As an undergraduate student of Speech-Communication, I vividly recall learning about Marshall McLuhan, and the day we all watched the short video The Global Village, a short kaleidoscopic film, and read the very brief pictorial paperback book, “The Medium is the Message,”multiple times. Both were way ahead of their time. These were heady times in the academic world. As this was at least 15 years before the advent of the Internet, we were all grasping at the profundity of what McLuhan was saying to us….not realizing that this guy was predicting the World Wide Web.. Holy Shit! We tried reading his books but found that they were so dense as to be impossible to read… What we could “sorta” get was “the medium was the message” visual representation and that weird little book.. I recall thinking that what McLuhan was saying was so cool, and chuckling about it, though I still could not fully grasp it.. I was experiencing the “cosmic giggle” that became the tag line for Rolling Stone magazine at that time. And then, of course, Woody Allen immortalized McLuhan, by putting him into that scene in Annie Hall, where McLuhan walks up and tells the guy next to Allen and Diane Keaton, that he is completely full of shit, and understands nothing about his work. Whew!
Today, I look back on that time, struggling with McLuhan’s vision, and shake my head in utter awe.. It was as if we were sitting at the feet of Einstein desperately trying to explain relativity to us, and we just couldn’t quite get it.
We certainly get it now. Marshall McLuhan is my personal choice for intellectual giant of the second half of the 20th Century. This gives full due credit to Einstein.
But something interesting is happening with the Medium and the Global Village. It is bifurcating, at least for now. The World Wide Web is continuing on its happy way, morphing over and over again as we go, now becoming only three important threads: The Cloud, Big Data, and Smart Mobile…The efforts of China, Iran, North Korea and others to control the Web, in my view, and the view of others, may be pathetic wastes of time, effort, money and technology. On the other hand it could be the beginning of “balkanization” of the Internet. The Berlin Wall came down and the Great Wall is nothing more than a tourist attraction. Efforts to stop the Web may be like King Canute trying to stop the waves, or it may be the beginning of a new Internet era. But nothing else matters anymore, and for now nothing can stop it.
But on the more tangible side, financial, economic and political globalization things are retrograde. The Economist this week reported that the World is less economically connected than it was in 2007, indeed less than it was in 2005. It is an extraordinary contrast with the evolution of the WWW. The Global Interconnectedness Index, rather like the index of consumer confidence, is reporting that people around the World believe that we are more globally interconnected economically than we actually are. Foreign Direct Investment is way down, and my guess is that it may not recover soon.. A whole raft of global political issues are beginning to emerge that are restraining economic globalization, rather like mercantilism in the 18th Century and how it evolved and morphed over time.
The World is not yet ready.. Years ago, the University of California at Santa Cruz had a graduate program entitled The History of Consciousness, led by Professor Cesar Grana. I met with Professor Grana at the time, and was fascinated at his approach to McLuhan’s vision. Everything is connected: art, science, music, theology, and it has evolved as the human race has evolved.
What we have with the current pull back from economic globalization is the fact that the human race is simply not ready to embrace a complete Global Village. We are on the edges of it with World Music, and the World Wide Web, but it appears that full economic and political realization of Stuart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog....as described by Steve Job’s in his now famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford…is just not here yet, though some of us have been waiting for years. Jobs passed on and some of us may as well before this chapter is closed.
As Steve Jobs told us, the last edition of the Whole Earth Catalog advised us to “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”