Marshall McLuhan Predicted the Internet in 1962. [Actually, no, he didn’t].

For some years, a quote has been circulating, which shows Marshall McLuhan “predicting the internet.”

That would be really something — were it true.

The Quote:

“The next medium, whatever it is — it may be the extension of consciousness — will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organisation, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip it into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.”

This quote is generally cited as coming from Marshall McLuhan in his 1962 work on the effects of the printing press ‘The Gutenberg Galaxy.’

However, while it is (sort of) from Marshall McLuhan, it is neither from 1962 nor The Gutenberg Galaxy.

Two Sentences, Two Separate Quotes.

The first part of the quote comes from a journal called ‘Perspecta’, published by MIT:

“The next medium, whatever it is — it may be the extension of consciousness — will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form.”
-Marshall McLuhan, ‘The Invisible Environment: The Future of an Erosion.’ Perspecta, Vol. 11 (1967) pp. 162–167. Published by the MIT Press.

The second part of the quote is the tip off, because it is a complete tetrad on The Computer. [A tetrad is a tool developed by Marshall and Eric McLuhan in 1973 for examining the effects of technology, and consists of four questions.]

“A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance 
retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individuals 
encyclopedic function and flip into a private line to speedily tailored 
data of a saleable kind.” 
-A dialogue between Marshall McLuhan and Bruce Powers called “Angels to Robots: From Euclidean Space to Einsteinian Space,” in ‘The Global Village’ by Marshall McLuhan and Bruce Powers, 1989.

What more is there to say?

Plenty. But to say more goes beyond the scope of this essay, beyond the idea of brevity or civility. I would love to know who came up with this thing. I tracked it back to a biography of Marshall McLuhan published in 2009, but I don’t think it started there.

It’s also a cautionary tale to anyone who writes and publishes. The number of times this quote is published and cited as GG/’62 is amazing. Equally amazing is the number of people who have done it who should know better.

Thank you:

To Paolo Granata and to Amanda Sevilla for their assistance in tracking down actual sources. Yes, I double-checked with hard copies, but don’t let that stop you.

And thanks to you for reading. Always happy to chat.

Andrew McLuhan
andrew@umeom.com