Marshall McLuhan, excerpt from "Classroom Without Walls," Explorations in Communication (Boston: Beacon Press, 1960)
It's natural today to speak of "audio-visual aids" to teaching, for we still think of the book as norm, of other media as incidental. We also think of the new media (press, radio, TV) as mass media and think of the book as an individualistic form —individualistic because it isolated the reader in silence and helped create the Western "I." Yet it was the first product of mass production.
With it everybody could have the same books. It was impossible in medieval times for different students, different institutions, to have copies of the same book. Manuscripts, commentaries, were dictated. Students memorized. Instruction was almost entirely oral, done in groups. Solitary study was reserved for the advanced scholar. The first printed books were "visual aids" to oral instruction.
Before the printing press, the young learned by listening, watching, doing. So, until recently, our own rural children learned the language and skills of their elders. Learning took place outside the classroom. Only those aiming at professional careers went to school at all. Today in our cities, most learning occurs outside the classroom. The sheer quantity of information conveyed by press-magazines-film-TV-radio far exceeds the quantity of information conveyed by school instruction and texts. This challenge has destroyed the monopoly of the book as a teaching aid and cracked the very walls of the classroom so suddenly that we're confused, baffled.
In this violently upsetting social situation, many teachers naturally view the offerings of the new media as entertainment, rather than education. But this carries no conviction to the student. Find a classic that wasn't first regarded as light entertainment. Nearly all vernacular works were so regarded until the 19th century.
Many movies are obviously handled with a degree of insight and maturity at least equal to the level permitted in today's textbooks. Olivier Henry V and Richard III assemble a wealth of scholarly and artistic skill, which reveals Shakespeare at a very high level, yet in a way easy for the young to enjoy.
The movie is to dramatic representation what the book was to the manuscript. It makes available to many and at many times and places what otherwise would be restricted to a few at few times and places. The movie, like the book, is a ditto device. TV shows to 50,000,000 simultaneously. Some feel that the value of experiencing a book is diminished by being extended to many minds. This notion is always implicit in the phrases "mass media," "mass entertainment"—useless phrases obscuring the fact that English itself is a mass medium.
Today we're beginning to realize that the new media aren't just mechanical gimmicks for creating worlds of illusion, but new languages with new and unique powers of expression. Historically, the resources of English have been shaped and expressed in constantly new and changing ways. The printing press changed not only the quantity of writing but also the character of language and the relations between author and public. Radio, film, TV pushed written English toward the spontaneous shifts and freedom of the spoken idiom. They aided us in the recovery of intense awareness of facial language and bodily gesture. If these "mass media" should serve only to weaken or corrupt previously achieved levels of verbal and pictorial culture, it won't be because there's anything inherently wrong with them. It will be because we've failed to master them as new languages in time to assimilate them to our total cultural heritage.
These new developments, under quiet analytic survey, point to a basic strategy of culture for the classroom. When the printed book first appeared, it threatened the oral procedures of teaching and created the classroom as we now know it. Instead of making his own text, his own dictionary, his own grammar, the student started out with these tools. He could study not one but several languages. Today these new media threaten, instead merely reinforce, the procedures of this traditional classroom. It's customary to answer this threat with denunciations of the unfortunate character and effect of movies and TV, just as the comic book was feared and scorned and rejected from the classroom. Its good and bad features in form and content, when carefully set beside other kinds of art and narrative, could have become a major asset to the teacher.
Where student interest is already focused is the natural point at which to be in the elucidation of other problems and interests. The educational task is not only to provide basic tools of perception but also to develop judgment and discrimination with ordinary social experience.
Few students ever acquire skill in analysis of newspapers. Fewer have any ability to discuss a movie intelligently. To be articulate and discriminating about ordinary affairs and information is the mark of an educated man. It's misleading to suppose there's any basic difference between education and entertainment. This distinction merely relieves people of the responsibility of looking into the matter. It's like setting up a distinction between didactic and lyric poetry on the ground that one teaches, the other pleases. However, it's always been true that whatever pleases teaches more effectively.
"All media are extensions of some human
faculty- psychic or physical"
The wheel is an extension of the foot
"The medium, or process, of our time -
electric technology is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social
interdependence and every aspect of our personal life.
"Until writing was invented, man lived in
acoustic space: boundless, directionless, horizonless, in the dark of the
mind, in the world of emotion..."
"The line, the continuum
"We have be-come irrevocably involved with,
and responsible for, each other."
"One of the effects of living with electric
information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload.
There's always more than you can cope with".
"The new media are not bridges between man
and nature; they are nature." (1969)
"The news automatically becomes the real world for the TV user and is not a substitute for reality, but is itself an immediate reality." (1978) Eric McLuhan & Frank Zingrone, editors, Essential McLuhan, (New York: Routledge, 1997), 272.
"Today we are beginning to notice that the new media are not just mechanical gimmicks for creating worlds of illusion, but new languages with new and unique powers of expression." (1957) Eric McLuhan & Frank Zingrone, editors, Essential McLuhan, (New York: Routledge, 1997), 272.
"It is the framework which changes with each new technology and not just the picture within the frame." (1955) Eric McLuhan & Frank Zingrone, editors, Essential McLuhan, (New York: Routledge, 1997), 273.
"The spoken word was the first technology by which man was able to let go of his environment in order to grasp it in a new way." Eric McLuhan & Frank Zingrone, editors, Essential McLuhan, (New York: Routledge, 1997), 273.
"Except for light, all other media come in pairs, with one acting as the "content" of the other, obscuring the operation of both." (1964) Eric McLuhan & Frank Zingrone, editors, Essential McLuhan, (New York: Routledge, 1997), 274.
"Gramophone and movies were merely the mechanization of speech and gesture. But the radio and TV were not just the electronification of speech and gesture but the electronification of the entire range of human personal expressiveness. With electronification the flow is taken out of the wire and into the vacuum tube circuit, which confers freedom and flexibility such as are in metaphor and in words themselves." (1955) Eric McLuhan & Frank Zingrone, editors, Essential McLuhan, (New York: Routledge, 1997), 273.
"Environments are not just containers, but are processes that change the content totally." 1967 EEric McLuhan & Frank Zingrone, editors, Essential McLuhan, (New York: Routledge, 1997), 275.
"A new medium is never an addition to an old one, nor does it leave the old one in peace. It never ceases to oppress the older media until it finds new shapes and positions for them." 1964 Eric McLuhan & Frank Zingrone, editors, Essential McLuhan, (New York: Routledge, 1997), 278.
"As technology advances, it reverses the
characteristics of every situation again and again. The age of automation
is going to be the age of "do it yourself"." 1957
"The photograph reverses the purpose of travel, which until now had been to encounter the strange and unfamiliar." 1964 Eric McLuhan & Frank Zingrone, editors, Essential McLuhan, (New York: Routledge, 1997), 287.
"The movie, by sheer speeding up of the mechanical, carried us from the world of sequence and connections into the world of creative configurations and structure." (1964) Eric McLuhan & Frank Zingrone, editors, Essential McLuhan, (New York: Routledge, 1997), 290.