Marshall McLuhan

Reaction Paper


        Marshall McLuhan had many things to say throughout his lifetime. In reading the Essential McLuhan, the culmination of his work, there were many ideas and concepts to digest.  The statement or idea that stood out to me the most was found on page 154. “We are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them. The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value.” That in my mind is ever so true.

        That is an issue that I battle today. The television is not a bad thing. However, there ARE many bad things on television. As a parent it is my responsibility to determine how it is used in my home for good and to be in control of keeping the bad out. I am a Christian and I do believe that there is evil on the television, but I do not keep the television out of my home. I know that sounds contradicting because I don’t want evil in my home, but I will allow something that has evil in it in my home. On the contrary, the television has good on it as well. It is all in how I choose to use it will the characteristics prevail. My children use the television daily. There are many educational shows that they watch. There are also many shows they watch for entertainment purposes that are wholesome shows. It is my responsibility to point out if something is not good for them, to use it as a learning experience, and then to teach them it is not something for them to watch again. I feel that I should not “shelter” my children from all the bad because then they will not know how to deal with it when I am not around. I also feel that I am not going to look for it and expose them to it just for the sake of them knowing. I must make the right decisions when we are faced with these situations. The responsibility and the fault fall on me and not on the television.

        McLuhan saw this coming with his interpretation of our educational system. McLuhan says “Today’s child is growing up absurd because he is suspended between two worlds and two value systems, neither of which incline him to maturity because he belongs wholly to neither but exists in a hybrid limbo of constantly conflicting values. (p. 250) We are constantly sending our children mixed signals. At home we “promote” or even rely on the use of technology, but at school it is just beginning to make it on the scene. Neither “world” nor “value system” is totally correct. We need to find an equal ground to balance learning for our students.

        McLuhan refers to the children of this generation as a “TV child”. Perhaps a more applicable term today is a “Technology Child”. If a child is “raised” by technology he/she will not know how to function without these things. Expecting children to perform in a world that is not the norm for them would be like us trying to live in the days without things that we consider a necessity, such as electricity, indoor plumbing, or running water. Technology isn’t necessary for children to survive, but we must try to teach them through methods that are within their comfort zone.

                A computer is a very beneficial tool if it is used for good. A computer can be a very destructive tool if it is used for bad. The tool is neither good or bad it is the person using the tool that enhances the good or bad trait. A computer makes composing a paper much easier. It saves hours of prewriting by hand, then typing the paper, correcting mistakes with liquid paper or having to retype a page because of mistakes to finally have a finished paper. With the computer mistakes are easily erased and a paper is saved. It doesn’t have to be finished in one sitting. This is just a very simple example of the good a computer does. Organizing important information through a spreadsheet or a database has helped businesses become more efficient. The downside of this is that many people designed games to be played. These games were fun and many are educational. However, society began to find that this was harming the young in our society by turning them into couch potatoes along with the television. Video games were lumped into this category, too. There are numerous games out there for children. The games and the computers have not turned these children into couch potatoes and they haven’t caused our children to become obese.

        That again is the time that the parents need to step in control the usage in the home. My children use the television and the computer almost daily. I purchase games for them to play that are fun that have educational foundations. My children also have the Playstation and we enjoy playing it as a family. However, I must take responsibility to control how much they play these games. I must tell them to go out and play. I must go out and play with them for them to know how and what to play. I must also let them use their imagination while playing. The games haven’t made them obese it is the lack of physical exercise that has made them obese. It is also the lack of proper nutrition in combination with the lack of physical exercise that causes children to become obese. If a game can make that happen then it is more powerful than I know. It is because the TV and these games have been allowed to become babysitters for our children that have led to their lack of physical exercise. I will not say that I haven’t used them for that purpose because I would be lying if I did. BUT I feel that it is the responsibility of the parents to regulate how much time will be spent playing physically and technologically.

        Then there is the Internet. I find it amazing that McLuhan even dreamed that the Internet would be “invented”.  McLuhan didn’t coin the term Internet, but he eluded to its concept. McLuhan begins describing this “new” culture as a “tribal all-at-once culture. The idea of the “public” as a differentiated agglomerate of fragmented individuals, all dissimilar but all capable of acting basically the same way.” (p. 260) That is still somewhat hard for me to comprehend. I guess I know how people felt during biblical time when the prophets were saying things that were farfetched in the minds of those around. I am not saying that McLuhan was a prophet of God, but I can understand how they felt in not being able to comprehend the magnitude of what someone is saying and then it to become reality.

        The Internet is a whole new realm of not being good or bad, but possessing good and bad components. The Internet is exactly what McLuhan calls “global telepathy”. Even during the time McLuhan did his Playboy interview he explained that it was beginning. He states “Computers offer the potential of instantaneous translation of any code or language into any other code or language. If a data feedback is possible through the computer, why not a feed forward of thought whereby a world consciousness links into a world computer?”(p. 262) That is precisely what we have. The Internet helps student’s research like they would never have been able to before. It is a wonderful teaching tool. However, just like with anything people find ways to be corrupt. The pornography on the Internet is rampant. I will not even begin to go into detail on the corrupt things out there. I will again say that it is our responsibility to regulate how it affects us. I know that it sounds like I am running it into the ground, but I feel strongly that it is our responsibility to control how these things affect us. There may be some things that we cannot control in life and how they affect us, but there are many things that we can. It is our responsibility as parents, teachers, and members of society to allow change for the good and to take a stand against the bad. The good things the “tools” have to offer should not be hindered because of the bad in the world.

McLuhan gives a great example to sum up the point I am trying to convey. “Firearms are in themselves neither good nor bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value. That is, if the slugs reach the right people firearms are good. If the TV tube fires the right ammunition at the right people it is for good.” There are so many things in the world today in which that statement holds truth.