“All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the message.”
Reading Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message” is a mind-blowing experience. Although the book was written 50 years ago (1967), at almost every page and every paragraph you feel as if you’re reading contemporary commentary on media and its effect on the human condition. Here are a few of his numerous observations/prophecies, with some examples of parallels from the present. (Note: the quotes are arranged in the order they appear in the book).
“Electrical information devices for universal, tyrannical womb-to-tomb surveillance are causing a very serious dilemma between our claim to privacy and the community’s need to know. The older, traditional ideas of private, isolated thoughts and actions… are very seriously threatened by new methods of instantaneous electric information retrieval, by the electrically computerized dossier bank – that one big gossip column that is unforgiving, unforgetful and from which there is no redemption, no erasure of early “mistakes”.”
“The family circle has widened. The worldpool of information fathered by electric media… far surpasses any possible influence mom and dad can now bring to bear… Now all the world’s a sage”
From families we’ve moved to eco chambers.
“There is a world of difference between the modern home environment of integrated electric information and the classroom. Today’s… child… is bewildered when he enters the nineteenth-century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment… Today’s child is growing up absurd, because he lives in two worlds”.
“When his circuit learns your job, what are you going to do?”
“All media are extensions of some human faculty – psychic or physical. The wheel is an extension of the foot. The book is an extension of the eye. Clothing, an extension of the skin. Electric circuitry, an extension of the central nervous system… The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act – the way we perceive the world”.
What would VR/MR be?
“Whence did the wond’rous mystic art arise,
Of painting SPEECH and speaking to the eyes?
That we by tracing magic lines are taught,
How to embody, and to color thought?”
We live in the visual age. And we can’t Snap out of it (pun intended).
“Ours is a brand-new world of allatonceness… We now live in a global village.”
Watch Yuval Noah Harari explain why globalism vs. nationalism might currently be the most important political divide.
“Because of electric speed, we can no longer wait and see. George Washington once remarked, “We haven’t heard from Benjamin Franklin in Paris this year. We should write him a letter”.”
Welcome to the instant gratification economy.
“Electric circuitry profoundly involves men… Information pours upon us, instantaneously and continuously. As soon as information is acquired, it is very rapidly replaced by still newer information. Our electrically-configured world has forced us to move from the habit of data classification to the mode of pattern recognition”.
“In the name of “progress”, our official culture is striving to force the new media to do the work of the old… We impose the form of the old on the content of the new”.
“The discovery of the alphabet will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves… They will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing”.
Is the internet making us stupid, or just shallow?
[From Alice in Wonderland, quoted by McLuhan:]
“…and who are you” [asked the caterpillar]
[Alice:] “I-I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then”.
Customers’ changing identities is a perplexing challenge for today’s marketers.
“It is the business of the future to be dangerous” [quote of A. N. Whitehead].
So what do you do? You build firewalls.
Here are a few more quotes, from an even earlier book, Understanding Media (1964):
“In this electric age we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information, moving toward the technological extension of consciousness”.
The Singularity is near.
“The classified ads… are the bedrock of the press. Should an alternative source of easy access to such diverse daily information be found, the press will fold”.
“Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit from taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don’t really have any rights left”.
In yet another book, Culture is Our Business (1970) he wrote: “Privacy invasion is now one of our biggest knowledge industries”.
Finally, after all the seriousness, here’s some comic respite – McLuhan’s cameo in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall:
“There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening”
The first TED talk I ever watched was Ken Robinson’s talk on how schools are killing creativity. It was one of the first talks uploaded to the site, way back in 2006; 10 years later, it is by far the most popular, with 42 million views and counting. With the number of talks on the site at more than 2,300, I thought it a good idea to list my 10 favorite talks. But I just couldn’t narrow down the list to 10, and so ended up with a Top 15 list… [you can actually find a shorter version in my newsletter].
Some of the site’s most viewed talks (like this, that, this one and that one) aren’t part of my list (see what I did there? Now they’re part of this post…). Some are. In any case, number of views was not a criteria for inclusion. The list is built of those talks that inspired me, awed me, made me think, and most of all touched a nerve and stayed with me long after watching.
So without further ado, let’s go on a TED journey.
1. Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are
Cuddy argues that “Fake it till you make it” is wrong. You have to fake it till you BE it. Body language doesn’t merely affect how others see us – it may actually change how we see ourselves.
For a deeper dive, look for Cuddy’s recently published book, Presence.
2. Pamela Meyer: How to spot a liar
Speaking of faking it – can you really spot a liar based on eye contact, fidgeting or other physical gestures? Since we may be lied to up to 200 times on any given day, this is an important skill…
If you’re interested in some counter views on lie-detecting, read this.
And if you want to test your lie-spotting skills, Jimmy Fallon’s Box of Lies skits are a fun way to do so – here’s the one with Jennifer Lawrence.
3. Apollo Robbins: The art of misdirection
Sometimes, all we need to do is to pay close attention. On second thought, that might be our undoing…
Here‘s a great article on Apollo, the greatest pickpocket in the world.
If that reminds you of the Monkey Business illusion, you’re right.
4. Brene Brown: The power of vulnerability
Enough faking. Are you willing to let people see you as you really are?
Paul Zak explains that the key to trusting someone is not just emotional. It’s chemical. Here’s his talk on the power of Oxytocin.
5. Jeniffer Senior: For parents, happiness is a very high bar
When it comes to closeness and vulnerability, few relationships surpass those of parents and children.
“All joy and no fun” is a great related article.
6. Robert Hammond: Building a park in the sky
Generating empathy on a mass scale is one of the keys to starting a successful movement.
Movember is another fine example.
7. Deborah Rhodes: A test that finds 3X more breast tumors, and why it’s not available to you
Movements face high hurdles – in some fields even more so. Dr. Rhodes and her team have developed a breast cancer detection tool that’s much more effective than traditional mammograms for women with dense breast tissue. But navigating the maze of healthcare politics and economics proved daunting.
Thankfully, it appears since the talk was uploaded in 2010, there has been some progress.
8. Ramona Pierson: An unexpected place of healing
Sometimes it’s not about failure, but about recovery… An incredible story.
Here’s more on Pierson.
And this one is justifiably one of the most popular TED talks ever.
9. Caroline Casey: Looking past limits
Sure, seeing is believing. But believing is not necessarily about seeing.
10. David Blaine: How I held my breath for 17 minutes
Is there a limit to human feats?
David Epstein explains some of the limitations.
11. Hans Rosling: New insights on poverty
Time to talk about feats of the mind. Rosling’s is a brilliant one, and his talks are amazing. Wait for the ending of this one…
12. Steven Pinker and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein: The long reach of reason
One of Rosling’s clearest messages is that we should, as much as possible, resort to reason when discussing humanity’s progress. This is an enlightening dialogue on the power of reason.
Also, you might not be interested in dinosaurs, but this talk by paleontologist Jack Horner – a partial inspiration for the character of Dr. Alan Grant in Jurassic Park – is an iconoclastic example of the power of reasoning.
13. Oded Shoseyov: How we’re harnessing nature’s hidden superpowers
Feats of the mind, continued…
Shoseyov’s talk is an extreme example of Steve Jobs’s definition of creativity: “Creativity is just connecting things”. Steven Johnson does a wonderful job of illumination such connections – what he calls “The chain reaction of ideas”. For example, what does a pre-historic flute have to do with the personal computer?
14. Stephen Petranek: Your kids might live on Mars. Here’s how they’ll survive
One of the next frontiers of human invention? Becoming a multi-planetary species. Petranek explains how (almost) all the ingredients necessary for humans to live on Mars already exist…
Some are relentlessly at work to make it happen.
15. Yanis Varoufakis: Capitalism will eat democracy – unless we speak up
Scientists might be able to solve complex problems. More and more, politicians seem unable to do the same. Former Greek Minister of Finance explains why.