McLuhan, Media, and Ministers

As part of the Transforming Theology Project over at Claremont, Tripp Fuller and Phillip Clayton are teaching a class called “Theology After Google.”  Given the content of the course, Tripp has been interacting with the Twitterverse and Blogosphere as part of the course content and prep.  He recently suggested that I throw a little somethin somethin together around the topic of the medium and message for modern ministers.  This video is that.

“The medium is the message” is probably the most oft-quoted line from Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan.  I bumped into McLuhan’s work years ago in my studies in communications theory and was utterly bowled over by his insight, wit, and bizarre eccentricity.  Heck, the title of this blog is even because of him.  Anywho, the issue (one of them anyway) with McLuhan is that he never wrote “the book” on anything. He never got all of his ideas into one place and came down definitively on anything, instead favoring short questions and comments that he called “probes.”  The fact that he did this intentionally makes it no less frustrating for same.  He said it was because The Print Age and linear, visual-rational, thinking was closing to be replaced with The Electronic Age’s emphasis on connective thought.  Consequently, his writing, even though published in the 50’s and 60’s  reads more like what would happen if you published the results of a 12 hour web-surfing spree, rather than a finely honed theoretically work.  That point of all this is to say that not as many academics have given him the credit I think he deserves because he wasn’t playing by the rules.  This (of course) I love.

Here I’m trying to re-articulate his probes “the medium is the message,” and of “retribalization” in the context of theology, specifically theology after Google.

I may or may not come back here and add to the text of this post, but I think I fairly well said what I needed to in the video, so please let me know if things are unclear, or if you would like a further articulation of something I said.  I am more than willing to clarify if I can.  Happy viewing, and please comment below.

Related Readings

Great read about how Google might be changing the way we think, “I Google, Therefore I Know.”

An interesting essay which has a long section about McLuhan’s retribalization is here.

An interpretation of  “the medium is the message” from a more “pure McLuhan” standpoint is here.

An article connecting McLuhan and hermeneutics is here.

Less related, but also of note:

An article dealing with McLuhan and revisionist theology is here.

5 Responses

  1. Great Post Callid! I love McLuhan. Being in communication design I am also familiar with his work. It’s amazing how many of his predictions are remarkably accurate. I love how he would say that we’re moving forward looking through the rear view mirror. I think he is right on.

    As far as the digital age bringing about a re-tribalization, I think he’s right to a degree. But
    McLuhan also points out that each new medium does four things:

    Enhances something
    Obsolesces something
    Retrieves something
    and flips or reverses when pushed to the extreme

    For instance, the security camera enhances our eyes, obsolesces watch towers, retrieves city walls, and when pushed to the extreme, can rob us of our privacy.

    I think it’s clear that even though new technologies and mediums like the internet have the power to connect us in so many great ways, they also have the power to isolate us and rob us of many important things. We must consistently be mindful of this.

  2. I had the thought that the very people McLuhan says will “tribe” themselves together because of new technology, those very people count, in his system, as new technology. A new friend, or a new conversation with an old friend, extends the senses and changes the way the individual sees the world. My wonderful hubby, for example is a technology to extent my memory. He is always remembering old conversations I had forgotten, and facts about my relatives that had slipped into the back of mind. Marrying him changed the way I look at the world (for lots of reasons). He has done all four things Jesse mentioned about new mediums above.
    The last few minutes were the perfect example of what you are talking bout in the video: I had this thought about tribe members being a medium after watching your video. I wasn’t sure if I was the only person who had ever thought of it, or if i was totally misinformed, but I aimlessly checked the conversation happening on the transFORM network (a fun little emergent ning community, for those who are unaware) and found a post from a guy in my faith community about a book by Winifred Gallagher called “Spiritual Genius” on ten spiritual geniuses and their quest for meaning. I started reading the intro on Amazon’s book preview and read this sentence: “We are deeply disillusioned with institutions, especially religious ones, but we still hunger for the meaning and authority they once supplied. So, for better or worse, we have created a ‘culture of celebrity’ in which the special individual or expert, rather than an organization, is the most trustworthy medium for any message, including spiritual ones.” Right there in a book I hadn’t heard of, from a post on a discussion forum actually started by you (!), was confirmation that at least one other person has thought in these terms before. Great minds aren’t the only kind that think alike, so I’d still like your feedback.
    But if our tribe members themselves are a new medium for our re-discovery/re-evaluation of the world around us, then the pattern is circular, and the cycle of technology bringing people further apart, then closer together again will continue.

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