Marshall McLuhan's Legacy in Culture and Scholarship

After his death in 1980 Marshall MCLUHAN's star at first seemed to wane. But in 1982 the INTERNET was born and McLuhan was invoked again in the context of two-way interactive COMMUNICATION.

Marshall McLuhan's Legacy in Culture and Scholarship

After his death in 1980 Marshall MCLUHAN's star at first seemed to wane. But in 1982 the INTERNET was born and McLuhan was invoked again in the context of two-way interactive COMMUNICATION. With the advent of the personal COMPUTER, individuals and organizations could now be linked electronically, instantaneously, and globally. The establishment of the World Wide Web consortium in 1994 brought into operation what McLuhan had written as early as 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 organization, retrieve the individual's encyclopedic function and flip into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind." As with so many other media forecasts, his prescience was remarkable.

In the mid-1990s McLuhan began to receive renewed attention from another quarter. Much of the initial credit for bringing him back into the public mediasphere must go to Wired magazine, established in 1993 and proclaiming itself The Magazine of the Digital Generation. McLuhan was presented as the prophet of the digital generation, and the digital generation (re)discovered him. Wired anointed him its Patron Saint and on its masthead in every issue was a photograph of McLuhan and one of his aphorisms - or as he called them, "probes;" for example, "Ads are the cave art of the twentieth century." Month by month readers were probed by McLuhan's ideas, enhancing his image among the digerati.

As well as over a thousand articles, McLuhan wrote or co-wrote 9 books, of which several have been published in new editions, and he edited or co-edited 5. Since his death 5 more of his books, all co-written, comprising various aspects of his work, have been published posthumously. To date scholars and writers have produced 3 biographies and 12 major studies of his work, along with scores of articles. His image has been recorded in successive generations of media, from film through optical disk to videotape. A 6-hour sampling has been compiled into The Video McLuhan.

McLuhan's work has generated a huge amount of scholarship: articles, books, journals, public lectures and international conferences - 44 around the world in 2011, the centenary of his birth. His ideas and approaches have been incorporated into school and university curricula everywhere. The online search term Marshall McLuhan generates over 5 million results. His influence is felt most directly not only in the field of communication, but also in cultural studies, media studies, and particularly media ecology.

The founding of the Media Ecology Association in 1998 was a significant milestone for the academic world, acknowledging McLuhan's origination of the notion of media ecology and its regularization and institutionalization by Neil Postman at New York University. It was Postman who defined the discipline most simply - media ecology is the study of media as environments - and expressed a central precept of media ecology when he said that a medium of communication is an environment and not a machine. The discipline has been a central vehicle for the sustenance and enhancement of McLuhan's work, as well as its application to research and in cultural operation and production in the media.

McLuhan has affected virtually every field and discipline in the humanities and SOCIAL SCIENCES, in EDUCATION, and in BUSINESS studies. His work has had an impact on artists, musicians, novelists, media practitioners and policy makers, and it has been studied by politicians, public officials, activists, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and the clergy. We find his influences in such current research topics as:
• Understanding McLuhan as a medium for the convergence between art and science
• The aesthetics of Marshall McLuhan: The medium as expressive form
• Is Toronto obsolete? Process and ambivalence in McLuhan's urban studies
• Theology in the electronic age: What Marshall McLuhan has to say to the theologians
• McLuhan meets convergence culture: towards a new multimodal discourse
• Marshall McLuhan's acoustic space
• Advertising, McLuhan and the creative revolution, 1965-1980
• Marshall McLuhan and the future of work in a world of information This small sample will serve to indicate how contemporary research and scholarship continues to be guided and inspired by McLuhan.

As a final consideration of McLuhan's legacy, and bearing in mind the perspective of his attitude expressed when he said, " I am resolutely opposed to all innovation, all change, but I am determined to understand what's happening," we may wonder how much his open exploration of the future of media and communication has encouraged scientists and entrepreneurs to develop new media such as social networking, online gaming and augmented reality.

McLuhan has received material commemoration as well. The UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO in 2010 revived the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology within the Faculty of Information, which in turn has established the Coach House Institute to continue the McLuhan research tradition. The old coach house itself, McLuhan's operational home, has been refurbished to contemporary standards for new generations of students and researchers. On the campus of his academic base, St. Michael's College, the City of Toronto has renamed a street Marshall McLuhan Way.

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Further Reading

  • New editions of books by Marshall McLuhan: The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962), with new essays by W. Terrence Gordon, Elena Lamberti and Dominique Scheffel-Dunand (2011); Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), with a new introduction by Lewis H. Lapham (1994); Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), Critical Edition, edited by W. Terrence Gordon (2003).Posthumous publications: with Eric McLuhan, Laws of Media: The New Science (1988); with Bruce R. Powers, The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century (1989); with David Carson, The Book of Probes, compiled and edited by Eric McLuhan, William Kuhns and Mo Cohen (2003); with Eric McLuhan, Media and Formal Cause (2011); with Eric McLuhan, Theories of Communication (2011).

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