Thursday, July 12

The Gutenberg Galaxy

If you haven't heard of the above work, no big deal, unless, that is, you fancy yourself some manner of media theorist. In that case, for shame. Having heard of it and never read it is not such a problem. The thing's a beast; dense and requiring a fairly decent background in both history and philosophy to understand the nuance of his philosophy. It's a seminal work in the field, written by the inestimable Marshall McLuhan. No matter your position or interest in the subject though, you have doubtless heard the phrase, "the global village" or, possibly, "the medium is the message," from its sequel Understanding Media.

In all likelihood, the source you heard this from is either arrogant or moronic, though a combination of the two certainly is not out of the question. Perhaps they knew of the phrase's source and were trying to garner some respect or thought they understood the phrase without reading Galaxy. Let me make this clear: "The global village" is not a self-explanatory concept. It means a bloodly lot more than the world is getting smaller. It's not witty or clever. It's dense and complex. The idea of the global village goes deep into McLuhan's theories of civilization, orality and literacy, ideas that simply aren't captured in those two words. In using that phrase, McLuhan was doing a lot more than ramming some words together. He was capturing the essence of a philosophy.

Want a moral from this post? Know what you're talking about. I offer this three-step program. First, stop speaking of "the global village." You don't know what it means. If you still want to use it, read freaking The Gutenberg Galaxy. Once you're finished, read commentaries on it or get into an involved discussion with someone who has because it is very doubtful you, like it, have a complete grasp of it, much less understood it in its entirety. Or, you can take the lazy route and just modify all comments upon "the global village" with, "Keep in mind I've never read McLuhan."

Just needed to get that little bout of misanthropy out of my system.


Emmett said...

So, can I talk about the "Global Village?"

Chris said...

Yes, but not "the medium is the message." Unless, you managed to sneak in a reading of Understanding Media while I wasn't paying attention. Not that I can talk about that either having yet to read it.