In steady, blue ink, Marshall McLuhan scrawled his signature across the bottom of this week’s ephemera feature: A letter to the editor of the James Joyce Quarterly, typewritten in 1974. In this letter, McLuhan was writing about the connection between Ovid and Dubliners (short stories by James Joyce), but there would have been other times when McLuhan sat before his typewriter, mulling over the effects and of new media and technologies on human cognition and the organization of society and phrophesizing the coming of the World Wide Web, thirty years before its actual invention.¹
Perhaps it was his background studying logic for part of his dissortation on the trivium at Cambridge University that allowed McLuhan to follow the effects of the recently invented moveable type out so precisely to the eventual emergence of a World Wide Web, but certainly this is but one of the many accomplishments of this man. Credited with coining the popular phrase: “the medium is the message” and the now common term, “global village” and heralded as “One of the most charismatic, controversial and original thinkers of our time whose remarkable perception propelled him onto the international stage, [and who is] is universally regarded as the father of communications and media studies and prophet of the information age”², McLuhan was a very influential figure throughout his life and his work continues to be relevant to this day.
McLuhan obtained degrees at the University of Manitoba and Cambridge University in England, before returning to Canada to teach at Assumption College here in Windsor and then at the University of Toronto.³ He went on to write several books on media and culture which were heavily influenced by the works of James Joyce (it was the editor of the James Joyce Quarterly to whom he wrote in the letter featured this week) and receive many awards and honorary degrees before his death in 1980.³
In addition to the insightful books McLuhan left behind, his legacy extends to the Center for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto, (on whose letterhead McLuhan composed this letter) where there is still a program in his name exploring culture and technology.
This letter remains as one of the few papers McLuhan held and wrote upon, as he prophesized so precisely the coming of the World Wide Web and its effects on culture, from a time before then; a time of typewriters and ink, well before the dawning of email.
Hear McLuhan speak about inventions as extensions of the human mind and body and the information age: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7GvQdDQv8g
McLuhan’s popularity even landed him a guest appearance in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Allen’s character grows increasingly aggravated with a pompous professor who is loudly misinterpreting McLuhan’s work from behind him in a movie line, until McLuhan himself steps in to set the man straight, delivering his famous line: “You know nothing of my work.” See the clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXJ8tKRlW3E
1. Wikipedia. Marshall McLuhan. 21, November 2012 web. 22, November 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_McLuhan
2. Marshall McLuhan. 2012 web. 22, November 2012. http://www.marshallmcluhan.com/
3. McLuhan.ca Global Research Network. Timeline. web 22, November 2012 http://mcluhan.org/timeline.html
More ephemera features to come! Check back soon!