McLuhan's revenge

Mid_ageEarly reviews of my book are trickling in. Seems like I jogged Philip Marchand, the noted McLuhan biographer (The Medium and the Messenger), into remembering 1979:

What is odd about many of the issues raised by Keen is how old they are, and how much they predate the Internet. Does this Internet encourage a relativist view of truth? Keen quotes a public relations CEO: "In this era of exploding technologies there is no truth except the truth you create yourself." He also cites cyberpunk author William Gibson, who derides the very concept of "audience" as "antique." Suddenly we find ourselves back in 1979, when the late social critic Christopher Lasch, in his book The Culture of Narcissism, was already bemoaning the erasure of the differences between reality and illusion, actor and role, spectator and participant.

First as tragedy, then as farce. Marchand is right. None of the issues that Web 2.0 raises are new. Lasch, Adorno, Daniel Bell, Neil Postman of course (who wrote the foreword to Marchand's The Medium and the Messenger) all predicted the democratized cyberswamp. And, of course, Saint McLuhan, the messenger of this miasma, gleefully predicted it. As Marchand reminds us:

"For every expert idea that arises inside an organization," McLuhan advised executives, "the public has a thousand better ideas than you ever heard of."

Marchand's Toronto Star review is entitled "The Monkey's Revenge" in reference to my association of our prickly primate cousins with today's 70 million prickly bloggers. While I am far from being a McLuhanite, it's worth noting that McLuhan announced the Web 2.0 revolution almost half a century before the earliest glimmerings of Web 1.0 (Anderson, Tapscott et al are all pale remixes of MccLuhan's original message). So maybe Web 2.0 -- with its Open Source chutzpah and saucy contempt for organizational man -- is really McLuhan's revenge. Revenge for relegating the original media messenger into a footnote. Revenge for continuing to confuse the media with the message.