This past Christmas I ordered a book in Honolulu that would greet me when I arrived at my parents’ place in Tennessee. The book was by Douglas Coupland, who I’ve been a fan of for almost a decade. The book’s topic was a man, a Canadian I had not heard of: Marshall McLuhan. The book, Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! was the beginning of a revelation to me. Here was a man of faith, a Catholic, shaped by his upbringing, rooted in a classical education, all but prophesying a future that has somewhat come to pass in my lifetime. Sure, he coined phrases like “the medium is the message” and “the global village,” but it turns out that there was so much more being said than that.
So one afternoon during Christmas break I went with my mom to the closest Barnes and Noble to see if I could track down an actual book by McLuhan. I found Understanding Media, a book which took me months to read. And while there were a number of things that I totally didn’t get, there was enough that I did, enough that my thinking about some things has been shaped greatly. (Plus, he had some great things to say about the medium we call the comics. Heh.)
And so today he would’ve turned 100 years old. I only know this because a few days ago, spurred on by a quick phone conversation with a co-worker, I picked up Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains. I had seen the book before, had even flipped through it. I had not noticed until this time, though, that McLuhan is all over the book’s introduction. This, in turn, led me to Carr’s blog, where I found out about McLuhan’s birthday.
So here’s to you, Marshall McLuhan! I’m glad I found out about you, especially here at what could be the most important turn in Western thinking in centuries. You saw a lot of this; I hope what you saw and had to say will help us through all that’s about to happen next.
You can check out a great excerpt from a Carr essay on McLuhan here. Plus, I highly recommend Coupland’s book. It’s short, sweet, and a great introduction to an interesting figure in recent history.