- Category: McLuhan, the Message and the Global Village
17 Apr 2012
- Written by Editorial Board
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Probes, aphorisms and ideas for the call for papers "Education Overload: from Total Surround to Pattern Recognition". One interesting contribute is a CBC video with Norman Mailer and Marshall McLuhan debating on violence, alienation and the electronic envelope. The clash of two great minds. (1968) www.cbc.ca
Probes and aphorisms.
It's natural today to speak of "audio-visual aids" to teaching, for we still think of the book as norm, of other media as incidental. We also think of the new media (press, radio, TV) as mass media and think of the book as an individualistic form —individualistic because it isolated the reader in silence and helped create the Western "I." Yet it was the first product of mass production.
Before the printing press, the young learned by listening, watching, doing. So, until recently, our own rural children learned the language and skills of their elders. Learning took place outside the classroom. Only those aiming at professional careers went to school at all. Today in our cities, most learning occurs outside the classroom. The sheer quantity of information conveyed by press-magazines-film-TV-radio far exceeds the quantity of information conveyed by school instruction and texts. This challenge has destroyed the monopoly of the book as a teaching aid and cracked the very walls of the classroom so suddenly that we're confused, baffled.
Today we're beginning to realize that the new media aren't just mechanical gimmicks for creating worlds of illusion, but new languages with new and unique powers of expression. Historically, the resources of English have been shaped and expressed in constantly new and changing ways. The printing press changed not only the quantity of writing but also the character of language and the relations between author and public. Radio, film, TV pushed written English toward the spontaneous shifts and freedom of the spoken idiom. They aided us in the recovery of intense awareness of facial language and bodily gesture. If these "mass media" should serve only to weaken or corrupt previously achieved levels of verbal and pictorial culture, it won't be because there's anything inherently wrong with them. It will be because we've failed to master them as new languages in time to assimilate them to our total cultural heritage.
The medium, or process, of our time, electric technology, is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing us to reconsider and re-evaluate practically every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted. Everything is changing: you, your family, your education, your neighborhood, your job, your government, your relation to the others. And they're changing dramatically.
When information moved slowly in written form, job specialism and pyramidal hierarchies of function were normal and even workable (...) The new pattern is one of small teams comprising clusters of diverse competencies with personnel accustomed to the crossing of functional lines in a perpetual dialogue of interpenetrating awarenesses.
Until writing was invented, man lived in acoustic space: boundless, directionless, horizonless, in the dark of the mind, in the world of emotion...
The business of school is no longer instruction but discovery. And the business of the teaching establishment is to train perception upon the outer environment instead of merely stenciling information upon the brain pans of children inside the environment.
...the personal and social consequences of any medium - that is, of any extension of ourselves - result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.
The user is the content.
It is more difficult to provide uniqueness and diversity than it is to impose the uniform patterns of mass education; but it is such uniqueness and diversity that can be fostered under electric conditions as never before.
The goal of science and the arts and of education for the next generation must be to decipher not the genetic but the perceptual code. In a global information environment, the old pattern of education in answer-finding is of no avail: one is surrounded by answers, millions of them, moving and mutating at electric speed. Survival and control will depend on the ability to probe and to question in the proper way and place. As the information that constitutes the environment is perpetually in flux, so the need is not for fixed concepts but rather for the ancient skill of reading that book, for navigating through an ever uncharted and unchartable milieu. Else we will have no more control of this technology and environment than we have of the wind and the tides.
In the knowledge industries a man can work at home, or beside his home, as readily as downtown. Business itself has become a dozen times more involved in education than schools and colleges.
The trouble with cheap specialized education is that you never stop paying for it.
Paradoxically, the business community demands a “double standard.” While making rapid adjustments to changing technologies, it expects the educational and political establishments to remain rigidly fixed in the old patterns. This is the result of visual classification which avoids the awareness of function and process.
What is indicated for the new learning procedures is not the absorption of classified and fragmented data, but pattern recognition with all that that implies of grasping relationships (...) We seem to be approaching the age when we shall program the environment instead of the curriculum.
Food for the mind is like food for the body: the inputs are never the same as the outputs.
The effects of new media on our sensory lives are similar to the effects of new poetry. They change not our thoughts but the structure of our world.
The probe is a means or method of perceiving. It comes from the world of conversation and dialogue as much as from poetics and literary criticism. Like conversation, the verbal probe is discontinuous, nonlinear; it tackles things from many angles at once.
The computer in education is in a very tentative state but it does represent basically speeded up access to information and when it is applied to the telephone and to Xerox it permits access to the libraries of the world, almost immediately, without delay. And so the immediate effect of the computer is to pull up the walls of the subjects and divisions of knowledge in favor of over-all field, total awareness–Gestalt.
The university and school of the future must be a means of total community participation, not in the consumption of available knowledge, but in the creation of completely unavailable insights. The overwhelming obstacle to such community participation in problem solving and research at the top levels, is the reluctance to admit, and to describe, in detail their difficulties and their ignorance. There is no kind of problem that baffles one or a dozen experts that cannot be solved at once by a million minds that are given a chance simultaneously to tackle a problem. The satisfaction of individual prestige, which we formerly derived from the possession of expertise, must now yield to the much greater satisfactions of dialogue and group discovery. The task yields to the task force.
More swiftly than we can realize, we are moving into an era dazzlingly different. Fragmentation, specialization and sameness will be replaced by wholeness, diversity and, above all, a deep involvement… To be involved means to be drawn in, to interact. To go on interacting, the student must get some-where. In other words, the student and the learning environment (a person, a group of people, a book, a programmed course, an electronic learning console or whatever) must respond to each other in a pleasing and purposeful interplay. When a situation of involvement is set up, the student finds it hard to drag himself away.
When computers are properly used, in fact, they are almost certain to increase individual diversity. A worldwide network of computers will make all of mankind's factual knowledge available to students everywhere in a matter of minutes or seconds. Then, the human brain will not have to serve as a repository of specific facts, and the uses of memory will shift in the new education, breaking the timeworn, rigid chains of memory may have greater priority than forging new links. New materials may be learned just as were the great myths of [p. 25] past cultures-as fully integrated systems that resonate on several levels and share the qualities of poetry and song.
In education, likewise, it is not the increase in numbers of those seeking to learn that creates the crisis. Our new concern with education follows upon the changeover to an interrelation in knowledge, where before the separate subjects of the curriculum had stood apart from each other. Departmental sovereignties have melted away as rapidly as national sovereignties under conditions of electric spee.
In education the conventional division of the curriculum into subjects is already as outdated as the medieval trivium and quadrivium after the Renaissance. Any subject taken in depth at once relates to other subjects.
Men are suddenly nomadic gatherers of knowledge, nomadic as never before — but also involved in the total social process as never before; since with electricity we extend our central nervous system globally, instantly interrelating every human experience (p. 310-11).
Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn't know the first thing about either.