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Marshall McLuhan discusses a wide range of philosophical topics

BROADCAST: Jul. 1, 1966 | DURATION: 00:44:09


Marshall McLuhan discusses a wide range of topics including conformity, changes in entertainment media, cultural change, art and artists, originality in dance, reading and language, human interaction with nature, and technology. Recorded in front of a live audience at Kendall College, McLuhan takes several questions from the audience throughout the program.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel Well, I thought in talking to Dr. Marshall McLuhan, I feel I'm a steal a gag of his during a speech of his recently at Carbondale University during a seminar, [a seminar in '65?]. I think about the world today and if I were to ask questions of Dr. McLuhan, I'd feel like the mosquito in the nudist colony you talked about; where do I begin? Or, as Dr. McLuhan says, the French actor on the stage, kissing a lady's hand; you have to begin somewhere. And so, if we could keep this rather than question answer, I think in the manner of Dr. McLuhan's whole approach to life; that we're bombarded by so many of the media and that man has reached a stage today--what's the phrase Dr. McLuhan uses--an electric age. We all, where mankind, all of mankind is our skin. And Buckminster Fuller, whom Dr. McLuhan admires, as do, indeed, a great many of us says there's no room in the world today. It's too dangerous a world for anyone but a utopian. Suppose we begin this way, Dr. McLuhan, with the student; here we are, at Kendall College, and you said something about the student lives in the 20th century world, yet he enters a classroom that is 19th century.

Marshall McLuhan Well, we talk about a population explosion when what has happened is that space has disappeared. That is, the spaces between people. There used to be room, now there is no space between people. It isn't that there are more people, just [there's?] less room; much, much less room. And, yet, that 19th, the phrase, population explosion, is a nice 19th century rearview mirror. We're looking at the wrong phenomenon.

Studs Terkel What is it, then, should we be looking at? I mean, we hear so much talk about man being desensitized, being more and more of a conformist because of mass media. Whereas you're taking a more refreshing point of view.

Marshall McLuhan Oh, I should say that, again, the conformity is a nice rearview mirror view of man. One thing that is not happening at the present time is conformism. There is more diversity, more rebellion, and more crazy, new modes and patterns now than there was in the 19th century or in the 1920s. In the 1920s, when everybody was rushing into town, into the big town from the rural areas, they had every reason in the world to conform. They were so delighted with the new excitement of the big city, they were only too happy to conform. But in the same way, people who live in a visual culture tend to live by conformity. People who live in an auditory culture or a non-visual culture, and Bucky Fuller, by the way, is often pointing out that in the electric age you live in a non-visual world; you can't visualize a DNA particle even though Walt Disney tries to help us. You can't visualize electrons, you can't visualize electric currents, you can't visualize any of the things that are going on in our new world. You have to play them by ear. You have to get in touch with them by other means. And, so, all these metaphors and accusations that are made about people as if they were still going on in the old pattern of conformity, pays very little attention to what is actually happening. For example, in the age of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, in the age of, what, what'll we say? Miniskirts. Where's the conformity? You, yourself, do you find any evidences of conformity?

Studs Terkel Well, I'm bothered by a couple of phenomena of our time. Even [though?] you say we're not living in a visual culture, you're speaking of the fact that so much is happening to our ears, so much is happening to our minds--

Marshall McLuhan And at speeds that you cannot visualize. You cannot visualize the events that are going on in outer space, and so on, at the present time.

Studs Terkel You know, if I could use, perhaps, this may be a rather stupid question, if we can just, a visual phenomenon that is more than visual, say, television, and I'll raise this question. This is one you've asked many times, I know, by many pedants, many pedantic minds. The question of isn't man being a conformist, or tend to that, because of the control of TV by few and man being fed the continuous banal situation comedies, and thinking just one way?

Marshall McLuhan Yes. But you see, I simply point out, it takes a long time to explain it, but I simply point out TV is not a visual medium. The movies were. TV extends the hands. The scanning fingers of TV gropes out, reaches around the world, and handles everything. It doesn't--there's no camera. On TV there's no shutter. It doesn't take pictures. It handles the world. The movie camera actually extended the eyes and took pictures. TV doesn't take pictures. It handles the world. It gropes, it grasps the world. And the TV child wants to, you know, he gets, he tries to get inside the book page. He holds it so close to him he's trying to get inside. He doesn't sit back and look at the page anymore. It's pathetic but they do try to get inside the book. I have a friend in New York at the Something Else Press who has built a book that you can get inside. It's nine feet high and has eight-foot square pages. And they are on a great, big spine made of four-inch pipe and you can swing the pages open and climb inside each page. And it's called "The Big Book." The Something, Dick Higgins, at the Something Else Press. And I once read a phrase on an exam a student wrote, "I was glued to the page from cover to cover."

Studs Terkel And literally, could have been. Dr. McLuhan, coming back to this question of participate, here's someone wants to participate, actually get into the book. You are, throughout, whether it's understanding media, or some of your talks upon [them?], man is more a participant today and less the observer. And this is contrary to what is the general opinion.

Marshall McLuhan Well, the observer meaning the detached--

Studs Terkel The detached observer.

Marshall McLuhan Objective person. People are more and more inclined to empathize, to project themselves into situations, to feel. This, by the way, is one we haven't brought it out: ecumenism. The liturgical movement. All the churches, in varying degrees, are more concerned with getting their congregations inside the role of worship and of action. Well, our acting methods, our theater, our, all of these areas--psychiatry--is an inside job. It's getting inside situations and it isn't spinning theories about just--it's not much help for a psychiatrist to have a point of view. He has to get inside the case and structurally feel the patterns and processes.

Studs Terkel You raise this point, Doctor McLuhan, point of view. And I know this, some of your detractors say, well, you are copping out. That is to say, you offer no value judgments.

Marshall McLuhan Mmmhmm. I know.

Studs Terkel And, see, you are merely describing what is, isn't that it? You are not saying this is what you believe.

Marshall McLuhan I'm concerned with the processes. I'm not concerned with a fixed position from which to observe the panorama. Now, I want to get inside the process. When you are swimming you don't have a point of view.

Studs Terkel To survive, isn't that a point of view?

Marshall McLuhan When you're swimming survival requires active process. There isn't any point of view that enables you to survive as a swimmer. When you're in, when you're in any kind of situation--this, of course, is one of the horrors, say, of the newspaper profession. They will approach people who are in the middle of some horrible experience and ask them how they feel about it. You know, what's your point of view on this sort of suffering? There is a clash of media, you see, in which people deeply involved in some situation are suddenly expected to be uninvolved, and to report to the newspaper what it feels like. This is happening now on a glob--on a kind of big population scale; the whole population is simultaneously involved and asked to be not involved. To be detached.

Studs Terkel This is the dilemma, isn't it? The question of, you point out, the two tramps in "Waiting For Godot." Standing by, Didi and Gogo waiting.

Marshall McLuhan Yeah.

Studs Terkel At the same time, you're pointing out, because of mass media, because of electronics, because of the [trip of?] revolution, man is one village now.

Marshall McLuhan Well, yeah--

Studs Terkel And, so, we have to be involved whether we want to or not.

Marshall McLuhan Oh, yes. Indeed, it's a shared experience that has nothing to do with our choices. We didn't ask for it. We didn't plan it. And, you know the old, it's strange, isn't it, the old idea was that if you, the more you understand a people the more you like them, the better get on with them? This doesn't correspond to the experience of people who live under the same roof, does it? Where did the idea ever come from that if you only knew an awful lot about people you'd automatically love 'em? A bunch of our publicity and much of our reportorial enterprises are based on this idea. If we can only get closer to people we would like them so much better. I don't think there's any evidence of this. That's, the difficulty of people living under the same roof is that they're far too close and they know far too much about each other to be happy.

Studs Terkel I suppose the word is not liking them better, as understanding them better. I

Marshall McLuhan

Studs Terkel Yeah, but-- I suppose that would be it.

Marshall McLuhan Well--

Studs Terkel Then you hate 'em, too.

Marshall McLuhan If you, nobody wants to be understood because then they'd know the show was up, the game was up. It's all, it's over with now, [that's your--?]

Studs Terkel If we come back--what was the question? Oh, oh, let's--is that all right if we do this in a very unorthodox--mosaic, rather than linear. Do it this way.

Marshall McLuhan Field. Field.

Studs Terkel We'll field.

Marshall McLuhan Play the field.

Studs Terkel A question from a student.

Audience member #1 I have several questions.

Studs Terkel Well, keep it to one, though, for now.

Marshall McLuhan I've ever been able to understand the expression "way out in left field." It seems to me a highly favored spot. All right-handed hitters hit out into left field, it's a very good place for anybody to be.

Studs Terkel Well, that's why he's kept pretty busy out there, too, as a result. It's interesting, by the way, before this question. What is refreshing, what is refreshing, I think, about Professor McLuhan, he's always asking something we accept without asking, like phrases. In the book, [unintelligible] he points out, "give me a rain check on it"; when someone wants to meet that person and, as though it were an athletic event, [unintelligible]. So, way out in left field, we have a question from way out in center field. Yes, sir? Sorry.

Audience member #1 This morning, Mr. McLuhan told us that people have a tendency to recognize, or, [you might say?], be attracted to the previous century; like, this is the 20th, people like things that were going on in the 19th like, say, farmland or agriculture--

Marshall McLuhan Bonanza will do.

Audience member #1 [These are the ideal?] And [he gave us different examples?] and now what I would like to know is what is the significance of telling us? You made us aware of our trends, now this is [a warning?] to say that we should prepare ourselves and recognize the present? Or exactly what [unintelligible]

Marshall McLuhan The future. The future of the future is the present. And so, anybody who can come to grips with the present is quite capable of understanding what's going to happen for quite a while to come. Most of the things that are going to happen in the next 50 years are happening right now and we just can't recognize them. Only the artist has this power to recognize events while they're still in action, before they have had a chance to declare themselves to the ordinary person.

Studs Terkel Suppose--Pardon me. Could we hold the questions after we finish this sort of, conversation? Because this is, that's an interesting question and I'd like just to, perhaps, for the sake of the audience on the radio that didn't attend this morning's session, we're broadcasting this from Kendall College. And the question is one, I'm sure, is asked Professor McLuhan very often, about content and the medium itself, isn't it?

Marshall McLuhan Mm-hmm.

Studs Terkel That the medium is of now but the content is often of a prior century.

Marshall McLuhan Or the preceding, the preceding technology. The old technology becomes the content of the new one. The content of automation is the old card catalogs and the old retrieval systems speeded up. From the beginning of Neolithic or specialist history--man the planter, the specialist--this tended to happen, that progress in technology tended to be the application of new power to old tools. You could almost write the history of Western technology as simply increasing applications of power to old tools that had been found like the wheel, that had been discovered thousands of years earlier. I think with the coming of the electric circuit this changed. It was not an old tool merely being given a new treatment. The electric circuit was a real new invention, the first real new invention since the wheel in human history. All the other inventions were just variants of wheel, or lever, or hammer, or something like that. But the electric circuit was a new invention, the first in maybe twelve thousand years.

Studs Terkel And because this electric circuit, then, if we could, perhaps, ask you this another way, Professor McLuhan: yesterday's reality became today's art form, like in, we know it on campus, isn't that so? Grandmother's old dresses today are something quite campy and funny.

Marshall McLuhan We were talking about the new comic book cult--

Studs Terkel Yeah. Comic book cult.

Marshall McLuhan This morning. The sudden discovery of value in hearing, in old objects, coach lamps, old, old cars, old, old clothes, old comic books, old anything. This, what would you call that type of retrospective, nostalgic view? You know, nostalgia in general, for the old times. There's a phrase in James Joyce, pastimes--meaning games--are past times; that all human games take the form of doing something in an art situation which had formerly been done in a realistic way. I think this applies to baseball and most of the games we know.

Studs Terkel Is this what you mean when you say the Middle Ages is the late show of the Renaissance? That phrase?

Marshall McLuhan Yep. The game chess, you see, it used to be called [French] and was an attempt to carry out in a game pattern the hunt, the royal hunt, as in the patterns that it used in the forest. Games, pastimes, are past times. Foxhunting was the real thing. It was the way man gained his livelihood a few years earlier.

Studs Terkel Doesn't this raise a disturbing question, Professor McLuhan? This matter of, and then content. Are you implying that content of TV or content of a new medium is something of a past time?

Marshall McLuhan And is used as a distraction to keep us unaware of the uncomfortable pressures of the new environmental force, yes.

Studs Terkel But isn't there a new content with a new medium?

Marshall McLuhan Well, the new content in the sense that you never paid any attention to it when it was [unintelligible]--

Studs Terkel To the old.

Marshall McLuhan When it was an old environment. People never paid any attention to movies until TV came in. Then the movie became, as with Bergman and Fellini and so on, an art form. On the other hand, it took on this much character of TV. They destroyed the storyline. You see, TV doesn't have a storyline. And it gave some of its character to the new movie forms. And the newspaper doesn't have a storyline. And this, never noticed until TV.

Studs Terkel I know one of your colleagues, Eric Barnouw, did raise this question, so evocative [one to know?] for Marshall McLuhan. He, Barnouw, was challenging you, he says there is new content. For example, when Southern whites saw on television the march from, say, Selma to Montgomery they saw something that was quite new in their experience. They had never seen this kind of integrated phenomenon, you see.

Marshall McLuhan They were beginning to participate in their own audience participation. But what they really saw under those conditions was that you cannot segregate, or sectionalize, or classify mankind. When under electric, instantaneous conditions, classification of human populations and segregation won't work. It doesn't matter whether it's desirable or undesirable, it just won't work. And so our own children will not accept classification as children. Our children regard themselves as adults and second-, third-rate adults and they empathize with Negroes. That is, they regard themselves as deprived, third-rate citizens. And so they don't sympathize with Negroes, they identify with Negroes. But women regard themselves as cut off from a great deal of the world that should, by rights be theirs, and so on, so they have the same attitude of, wish, for desegregation. But this applies to the other cultures of the world. It's--we've got to a position where you cannot even segregate distant cultures like Cambodia or China. They insist now on being part of world culture simultaneously with our own. We have to live with them just as much as we do with baseball. We now have to live with Russian cultural change just as much as we do with Southern cultural change.

Studs Terkel I suppose you might say they insisted on being part of world culture but it need not be our specific culture. This, of course,

Marshall McLuhan

Studs Terkel Yeah. This, of course, is the point we have to face here in our society. Dr. McLuhan, you spoke of the child, this is rather interesting, earlier. The artist, in your work and in your lectures, you talk about the delinquent child, really often is a very more creative child than the goody-goody child because the classroom hasn't kept up with his world.

Marshall McLuhan Well, the child--the delinquent child--is crossing boundaries and sort of feeling his way. He's trying to discover the world he lives in. But any child, any infant, in growing up is constantly crossing boundaries, somewhat dangerously, just as a means of exploring the world he lives in. The artist, the criminal, the saint, they're all delinquents in the sense that they're non-social, antisocial types who are constantly exploring the world they live in. They're not, they don't follow the ground rules. They won't obey the rules of the game. And so the Bogarts, and the artists, and the saints all refuse to play the ordinary suburban rules, shall we say.

Studs Terkel I suppose the popularity of Bogart and--obviously, tremendously popular with the younger generation, sort of hip--is that very reason that he was, what? A sort of outlaw; at the same time, a good-hearted but not carrying his heart on his sleeve outlaw.

Marshall McLuhan And intelligent, a man of perception. Yeah. The mixture of delinquency and high perception, and so on, and high idealism--you know, the idealist always tends to be a little delinquent, doesn't he? He's always crossing boundaries.

Studs Terkel So the artist, then, the artist would be the symbol of it. He then challenges; he is the outlaw of society. He challenges society. He

Marshall McLuhan

Studs Terkel Yeah. The enemy. He is always [French] then, the artist is. Well, in that case, then, there's a point that bothers me, Professor McLuhan. You spoke of a new kind of artist, the organized, organization artist, the man of Madison who must be considered. Can he be part of the organization and be an artist? This is the question that disturbs me.

Marshall McLuhan Well, I'm not sure that--do you, did you say Madison Avenue?

Studs Terkel Madison what?

Marshall McLuhan Which kind of man are you referring to again?

Studs Terkel No, you spoke of somewhere about the organ--in one of a lecture, I think I heard a soundtrack of one--of the organized artist, the organization artist must be considered as an important.

Marshall McLuhan I'm not sure. Now do you mean the organization man as artist?

Studs Terkel The organization man as artist--well, let's say the guy who does copy, or the guy who does ads, or whatever--

Marshall McLuhan Well, you see, his job is really to, but to institute a new environmental design. The PR man is constantly building environments for enterprises. The sort of person who sets out to build images, the old term, for whole enterprises to improve the image of a political party or to improve the image of a product. He has to be an artist. He has to make something. He shapes, he makes. And he makes in accordance, not just with some inner impulse, but within, with a complete awareness of the sort of effect he wants to obtain on his audience. The artist, you see, works. It was Edgar Allen Poe who startled the world with the theory that the artist should work starting from the effect he wants to have. He shouldn't just make something. He should first decide on the effect he wants to have. Then make something that will have that effect and no other effect. This startled many people. Most people had thought of the artist as merely bubbling over with inner impulse like the [skylark?] or something. And the idea that the artist was a deliberate workman who understood his audience so well that he could estimate the effects of his work in advance, this soured many people on the artist. But the artist of the Symbolist and 20th century schools have all worked on this assumption: you start with the effect you want to have and then you make something that will have that effect. By the way, what we call--I guess it was Whitehead who said the great discovery of the 19th century was the discovery of the technique of invention. The technique of invention is to start with what you want to invent and then ask, now, what steps do we have to take in order to arrive at that invention and nothing else? So you start first with the invention and then you go back and analyze the steps that lead to that. Well, this is the way, this is the mass production technique of any product. If you want to mass produce these mics or this glass that's how you do it; you start first with the glass, then you go back through all the steps that would be necessary to implement it and to produce it automatically. Artists work this way.

Studs Terkel But he's not really an artist, then, according to your original definition of being a challenger of the society because he serves it, see?

Marshall McLuhan Well--

Studs Terkel He's not, then we alter the definition.

Marshall McLuhan Now, just a moment. The artist by--what makes the artist unique is that he has, he is the discoverer of a special new effect, a new sound, a new line, a new rhythm. In this respect, by the way, something was mentioned this morning but we never got to discuss it. The Watusi or the Frug. As dance forms, I was thinking of art, as dance forms they revolutionize the old concept of dancing. The old dance floor, where people waltzed, or foxtrotted, or went through repetitive motions was a continuum and the dances that were performed were repetitive and blueprinted, as it were. The Watusi, and the Frug, and all these current forms are--and this is what I wanted to bring out, apropos of that conformist--you see, it's the waltz and the foxtrot that are completely conformist forms of dancing. The Watusi and the Frug are completely original, non-conformist in which each individual makes his own space. He doesn't share the space on the floor with anybody else. And you cannot ask anybody in the middle of such a dance for the next dance. There is no next dance and there is no way in to their world. You can't ask [them?] for the next times.

Studs Terkel In doing the Watusi, then, he's a solo dancer?

Marshall McLuhan Well, he's making a space; you talk about territoriality. He's making his own space. He is not using a dance floor at all. He's just creating space. Now this is supposed to be totally expressive, expressionist. And people call it conformist when the waltz and the old foxtrots way back when, they were the conformist dances. The new dances are totally non-conformist.

Studs Terkel My only bothersome thought about the Watusi is not the Watusi, but I remember originally seeing on the West Side of Chicago, in the black ghetto, the little kids skipping rope and doing it. But it's used, though, by our jet set, though, I would not say in a unique way. I mean, would you say that they are original? Our jet setters?

Marshall McLuhan Well, it's very difficult to perform any of those, to simulate any of those movements without being considerably original. Have you ever tried it?

Studs Terkel No. I can't. [laughter]

Marshall McLuhan Well, I've tried--

Studs Terkel Can't dance, can't ride a bike, can't swim, can't do nuttin'. Sorry. I'm the non-participant who talks; that's the trouble, you see. We talk about the participating figure. Dr. McLuhan, hit something very interesting here about the dances, it occurred to me. And perhaps you'd care to comment about this. A young member of the Byrds--and the Byrds [are close?] by the Beatles, and The Rolling Stones--was saying when asked the question--perhaps, I know this is right in your matter of the importance of popular arts and the idiom of our day telling us so much--how come some of the kids don't hear the words of your songs. It doesn't matter, he says. It's the words, it's the electronic instrument, it's the light, it's what we are. It's an overall, he spoke of an overall vibration.

Marshall McLuhan Happening? You see, what is called a happening is not any one sound or any one event, it's a complete environment of events. It's just like a newspaper page where there are a multitude of little items contribute to creating one happening. September 20, 21 is a happening in the newspaper. It has no storyline. There is no sequence of events. It is a total pattern, a happening, an all-at-once, they all happen under the same date line at the same time. A happening is an all-at-once affair and it has the strange, mysterious power of involving people. Whereas a storyline may or may not involve people. It may grab some and not others. But the happening is an environment shared by everybody and it gets everybody.

Studs Terkel Then this would be connected then, would it not, with your thought about the press, the book? If we can use these phrases, a linear mosaic, use that. The book then is something that B follows A because of the nature of the press. C follows B; it's something, there's a sequence to it and the person looks at this and he doesn't have-- And

Marshall McLuhan

Studs Terkel [By the way?]-- And whereas the age we live in is something much more wild than this.

Marshall McLuhan It's peculiar, the detective story has a peculiar character in this respect; that the sequence of events is deliberately scrambled in order to involve the audience. An ordinary novel just follows step by step, the episodes are sequential. But Edgar Allan Poe invented the detective story and he discovered if you really want to involve the audience, pull out the storyline and make the reader create his own storyline as he goes. And there are people who read the last pages of a detective story first, that sort of thing. I never tried it that way but I never read a detective story myself for the story, but only for the atmosphere. I would never dream of skipping a word in a detective story because I want the atmosphere. Whereas in a serious book, a learned tome, I read every other page. In order to stay wide awake. You see, if you read every page you're sound asleep in 15 minutes. The sequential effect of reading line by line, page by page is somnolence. You're always saying, now what was he saying back there? Try it as an experiment. By the way, the teachers of speed reading don't understand this, but to their own surprise they've discovered that when they increase the reading speed of people their memory improves. [That? the?] people who read very fast remember much more. Well this, anybody pressed at examination time has learned this but never understood why. But, you see, if you read every other page, you have to fill in a great deal as you go. This keeps you right on your toes.

Studs Terkel It's a hell of a thing to say at students at a college.

Marshall McLuhan I'm recommending it not as a practice but as an experiment. And I discovered it by chance and only recent years. But I can read a 400-page book, a serious tome, say "Lonely Crowd," something like that, I can read it in half an hour with making an index as I go, cross-page references in, say, 40 minutes. Whereas if I read every other page I would have to give up after an hour and go back to it again and so on. But literally, I can go through 400-page serious tome in a few minutes and remember the passages vividly, quote them weeks later, and so on. And so, it's a godsend to make this discovery because you not only read fast, you read much more profoundly and deeply than you do otherwise. Now, this is not the way to read poetry. This is not the way to read detective stories unless you're reading for the story. If you're reading for the atmosphere you want every word just to keep that atmosphere intact. That's why you read in a poem, you're reading for total effect. You're not reading for storyline in a poem, you're reading for total effect. Therefore every word, every nuance is important.

Studs Terkel This matter of filling in the gaps, though. Perhaps this leads to the phrase, this you'd call the cool approach, in a way, rather than the hot approach of [unintelligible]--

Marshall McLuhan Well, the cool means involvement. And the hot means objectivity, non-involvement. Yeah.

Studs Terkel Perhaps, just before we have questions, I know there are some questions forthcoming, on the matter of hot and cool. And you notice that, in a very refreshing way, Professor McLuhan uses phrases we accept one way and a wholly different approach is used. You accept the slang and the idiom of our day as the truth of our day. So, if something cool--

Marshall McLuhan You can't, well the point is this: that nobody will use a phrase like "putting me on," or "hot and cool," or any slang phrase, nobody will use it unless it fits some really profound part of their lives. You can't sell slang to people. They use it because they need it and they discard it very quickly as soon as it's need has slackened. But at any given moment it takes you close to the heart of new perception. Not private. Oh, slang is not a private form of expression. It's corporate. And leads you to quite significant areas of awareness. But, also, if teachers would stop abusing the slang users and insist, rather, that they learn how to write it properly they'd have no more trouble. They'd stop using slang right away. As soon as they were asked to use it correctly in compositions. By the way, have you noticed nobody ever made a mistake in slang? Only in written forms of discourse is it possible to make a grammatical error. Nobody ever used slang incorrectly. It would be ridiculous. I remember Professor [unintelligible] saying, "And now we come to the brass tacks," and having no clue as to what the phrase meant. But no child ever made a grammatical mistake in the use of slang. Why? Because it's auditory and involves total response. Whereas you ask him to write out slang and I don't think many of us could write slang correctly. We'd make the most awful bloopers. But in the same way, in primitive societies there are no grammatical mistakes. A non-literate society never made a grammatical error because they never heard one. It's only when anthropologists come in with their inept inexperience with the language that any mistakes in that language ever had happened before in the history of the language. Then the natives begin to get suspicious and paranoiac. And they look at these people and think they're putting, you're putting us on. Yeah, you're putting us on.

Studs Terkel So this raises a question about cool and hot and the two media, radio and TV. And if I can be devil's advocate for a moment, you describe radio as being the hot medium, and TV involves man more as a cool medium.

Marshall McLuhan It's as simple as this: radio you can use as background. You cannot use telephone as background, and you cannot use TV as background the way you can radio. A hot medium is sufficiently neutral or detached to be background material, like music. Whereas the cool media demands so much of your attention you can't use them as background.

Studs Terkel But I was thinking of radio not as background. For example, say we call--I hate to use the phrase, editorial comment, good radio or bad radio--but, for example, since it's auditory only and not sight as well as sound, I'm listening to, say, "Under Milk Wood," BBC, to "Under Milk Wood" and if it's just my ear alone, my mind has to envision the people of these villas. Therefore I'm more involved than if I saw it on TV and saw it as well as heard it, wouldn't I? See? Wouldn't it be just the reverse?

Marshall McLuhan I'm going to think about that one.

Studs Terkel Alright. Because I'm just curious about the, at the same time I see Dr. McLuhan's point, about the fact that when it's used as a background, as indeed with music, Muzak. Could we have some questions? And then, perhaps, back and forth again. Are you up to it?

Marshall McLuhan Oh yeah. I'm up to it but I'm supposed to be elsewhere very soon.

Studs Terkel Alright. Let's say about another?

Marshall McLuhan Another question or two?

Studs Terkel Another question or two. The lady, the gentleman. Were you there? If we could get that mic. [unintelligible] Wait, try it again with the mic there.

Audience member #2 I have a question about something that came up this morning, probably a question of definition of terms, which we always have to deal with. You said this morning that the pre-Judeo, pre-Christian man was more involved with natural forces, [perhaps?], through rain dances. Whereas when the Judeo-Christian ethic arose we became less involved with natural forces. You then went on to say that in today's world, man is become more involved with natural forces--

Marshall McLuhan Once more.

Audience member #2 Once more. I sort of question that because it seems to me that [all those? although?] specialists are involved in natural forces; that is, the air conditioning expert can come in and make you cooler. The average person, including the average scientist, becomes less and less aware of natural forces, is more protected from them, and has less to do with them.

Marshall McLuhan You've noticed the elm disease, nice product of natural science. It was the result of scientific experimentation that they hit upon this unfortunate disease which they've not been able to stop since. But the kinds of science that have been released in the world since the electric age don't permit any sort of detachment. And they are environmental, total new environments that now go around the old natural environment. The old natural environment has now become the content of a man-made one. In the elect--this is de Chardin's theme in "Phenomenon of Man," that man's nervous system now goes around the world and not only contai--embraces man but the whole of nature. We have put our own nerves outside as a man-made environment, as an environment of information that involves us totally more than Nature ever did. Now, in the case of the astronauts, they have to take the planet with them in order to survive. We have now had to build space capsule environments that include the planet, so that we have to be so much involved in our own planetary forces and gravitations and so on that we can simulate it. The old idea of participation in natural forces was by simulation. The tribal dancing and so on was done by mimicry of the natural forces in order to control them. Well that's what modern science does. Modern science mimics nature in all its levels in order to control nature. It mimics gravitation now in order to create a capsule environment. But in mimicking nature we create environments, man-made environments, that are far more potent than nature ever was. And that's our new problem. We have, I suppose, it's the old sorcerer and the apprentices, that sort of thing; the Frankenstein monster. We have created a man-made environment that's far more powerful than nature and we have to obey it, in the sense of participating in it in order to control it. The price we pay for our own technology is obedience to our own technology.

Audience member #2 But now you're saying obedience, and not [unintelligible].

Marshall McLuhan Well, I mean we are the servile mechanisms. You see, if you make a canoe, the paddler of the canoe becomes not the master but the servile mechanism of the canoe. And, so, if you, in the same way you make a business, the man who runs the business is the servile mechanism of the business. Every technology exacts that price of conformity from the user. And now our technology has become worldwide, well, the tyranny of them becomes equal to that.

Studs Terkel Sir? What was the question? Would you repeat that again into the mic.

Audience member #3 Do you think we'd be better off without our technology [then?]? Do you think we'd be better off without the technology, without the problems that technology presents [to people? Would we be better off?]?

Marshall McLuhan Well, this is like the mosquito and not, in the nudist colony, and not knowing where to begin; which of the technologies would you choose to get rid of first? Clothing? Speech? Maybe speech was the first great mistake that man made. As a technology it may have been the ruin because prior to speech there's some reason to suppose that people communicated by ESP and had total empathy with each other without the fragmentary character of articulation. So, maybe speech was a great mistake.

Audience member #3 Alright. Now, I'd like to ask you one other question. That is, what new trends in thought do you think your ideas are going to create? Do you think your ideas are going to be somewhat revolutionary?

Marshall McLuhan I don't want any trends in thought to result from my ideas. I just want people to start noticing the world they live in. I don't want any systems, I don't want any new philosophies. I just want people to notice what's happening in the world they actually live in. I want percepts, not concepts.

Studs Terkel No, let's try some more, three or four.

Audience member #4 [It seems to me, with the trend in our education of children, with earlier and earlier reading, that perhaps we're raising children who won't even be as perceptive as our people are today?].

Marshall McLuhan Well, I was meditating on that theme recently and it occurred to me that it's quite likely that the [okay more?] method of reading by teaching, you know, children by the age of two to read and write on typewriters, [humanation?], sound effects; it may be that in 10 years those children will show none of the characteristic forms of literate behavior at all. That is, that people learning to read in this way will not really be literate in our [old?] superficial sense. The great advantage of literacy is it creates a very humane, and civilized, and urbane superficial type of person. The new electric technology will not permit us to be superficial. It demands depth of understanding, and depth of involvement, and commitment, on all things, on all fronts. Which is not civilized. It is not literate. It is not superficial. And it's, so, the new depth techniques and so on may be quite incompatible with civilization. I mean, I'll leave that as an open question because I don't know, but I'm very curious to know what's going to happen to these kids who were taught by the [okay more] method to read and write by the age of 2.

Studs Terkel You know--

Marshall McLuhan You know, the Great Books program has produced a lot of people but did you ever meet one? That is, Annapolis College, Maryland. I met one the other day and I asked him, first in, what, 25 years? The first person I ever met who had the Great Books program. He said one of the peculiarities of us, as a group of people, is that we are almost inarticulate. We've never written anything or said anything as a group or as individuals ever since we had the course. That's why you never hear of them. But what--I'm curious--what is there about the St. John's program that causes this result? I'm most interested in the St. John's program. But he volunteered this information. I didn't know this. It may not even be true but he volunteered this observation that we're inarticulate as a group.

Studs Terkel We have about one minute left on the tape. May I just take them, sorry, asking just one last question, and I think we'd like to thank Mr. Marshall McLuhan for offering us his insights and, as he says, making us think, and observe, who and what we are now. Last question, Mr. McLuhan, and not asked with any sense of levity. Maybe, maybe. The fact you speak of something of the past, obsolete, becoming an art form; whether it's a beaded lampshade, or whether it's a Western town--

Marshall McLuhan Or a Rembrandt.

Studs Terkel Or a Rembrandt. Do you think that we, the human race, will become an art form one day? Do you think we--we come now to the key question, don't we?

Marshall McLuhan As--

Studs Terkel Where are we going?

Marshall McLuhan Well, here are these UFOs kicking around, having a look at us, as quaint objects, art forms. Yes. I think it's entirely possible that this could befall.

Studs Terkel On that note of gaiety and laughter, we say, thank you very much, Professor Marshall McLuhan.