Monday, October 11, 2010

Primate Village: The significance of the medium as the message, Marshall McLuhan, Television, virtual Harbin as Global Village

Harbin ethnography:

... Vis-a-vis virtual Harbin in this ethnography, the …

In highlighting the significance of the medium as the message, in relation to actual and virtual Harbin Hot Springs, the prescient, difficult-to-understand, Toronto-based media theorist and philosopher Marshal McLuhan suggested, in the mid 1960s, that the advent of television represented a qualitative change in the way society shares information and communicates with its citizens, especially since Gutenberg's printing press, and the growth of literacy around the world. Television diffused faster than any other medium in history and transmits information in a fundamentally different way where what the viewer takes away is not every image displayed -- there are too many -- but an overall impression. McLuhan's well-known dictum that “The Medium is the Message” emphasized the dominance of TV as a conveyor of information to a mass audience and not the individual TV messages themselves. In suggesting that "We are going to live in a global village," he presciently suggested that all of society would experience a sense of the ‘whole’ through the electronic medium of TV and later through other technological mediums. In assessing why TV should have such a major impact, one of McLuhan's researchers suggested three reasons: i) TV was a powerful sensorial simulation of reality; ii) TV produced stories allowing the viewer to relate in easy ways to an old human story telling tradition; and iii) TV is a medium that requires the least amount of personal effort, the path of least resistance. TV offered a passive system that disconnects individuals from the rest. The massive use of TV required a very little amount of psychological effort. Television helped to define what mass communication is: information from one source to many receivers. While radio was also significant as a form of one-to-many mass communication, it was also connected with other activities such as commuting and working, and not solely for passive reception (MacLeod 2001a). As McLuhan said in the mid 1960s:

“After three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the Western world is imploding. During the mechanical ages we had extended our bodies in space. Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned. Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the extensions of man - the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society, much as we have already extended our senses and our nerves by the various media” (McLuhan,

McLuhan’s arguments help shape an understanding of the significance of the internet as a mode of mass communication. Actual Harbin Hot Springs has a village, where residents live, and is a village itself, in that people live in homes there. And with emergent headset technologies that allow individuals to interact with digital 'objects' and processes without words or language (Andrew Junker and Tan Le), Harbin residents, and all of us, may connect our nervous systems (McLuhan) in real time consciousness with each other, vis-a-vis McLuhan, in a virtual Harbin OpenSim or Second Life environment, at present. These now, multimedia, communicative practices give form to new kinds of ongoingly, creative, communicative practices.

The actual Harbin village is a road with homes on it, for residents, called 'The Village,' which is near the Harbin Warehouse, and which feels a little like a row of houses that were planned to be part of a village at one point but didn't generate the fabric of life, including commerce which some villages do, - nevertheless, it is the “Harbin Village,” both in name, and actually; as 'place,' the so-named 'village path' leads along a beautiful hillside and creek bed from the Harbin pool area to these dwellings in “The Village”. ...

( - October 11. 2010)

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