McLuhan's Theories: A different Angle

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“Reality, the external world, exists independent of man consciousness, independent of any observer’s knowledge, beliefs, feelings, desires, or fears. This means that A is A, that facts are facts, that things are what they are – and that the task of man’s consciousness is to perceive reality, not to create or invent it.” This is the metaphisics principle of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism. This is the way I have been used to see reality, and, consequently, McLuhan’s theories intrigue me, to say the least. Although inclined to listen and open to new, to me, ideas, I doubt that the evolution of information society within a time span as short as ten years will come to prove those theories. In my view, the near future will continue to bring new technologies at an unprecedented pace, in an innovation frenzy. But my belief in man as social being with strong conservation instincts makes me think that culture is going to act as a buffer. The two main issues I’d like to adress in the context of information society are the way people perceive reality and the role of cultural differences in asimilating new technologies.

I agree that man has created technologies as extensions of his own body and that society has been constantly influenced and shaped by technological innovations. Furthermore, each new technology seems to have enhanced, obsolesced, retrieved, and reversed something. However, man created new tools, devices, theories, etc due to his unlimited curiosity and willingness to go further, to reach new limits, to discover more about the world. It is true that new technology facilitates access to reality from angles that are different, unheard of before. But I think that we should not forget that it is each individual’s perception that filters the reality, no matter the means used to collect information (messages) about reality. Two people perceive differently an event, an object, a fact that is given, either they come across it by the naked eye or by means of media. Ultimately, the filter is the conciousness or the subconciousness of each individual, and not the media. Paradoxically, the increased access to media and networks around the world facilitate debate, collection of views and opinions, and allows variety of interpretations to be considered. The theory of manipulation through media has been so much debated that people are less and less inclined to take a message the way it might have been sugested. Consequently, if there is a real interest for “genuine” input, people are going to challenge the message and will dig into various sources available to find more about it. Only after such a search is done, one is ready to form an opinion, which will be as subjective as any other opinion reached if the input were not by media, but by personal observation. Finally, let’s remember that even in the Middle Age people who used to travel to remote places, hence being exposed to huge amount of information, were considered “illuminated” and wise. I think the technology is the light that shows us a much broader view of the world, and it is our choice to filter and translate what we see.

As for the role of cultural differences in the information society, I think, contrary to McLuhan’s theory, that adoption of new technology is going to be influenced by culture, at least for the next ten years, and not the other way around. My argument is simple: technology companies still go to a great deal to produce and market their output differently according to the cultural features of one national market or another. Corporations which do not consider these specifics are doomed to failure, and there are several notorios examples of such cases. One of them is the near failure of one's big corporation product launching in Japan due to innadequate analysis of Japanese users’ taste in formating and colors, as well as of what triggers their decission to buy. On the other hand, technologies that are considered cutting edge in Asia have not even been tested in the US or in Europe. I agree that, to a certain extent, technologies have influenced cultures, but ultimately a culture evolves towards a path determined by people's will. From time to time, we have seen cultures challenging technologies and choosing unique ways that eventually differentiated them from other cultures. From time to time people have been scared of the rhytm technology was going, and they stoped to think not of the patterns in the maelstrom McLuhan is talking about, but of adapting technology through their own filter. American society, aparently the most exposed today to advance technology, is taking time to rethink its reactions from social perspective. More voices are being heard about the necessity to avoid alienation, and as a consequence, more and more people recognize the importance of community, family, cultural values.

In my opinion, McLuhan's theories have their own value for the information society: they make us aware of different angles from which we can see the reality. Any technology and any message is input that man has to filter and translate into his own subjective code. Seen as extension of our body, technologies are, however, our creations and it is our will to what extent and how we are going to react to any change technology might bring for society.

--Lucia 12:57, 2 Dec 2004 (MST)