Technology changes society. The ways we send and receive information fundamentally alters our interactions.
Marshall McLuhan chronicled the creation of tools that shaped communication and society. Our shift from the tribal epoch to the written epoch occurred with the invention of written alphabets that could transcribe oral histories. The shift from the literate epoch to the print epoch happened when the printing press made possible the rapid dissemination of ideas in texts. The later electronic epoch was born with the invention of the telegraph, which allowed messages to travel through a wire.
Each tool has emerged with it’s fair share of criticism. Books spread knowledge, but will empower people to revolt. Telephones are convenient, but they’re too impersonal to use regularly. Televisions are fun, but are a frivolous waste of time. Social media is cool, but it’s just a fad.
And, each tool raises a new opportunity to answer the fundamental questions about technology: how will people use it – for good or for ill.
Marshall McLuhan suggested that the epoch to come might return us to a tribal configuration: one in which oral histories could be shared electronically. This full-circle return to storytelling, he suggested, would create a “global village.” But to what end? How would humanity be altered by a return to oral history, or an advance to a digital history? These questions remain to be answered.
Yet, the sounds and images of this global village abound in local stories told globally. We watched as an Iranian election was disputed by citizens on Twitter. We viewed mobile phone footage of a plane landing on the Hudson River. We listened as politicians of all persuasions spread messages through podcasts and internet ads. We witnessed a Canadian teenager use YouTube videos to create a pandemic of Bieber fever.
In all of these examples, what we see are real people telling their stories. These stories are absent of the news editors, publishing houses, and broadcast networks that served for generations as the gatekeepers for information.
Now that we all have a global platform for our stories, which stories will we tell? How will we tell them? And whose stories will we choose to believe?
a very engaging blog entry! Please do more on the Twitter revolution in Iran – and how a sequined-gloved moon-walking American celebrity died “at just the wrong time” for the Twitter revolution!
Thanks Randy. MJ did indeed take over the Twittersphere in the midst of the Iranian election. It would be cool to study the effects of the two stories and their interaction.
Love this post! First time I ever heard this concept was Thomas Friedman’s book “The World Is Flat.” If you haven’t read it, you should. It talks about how technology is “flattening” our world or “leveling the playing field” as people are now able to communicate without the tradition, hierarchical ways.
I studied communications in school. Can’t remember, but think I read the Marshal McLuhan’s chronicled work in my History of Mass Comm course. Very interesting to see how far we’ve come. Even cooler to be part of where we’re going.
Thanks for the great insights!
Thomas Friedman came at Queens two years ago and our students were able to meet him and hear him speak about “The World is Flat.” You’re right that he is influenced by Marshall McLuhan. Both would likely agree with you that technology “levels the playing field.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts.