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From tactile to magic

Chiara Giaccardi

From tactile to magic: McLuhan, changing sensorium and contemporary culture. Nearly half a century ago a certain literary critic and professor – Canadian by birth, a converted catholic by faith-stated that media are ‘extensions of our senses’. This powerful and catching definition, astoundingly new and challenging at the time, remains crucial even today in order to understand the meanings of technological change and of contemporary cultural sensibility. Today, McLuhan’s heritage (namely his methodological attitude, his refusal towards ‘substitution’ in favour of re-mediation and his ‘environmental’ approach) remains valuable for the interpretation of the relationship between media and the sensorium as well as for the understanding of emerging cultural issues and dilemmas. This paper will draw upon theoretical and empirical evidence to address three distinct but interrelated aspects of McLuhan topicality, namely:

I. Media as extensions; that is, the overall ‘visual to tactile’ shift in the sensorium and the new meaning of the eye in the tactile era (scopic, haptic, phagic, acoustic eye); tactile media as ‘immersive environment’.

II. Tactile sensorium and new forms of local and ‘virtual’ relationships (from global village to digital social networking services, or SNS).

III. The relationship between touch, the rise of a ‘new magic’ and the potentially risky ‘remediation’ of the global village.

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