UNDERSTANDING MEDIA – THE EXTENSIONS OF MAN

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media – The Extensions of Man. GINGKO PRESS.

This book has been a tremendous read which has opened my eyes in a new way to the significance of media on our lived experience. It has also given me insight on why there is so much existential stress in modern living. I will add McLuhan to my pantheon of writers who have had a big impact on me including Buber, Perls, Sebald, Khanamen, Tolstoy, Lawrence, Rushdie and Sartre.

It starts with ‘ “the medium is the message” because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.’ (p9). As with many statements in this book it begs reflection. In this case the words medium and message. Medium means ‘agency or means of doing something’ source and message means ‘recorded communication sent to or left for a recipient who cannot be contacted directly’ source. The point being made here is that it is not the content that is the message but the medium.

Distilling my reading of the book the big insight is that throughout history human beings have invented new technologies to extend the range of their senses and capability to act. This allows us to act faster and more efficiently to meet our needs. The wheel made us walk faster, the alphabet made us communicate quicker and further, the printing press accelerated this to share learning and manage whole communities of people and the clock allowed us to parcel up time. What becomes clear in the book is that we quickly lose control of each new technology as it corrodes any current way of living and interferes with all existing media until a new equilibrium is established. Before that equilibrium is established new interventions arise and the cycle of discomfort continues. The author makes the point that all the significant technology changes that ‘improved’ our lot were very uncomfortable times for those living through the changes.

The insight is important for my photography project. At once I can realise that photography is a global language that does not need translation in the way words and language do. That is not to say it has cultural homogeneity because someone brought up in Eastern cultures will see a photograph in very different ways to the way I see it. Each person is conditioned to respond to an image with their own projections. For the work I do I can know that people will see an image and I do not need to provide a translation but will equally know that everyone will have their own unique interpretation. This is important for my work to make sure I understand what I want to say or to what extent I am happy with all ensuing interpretations.

A big message from the book is that we as human beings are not in control of the media we create. It will create a life of its own, interfere with all existing media and trap most of us in to an existence we would not plan. I thought about my own experience of life and my own extensions.

In the morning I wake with emerging and troubling thoughts. Words are in my head asking me what I am going to do today and to justify my choices. To satisfy my ego I will articulate a number of activities that have to be completed to a certain standard and within acceptable time limits. Media I choose (or that I am conditioned to look at?) will tell me what is important for me to think about. I will eat because it is breakfast and during the day by the clock for whichever part of the world I live in. In the UK lunch is around midday in Spain it is between 2pm (early) and 4pm. I will rarely do anything in response to my own senses but to norms that are accepted for the society I am contained within. I will read, drive my car, watch television, constantly look at my iphone, sit in a comfortable chair and chase a string of thoughts that take me away from what it would be like to be my cat, Smokey.

‘Pope Pius XII was deeply concerned that there be serious study of media today. On February 17th, 1950 he said:

It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of modern society and the stability of its inner life depend in large part on the maintenance of an equilibrium between the strength of the techniques of communication and the capacity of the individual’s own reaction.’ (P21)

I looked at Smokey today and realised I could not follow her example. Once you have language, wifi, defined eating times and a car it is not possible to not have them. We are trapped in our extensions. We have no control over that which we invent but then become mesmerised as we chase the promise of what it offers.

‘One of the most common causes of breaks in any system is the cross fertilisation with another system.’ (P43)

‘Any invention or technology is an extension or self-amputation of our physical bodies, and such extension also demands new rations ornew equilibriums amongs the other organs and extensions of the body.’ (P49)

‘Man becomes, as it were, the sex organs of the machine world, as the bee of the plant world, enabling it to fecundate and to evolve to ever new forms.’ (P51).

‘media, or the extensions of man, are “make happen” agents, but not “make aware” agents.’ (P53).

‘Language does for intelligence what the wheel does for the feet and the body.’ (P 86).

‘The electronic age cannot sustain the very low gear of a center margin structure such as we associate with the past two thousand years of the Western world.’ (P101)

‘new speed and power are never compatible with existing spacial and social arrangements.’ (P109)

‘when a community develops some extension of itself, it tends to allow all other functions to be altered to accommodate that form.’ (P151)

‘just as work began with the division of labour, duration began with the division of time’ (P158)

‘Time measured not by the uniqueness of private experience but by abstract uniform units gradually pervades all sense life, much as does the technology of writing and printing. Not only work, but also eating and sleeping, came to accommodate themselves to the clock rather than to organic needs.’ (P157)

‘basic function of media – to store and to expedite information.’ (P172)

‘All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perception and arbitrary values.’ (P216)

Categories: Contextual Research SP, Project Development SP, Sustainable Prospects

LEN

I am a Photographer. As well as taking many photographs I am currently studying for an MA in Photography at Falmouth University. I will direct my attention through the lens of my camera for the next couple of years and see what shows up. I see a photograph as a little bit of magic capturing a moment in time. If successful it surprises and engages your emotions. It tells a story about the wonders of being alive or tells us what we need to change to make it a better world to live in. That is enough for me to get going and then like walking a 1000 miles, which I did across the UK in 2010, or walking 200 miles across Cyprus, which I did in November last year, it is one step at a time.

I was a writer. The title of my unpublished book was ‘You Would Have Done The Same.' It is about a successful guy in love with his wife who lets her die when he discovers her in the process of committing suicide. The title gives a clue as to what I think you would have done. The book is 200 pages long. I found it cathartic to write it but after two years of work and reviewing with agents decided it probably needed another 2000 hours to get the whole book up to the standard of some of the pages. Writing is great but it is a lot of sitting down so I decided to get out and walk, play tennis, play bridge, go birding, watch football at Nottingham Forest, Arsenal and Valencia and anywhere else if I can, meditate, cook and eat. I was a writer who has so far failed to become an author.
I was a young man who loved Mathematics and thoroughly enjoyed getting a BSc at Liverpool University. While there I went often to Anfield and the Philharmonic Hall. I was all set on doing a PhD until I went for interview practice at BP and got seduced by the excitement of an International business career. BP was a great adventure building trading teams and businesses in London, Antwerp, Cleveland Ohio and Singapore. Fabulous people and some great challenges and also very hard work, constant jet lag and lots of fun along the way. I married Karen, my stunning wife, and had the most amazing time with her and our three boys Alex, Tom and Dan. She has multiple sclerosis and we have taken on many challenges together but somehow keep creating a new normal against the horrors thrown our way. She is the love of my life.

After BP I decided to coach senior executives and quickly realized I had a lot to learn
about what makes people tick. I had a fantastic 18 months on the International Programme of the Cleveland Gestalt Institute. A great faculty and a
wonderful group of people on the programme. We studied and worked in Dingle, Singapore, Holland, Cape Town and
Lisbon. This also got me interested in the way we think and make decisions so I studied for an MSc in Psychology atUniversity College London in 2010. The
Masters was in Cognitive and Decision Sciences and I found it fascinating what
we do know but also how much we don’t know about how we think and make
decisions.

I loved coaching and making a difference. I got a number of people to hear themselves, remove some of their own chains and free up the way they thought about the world. I remain fascinated by how people react to and engage with the world. My Masters thesis was why do two people given the same information make different decisions? Put simply, it is because each of us are unique in the way we are constructed.

Since returning from Singapore I found English winters tough so moved to Spain where I now live. The people are lovely, the scenery amazing, food delicious and the sun shines all the time. Almost.

All of these experiences will feed in to my time now as a Photographer. Three motivations I am lucky to have are enthusiasm, curiosity and a continuous interest in learning. All the time I look forward to meeting old friends and making new friends and experiencing this wonderful life together.