Marshall McLuhan Predicted the Internet

Anyone who has even a casual interest in media and communications will at some point have studied or at the very least heard about the theories of Marshall Mcluhan. A Canadian philosopher of communication theory, his work is viewed as one of the cornerstones of the study of media theory. McLuhan is perhaps best known (at least at a pop cultural level) for coining the expressions “the medium is the message” and “the global village”.

However it was in his ability to predict our current condition with regards to media convergence and the internet that has seen Mccluhan’s thoughts and theories remain so relevant and still essential reading.

Here’s what he wrote in 1962.

“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”.

Ok so he’s predicting the internet nearly 30 years ahead of its time – no small feat, but its the incredible accuracy with which he is describes it that makes this statement even more remarkable.

Let Break That Down.

“The next medium, whatever it is – it may be the extension of consciousness” = the internet“…will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form.” = Youtube (the tools of production in the hands of the worker.)“A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization…” = tags!“…retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.” = Wikipedia

Make no mistake, Marshall Mcluhan was no idealist and many of his thoughts and theories on media act as a warning post that we would be well advised to take heed of. Particularly when so many seem quite happy to blindly rush off to the nearest Apple store and line up like lemmings in order get their hands on the latest shiny device. Mcluhan implores us to consider the implications of this blind acceptance and at least for a moment contemplate how these technologies and devices might be changing us as a society and culture.

This is the essence of his reductionist statement “the medium is the message”. Personally I’m a fan of his even more simplified and direct version “First we build the tools, then they build us.”