Marshall McLuhan’s Legacy in Contemporary Scholarship on Conjunctions between Digital Technologies and Cultural Forms
While McLuhan’s dictum that the medium is the message is one of the more frequently cited among curatorial and scholarly reflections on the impact of digital media on cinema, art and the public sphere, recent reconsiderations of this Canadian thinker’s oeuvre suggest the continued relevance of his larger output as well.
A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.
In her article on the interrelations between auteur cinema and contemporary television, published on November 4, 2017, in Open Cultural Studies, Elizabeth Blakey explores the interrelations between technology and culture, while revisiting McLuhan’s historical critique of the impact that modern media have on the messages that they articulate. In this respect, in her paper in the emergent field of digital humanities, Blakey expands the notion of the technological medium to encompass the economic conditions of its production and reproduction, such as the set-top boxes, that both tether television viewers to content providers and liberate them from the standard television viewing technological infrastructures, which are increasingly challenged by mobile platforms. The rise of on-demand viewing, consequently, also dissipates the traditional temporal and social structure that framed content consumption in the pre-digital age, as fragmented and binge viewing alter the manner in which cultural messages are formed, transmitted and received. Incidentally, this reinforces the main thrust of McLuhan’s media theory that the medium is inseparable from the message that it conveys and, apparently, vice versa.
In this respect, Jean-Paul Fourmentraux’s review of scholarly monographs and sources concerning the implications of technology for art, which appeared in the fall 2014 issue of Critique d’Art, underscores the uncannily prescient manner in which McLuhan has analysed the still unfolding influence of electronic media on the field of arts and sciences. In this respect, McLuhan’s thought alerts its readers that technologies represent objectified social practices and that the enabling and restrictive properties of digital media cohere with the social settings into which they are in-built. Also for this reason, the relative autonomy of art provides a privileged vantage point for the examination of the effects of digital technologies on everyday life, culture-related perceptions and social judgments. Thus, the affinity of McLuhan’s cryptic theoretical works with the theorization of art and cultural critique could be one of the factors that have been leading rediscoveries of his ideas in recent decades, as the implications of digital technologies continued to manifest themselves not only in digitally mediated experiences, but also in the rapid evolvement of the systems that subtend them.
Likewise, Leif Dahlberg in his explorations of the interrelations between contemporary mass media and public discourse, as part of the public sphere, which saw light in the 27 issue of Nordicom Review, 2006, has analyzed the commercialization of media discourse, such as in the form of advertisements, in relation to McLuhan’s insights on the links of advertising as superficial communication to deep-structure social processes. From this perspective, the development of digital media in recent decades can be interpreted in relation to not only its underlying digital infrastructures, but also social and cultural conditions that have shaped the emergent media.
Featured Image Credits: ON NOW — “bouquets to art” @ the de young museum, Scott Richard, San Francisco, USA, March 14, 2017 | © Courtesy of Torbakhopper/Flickr.