The Past Went That-A-Way

McLuhan-ThePastI wrote a little something yesterday about streaming music and the transition that is now threatening to disrupt the music business again as much as the advent of paid downloads did a decade ago.

In the course of that post I made a reference to seeing the future “through a rear view mirror,” which is one of the fundamental lessons I picked up years ago in the writings of Marshal McLuhan.

While I was citing that notion, it dawned on me to Google the phrase “mcluhan rear view mirror” and was surprised to discover that the phrase has its very own web page, which quotes the pertinent passage from The Medium Is The Massage:

When faced with a totally new situation,we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to the flavor of the most recent past. We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.’1

In other words, we are trying to fathom a streaming media future with the metrics of a unit-purchase past.  In other, other words, flogging the engine with a buggy whip.  Git along, little motorcar…

Actually, if you have any interest in McLuhan’s observations, this whole site is worth spending some time with.  It is based on a doctoral thesis by an Australian named Alice Rae and is extensively researched and documented.  Hopefully Alice won’t mind if I cite the centerpiece of her ‘about’ page:

Was Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) one of history’s greatest thinkers?

Tom Wolfe, who met McLuhan in 1965, praised him in the New York magazine as a thinker on par with ‘Newton, Darwin, Freud, Einstein, and Pavlov’.

Critics remained unimpressed, calling McLuhan a ‘false prophet’ and ‘one-idea man’ and his work ‘pretentious nonsense’ or at the very least ‘slightly dotty’.

Since McLuhan’s death in 1980, the advent of the Internet and the vindication of McLuhan’s theories has led to something of a McLuhan renaissance.

He was declared ‘Patron Saint’ of Wired magazine in 1993.

Which maybe explains why I keep coming back to him.



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Paul Schatzkin