Magazine article Momentum

McLuhan and Babin: Profiles of 20th Century Media Prophets

Magazine article Momentum

McLuhan and Babin: Profiles of 20th Century Media Prophets

Article excerpt

"We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us."

(Marshall McLuhan)

"If we want to express the Gospel today then we need to use symbolic language."

(Pierre Babin, OMI)

A quarter of a century ago Marshall McLuhan passed; yet, in celebrating his 100th birthday anniversary (2011), there is a resurgence of wonder concerning his prophetic voice. He was born Herbert Marshall McLuhan in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1911. He attended the University of Manitoba, receiving a BA before heading off to study at Cambridge. He taught at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), St. Louis University (St. Louis). Assumption College and St. Michael's College (Toronto). His growing renown eventually lead to the establishment of the Center of Culture and Technology (Toronto), which would serve as his intellectual base camp.

He remains one of the best recognized intellectuals of media studies. It was believed that he thought differently because he was wired differently. He was the subject of a vast number of national magazine and journal articles through the 1960s and 1970s. He cared deeply about popular culture. In a review of McLuhan's works, Wendy Robinson (2005) wrote of McLuhan: "I have come to consider McLuhan's lasting contributions to be 'rearviewmirrorism' (we tend to view the present and future through the prism of the past and, therefore, tend to use new media like older forms until we culturally figure out innovative uses for the innovations) and proto-cybernetic mediated extensions (media and technology act as second skin, extending human consciousness and the sensory reach)." Thus, we discover in McLuhan's words that: "We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us" (1962). McLuhan's ability to anticipate the effect of mass media when the phenomenon was in its infancy made him remarkable. He realized the toxic effect of media long before media became the air we all breathe. He did it before there was any genuine understanding of how human beings process mediated information.

McLuhan read the works of Bernard Lonergan (Jesuit philosopher, theologian and economist, 1904-1984) in the 1950s and was captured by his ideas. He was a teacher and friend of the great Lonergan scholar Jesuit Father Walter Ong, who adored McLuhan and wrote a piece on him titled, "McLuhan as Teacher: The Future is a Thing of the Past" (Journal of Communication 31 (1981): 129-35).

Humanity in a Global Membrane

McLuhan believed that the electronic telegraph- the "first pulsation of the real nervous system of the world"- sealed humanity in a "global membrane" of instant communication, a global commune or "global village." McLuhan saw the evolution of communication media as creating a new world- a global village atmosphere for the 21st century. Whether you conceptualize it or whether you verbalize it, you live in a global situation in which every event modifies and affects every other event (McLuhan, 2010. p. 33). He saw that soon information would be moving at relatively instantaneous speed. This would terrify ordinary people. He discussed how total global information would presses upon humanity daily as a continuous environment, bringing with it all of the dangers of instant decision making. In a way, he predicted a new Pentecost where one voice would resound throughout the global village (the Internet).

Oblate Father Pierre Babin (1927present), international presenter and creator of the Symbolic Way, became intrigued with McLuhan's conceptualization of the future media age. In his book "The New Era in Religious Communication (1991)," Babin explains how the encounter with Marshall McLuhan changed both his philosophy and orientation of teaching. The edited transcript of Babin's dialogues with McLuhan over several summers has been published in "The Medium and the Light" (2010). In a series of interviews with Babin (Zukowski 2000-2005). Babin stated: "I met McLuhan several times when McLuhan was in his 'glorious prophet years' (19701980). …

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