“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.
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.