Marshall McLuhan goes to Information On Demand
Delaney Turner 270003RQ8K Delaney.Turner@ca.ibm.com | | Tags:  information-insights iod11 business_analytics ibmsoftware
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With the exception of fellow Canadian Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan did more to advance our understanding of electronic media and instant information than anyone before or since. McLuhan would have turned 100 last month, and I thought I'd use the occasion to reflect on his work and how it can help as we (and you) prepare for Information On Demand.
New media, new assumptions
In McLuhan's view, every new medium challenges the basic assumptions people live and work by. In The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), Understanding Media (1964) and other works, he explored the disruptive effects of electronic communications on the linear, print-based media landscape of the time. In the same way the printing press wrested control of information away from the church, McLuhan saw radio and television driving a new and equally dramatic transformation - away from a linear way of absorbing information toward more a more instantaneous, organic way of responding to it.
Explaining the famous phrase
McLuhan believed that the medium conveying information had as much of an impact on the recipient as the information itself; hence, "The Medium is the Message." Whether the technology was moveable type or radio tubes, new technology reshaped information to suit a new form factor and made it more accessible to more people, in more places, more quickly. The more people consumed this information in these new and different ways, the more dramatic the effect on people's perceptions of (and attitudes toward) businesses, government and the world around them.
Consider one of his earliest "probes" from 1960: "When any new form comes to the foreground, we naturally look through the old lenses. We ask ourselves, 'how will our previous political and educational patterns persist?' We're trying to fit the old assumptions into the new form instead of asking, 'What is the new form going to do with all of the assumptions we had before?'"
Why McLuhan is still important
To a large extent we are only now living in the world that only McLuhan wrote about. This is why, 30 years after his death and nearly 50 years after the publication of Understanding Media, his insights remain highly applicable to anyone involved in managing information and creating meaningful insights from raw data. Consider the following "probes" (you can find more on the Marshall McLuhan Speaks web site):
The next disruption
The web, mobility and social technologies that now dominate not only the media, but business and governments as well are driving similar disruptions today. Our world is becoming increasingly instrumented, interconnected and intelligent. Information now exists in such volumes and moves at such high speeds through so many devices as to demand new ways of managing, understanding and analyzing it. As citizens, we expect our governments be increasingly transparent, open and accountable. As consumers, we expect businesses to know our preferences and demand increasingly higher levels of personalized service. As knowledge workers, we need instant, consistent and accurate information to make the decisions that optimize business outcomes.
His pop culture legacy
McLuhan died before the world he saw came into being, but his influence permeates our language and culture. He coined the term "global village." His quip "the medium is the message" is quoted in Mad Men. Kevin Kelly named him Wired Magazine's "patron saint of the information age." Among my friends, his cameo in the film "Annie Hall" ranks as one of the funniest scenes ever. And comedy troupe Radio Free Vestibule recast "Marshall" McLuhan as a wild west sherriff
The Ballad of Marshall Mcluhan from Randall Acronym on Vimeo.