link seems to be down

  • guest

    “Remember the time. In 1966-68, the average person had never made a long-distance phone call in the US, and almost no one had ever called overseas. Few had travelled out of their home state. If you watched TV news, very little of the world outside of the US showed up, except for Viet Nam”

    I don’t know where this statement came from, but it is utterly untrue. In fact, it is comically silly.

    • Kevin_Kelly

      Guest,

      I made the statement. Why do you think it is silly?

  • John

    In 1966 the average person had never made a long-distance phone call? It can’t possibly be true. Source?

    • Rent

      Why would they?  Why would a person in 1966 need to call long distance?

  • Timaree

    My sisters and I married military men during the years of 1965-72. During 1974, I got to call home to see how my sick mother was about every month or two. My sisters didn’t get to call so often as that. So some calls were made but they really were rare. Did anyone know anyone overseas? Nobody I knew did. So it may seem ridiculous but for the average person especially not-big-city-people this really held true. In fact, when my husband worked in Minnesota in 1995, we had a party for his workers at our home and one person didn’t know if they would come as they’d never travelled out of their 5,000 population town and we were only 10 miles away! That blew my mind. I didn’t think there were still people who didn’t travel at least 10+ miles!!

  • Kevin_Kelly

    John, do you remember how difficult it was to call a long-distance number in 1966?

  • mattgrommes

    McLuhan’s weird propheticisms always remind me of the Neil Gaiman book Good Omens where a seer in the 17th century makes prophecies that are all correct like ‘Don’t buy betamax’ but nobody knows what the heck she’s talking about.

    • http://www.trancosoportal.com trancoso

      Matt, someone in the 17th century said ‘don’t buy betamix” … how could he have know this back then?? I have to read the book ok Neil Gaiman for sure! Thanks.

  • http://www.nurspanax.com/ panax

    this is real very good…

  • http://www.tanjabarnes.com TanjaB

    As ever, the medium is the message. In this case, the method of delivery is electronic.

  • http://warrenadler.com guest

    I wouldn’t call the statement silly, but uninformed. The writer simply forgot that there was World War 2, with 16 million men and women under arms, all far from their home towns and many overseas in Europe and Asia. Before that, of course, was World War 1 which introduced many to other cities and places overseas. The net is filled with inaccuracies and exaggerations. Hence this gentle reminder in he name of accuracy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jschoettler John Schoettler

    Here’s an interesting one from Mcluhan:

    “Electric information environments being utterly ethereal fosters the illusion of the world as a spiritual substance. It is now a reasonable facsimile of the mystical body, a blatant manifestation of the Anti-Christ”- Marshall Mcluhan (The Medium and the Light,pg. 72)

  • Yukina echizen

    We were just trying to find Luhan from exo