TO DREAM FACTORY
In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and
dividing all things as a means of control, it is
sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in
operational and practical fact, the medium is the
message. This is merely to say that the personal and
social consequences of any medium—that is, of any
extension of ourselves—result from the new scale that
is introduced into our affairs by each extension of
ourselves, or by any new technology.
—Marshall McLuhan (1966)
THE INVENTION OF PHOTOGRAPHY MARKS only the tip of an iceberg in the communications revolution that is shaping or, depending upon your perspective, distorting our world. Photography and the telegraph, its companion invention, did not just make communications easier—they changed the way people perceive the world. The technology we use to store knowledge and the way we think are intrinsically related. Indeed, Walter Ong, a great student of oral literature, says boldly that the way we store our information determines consciousness (Ong 1982, 33). Marshall McLuhan captured the same idea in his famous slogan, “the medium is the message.” Carrying this idea even further, we might say that the technology employed to store and manipulate knowledge is a primary determinant of the shape of a civilization. In the history of humanity four technologies have served as the primary receptacles for storing knowledge: the brain, the pen, the printing press, and the electronic media. Each technology led to a different way of looking at the world.
In exploring this thesis, I need to set a number of caveats. I am claiming only that the technology we employ to preserve knowledge is an agent that shapes consciousness or creates change, not the agent, much less the only agent. Without this caveat my exposition