A few months ago a friend asked me to take some pictures of his girlfriend for her acting portfolio. The weekend before the ‘shoot’ I realised I hadn’t used my camera for some time and headed off to take some pictures. Back home, I decided to post one of the pictures to my Facebook ‘timeline’. I uploaded the image and clicked the Post button. Virtually no time elapsed between clicking Post and seeing the picture appear on my timeline. Yet when the picture appeared I realised that my friend’s girlfriend had somehow managed to ‘Like’ it. I brooded over this for about an hour. Information may travel at light speed but humans are not supposed to. In the blink of an eye it took to see the image appear I can think of no way this person could have seen the image on her timeline and reacted so fast that the image and her ‘like’ registered as a single event at my end. I was so suspicious I questioned her later to confirm she’d liked the picture. It was, quite simply, impossible even for someone with the reactions of a fighter pilot.
Information travelling at light speed is the ‘ground’ part of Marshall McLuhan’s ‘figure-ground’ relationship, a refinement of his earlier mantra ‘The Medium is the Message’. In saying ‘the medium is the message’ McLuhan is drawing our attention to the massive psycho-social impact of technologies or, as he called them, mediums. That is to say, the actual effect of a medium far outweighs the impact of the content it carries. In fact, McLuhan regarded ‘content’ as a ‘juicy piece of meat’ carried by a burglar for the purpose of ‘distracting the watchdog of the mind’. Content is the distraction which blinds us to the psycho-social effects of the medium itself. The content of a medium is another medium. The content of a film is a screenplay, the content of a book is speech. Preoccupation with content is a misdirected reaction to the novelty of the medium itself, a reflection of our inability to see the environment it creates.
In order to fully understand this we have to recognise that all technologies or mediums are extensions of the human senses. The club extends the arm, the wheel extends the foot, and so on. The creation of a new medium is usually associated with a pressing need to solve a problem. McLuhan conceptualises this in terms of stress or irritation. The wheel emerges as a ‘counter-irritant’ to the problem of stress placed on the foot, the club emerges to extend the reach and power of an aching arm. In this sense, technological development is a dialectic process whereby a source of irritation demands a counter-irritant and the counter-irritant, over time, becomes a new source of irritation that requires a new counter-irritant. New technologies tend to ‘heat up’ societies by altering the scale, pattern and pace of human association. Eventually, the ‘relief’ provided by a medium becomes a new source of irritation as it struggles to cope with the demands of the environment it brought into being.
The effects of all this on the human organism are dramatic. A technological extension can also be thought of as an auto-amputation of the sense it enhances. The most obvious recent example is the rise of the computer. Back in the Middle Ages, memories were prodigious enough to memorize entire volumes of texts. Today, smart-phones and Siri remember on our behalf. The are two important points here. First, that new technologies alter the balance or ratio among the senses and result in a diminishing or ‘closing down’ of consciousness. A medium that prioritizes the eye will reduce the importance or ‘stress’ placed on the other senses and cause the forms of consciousness associated with these senses to atrophy. Second, that our response to the psycho-social ‘shock’ of a new medium is one of numbness. New technology has an anaesthetic effect which McLuhan termed the ‘Narcissus Narcosis’. In Greek mythology, Narcissus became transfixed by his own reflection. He did not, as is commonly thought, fall in love with himself. Rather, he failed to recognise himself in the reflected image. So it is with our own technologies, which seem to have a life all of their own.
Once it is understood that the hidden ground of our time is information moved at the speed of light, then it becomes easy to see why schooling is changing so drastically.
— Marshall McLuhan
McLuhan’s refinement of the above states that the true meaning of a figure (a person, a technology, an organisation, an event, a text, etc.) can be ascertained only in relation to its ground. The ground (medium) forms an environment which shapes and changes the content (message). This is evident in the transformation of the internet from Information Superhighway (a Roman Road of hyper-text leading to a digital Library of Alexandria) to the all-singing all-dancing Web we know today. Here, the medium’s message is both figure (content) and the ground (environment) it creates for that content. However, the ground is not an object. It is a process or a living organism, hence it remains below the threshold of consciousness and becomes visible only when rendered obsolete by a new medium/ground/environment. At this point the old environment changes from process to object and springs into view. The wasteland of obsolete media litters the landscape like the ruins of Hiroshima. Unable to see the new, we superimpose the old forms on top of it. We are always looking at and into the past.
The figure is what appears and the ground is always subliminal. Changes occur in the ground before they occur in the figure. We can project both figure and ground as images of the future using the ground as subplot of subliminal patterns and pressures and effects which actually come before the more or less final figures to which we normally direct our interest
— Marshall McLuhan
The question to be asked is this: if our technologies re-prioritise our senses, causing some to atrophy, then what happens to the ‘unprocessed’ sensory inputs that bypass consciousness? McLuhan believed that the unconscious mind ‘discovered’ by Freud and Jung was a slag-heap of rejected consciousness, a dumping ground for that which falls beneath the current threshold of consciousness. It has to be said that McLuhan’s overwhelming pre-occupation here was the key role afforded to the eye in relation to the creation of the alphabet, and later the printing press, as mediums. The printed word is a visualisation of speech and Gutenberg’s printing press created an environment that provided the basic template (linear sequence, mechanised repeatability) for the Industrial and Electric Revolutions. The dominance of the eye paved the way for the translation of the non-visual into visual form and a preoccupation with a form of order, standards and morality predicated on visual appearances: cleanliness is next to Godliness, children should be seen but not heard, etc.
McLuhan contrasted the visual Gutenberg technologies with the electronic age. The electric telegraph and morse code began the process of exteriorising the human central nervous system. In 1945, with the creation of the digital computer, we ‘outered’ the brain itself. We literally turned ourselves inside out and exposed our raw nerves and grey matter to the elements. Yet despite McLuhan’s attempt to draw a dividing line between the two, contrasting the visual industrial age with the tactile electronic age, the electronic age is an age of information or in-formation. The in-formation age is still preoccupied with characters, lines, rows, precise organisation. The eye still has the upper hand – we still reduce the non-visual oral/aural/tactile senses to purely visual phenomena. McLuhan’s promise of tribal unity, a Global Village of interdependence and a harmony of the senses, has yet to emerge. The in-formation age is still in formation.
Why? Well, it’s something to do with grounding. Something to do with our connection to Earth. Something to do with – and here’s where the madness starts – the need to become Neo-Not-Sees…
…the need to close our eyes and start to listen. Why? Because the myth of Narcissus is inseparable from that of Echo. How many of us ever really listen? I mean really listen? Have we forgotten our on-board Echo locater?
We started well in the 1960s, but as Hunter S. Thompson observed, those with the right kind of eyes could actually see where the crest of the counter-cultural wave finally broke and rolled back. Here in what remains of the tribal Jungle we’re in desperate need of a new sense of porpoise.
Last week, the local government in Calais announced that a third of the camp, an area home to some 1,500 of the camp’s 6,000 residents, was to be destroyed, and those living in the area moved to purpose-built housing.
Meanwhile other refugees were pictured gathering up all their possessions including mattresses and cooking equipment in bags and backpacks ready for the move. The migrants have been offered places in new refitted shipping containers, equipped with heating and sockets for electricity.
— Source: Daily Mail
Refitted shipping containers as porpoise-built homes? That sounds like the sort of thing I’d expect to hear from an Eye Robot…
A joke perhaps? Another recently deceased victim of Cancer, Motorhead’s Lemmy, reminds us not to forget The Joker. Here he is presenting his calling card to the Mob, a.k.a. Organ-eyes Crime. They’re the Goodfellas, the W-eyes Guys. You might have come across them before in Ka-see-no.
But I digress. The In-formation Age affects us totally. It works and moulds us in its own image. The visual stress, the focus on specialisation, the rigid hierarchy of sequences and rows marching along in ordered precision, explains how China’s Long March…
…turned into China’s Long March…
The basic problem here can be explained thus…
New media literally lay waste to their predecessors, but as we’re unable to discern the ground created by the new media we continue to superimpose the images of the ruins of the old over the new. China’s Long March to Long March is a textbook example of what happens when we lack the right kind of eyes: we carry images from one era over into another. The images don’t fade away so our finger is continually hovering over the rewind button.
If you read one of my previous posts, Ra-dio-active, then you’ll appreciate that it’s a shame to waste good Scotch. Oh, and that the latest gadget from Q Branch is called a radio…
In the eye’s case, the Earth itself seems to be sending us a message in the form of the visualisation of sound. The message is that the natural formation is in-formation. The Earth – the ground – is an active process, not a thing.
NASA expert discovers alphabet letters hidden on the face of our planet
Source: Mirror Online
Here, it’s worth noting that one of the key features of Gutenberg’s printing press is repeatability. Provided one master copy of a text is extant, multiple exact duplicates can be generated or ‘cloned’. McLuhan found another mythological counterpart to this feature in the Lernaean Hydra. The Hydra had many heads, and each head that was chopped off grew multiple replacements. In this sense – in relation to print’s overwhelming influence in prioritising the eye over all the other senses, we’re all Children of the Hydra-gen. In psycho-social terms, the effects of the printing press were no less devastating than that of a nuclear blast.
While we’re on the subject of NASA and matters nuclear, Major Tom has made another appearance in the form of Deutschland 83 currently showing on Channel 4 here in the UK. The theme song used for the opening credits is Major Tom (Coming Home) by German synth-pop musician Peter Schilling. The series is set during the Cold War and, as you’d expect, the subject of nuclear weapons (specifically Pershing or ‘Perishing’ missiles) is the centre of attention.
Meanwhile, above our heads in low-earth orbit, Major Tim was obliged to cut short his spacewalk after his colleague’s spacesuit sprung a leak. Again, as in Part 1, I’ve now come full circle back to the subject mentioned at the beginning of this post.
One small selfie for man, one giant tweet for mankind: Major Tim Peake takes cheeky snap just before his space walk is cut short after his American colleague’s helmet starts filling up with WATER
Flight Engineer Kopra got a feeling of dampness around helmet absorption pad, before reporting a golf ball-sized water bubble spreading across his visor quickly.
Source: Mail Online
The ‘selfie’ in question is, for me at least, an absolute jaw dropper.
Major Tim (the figure) shoots his camera as the whole/holy Earth (the ground or ‘ground control’) is reflected in his visor. For me, there’s no other way to put this than to say we are being spoken to. If you look at the image and think about the source (i.e. the camera he’s holding) then the message is clear.
Major Tim/Tom is the Star Child freed from his umbilical, cut from the womb, floating free, unattached to the ground. He no longer needs eyes to see. Everything is a Silver Screen projection. And we’re the content.
Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and created humanity. He created the first Adam or Atom and Eve. In the below image, an Artificial Intelligence, David, holds the whole world in his hands.
Prometheus didn’t go unpunished. He was chained to a rock – to the ground – and an eagle was despatched to feed on his liver.
Major Tom, David Bowie-man the Star Child, died of liver cancer.
Houston, The Eagle has landed!
It’s a movie folks, or rather a musical. If you’re still a bit BMEWSed then let me offer some clues.
The first ever music video. You could blame it on Mercury, but it’s best not to shoot the messenger.
In Puccini’s La Boheme, Mimi (me-me) dies of consumption.
Excess consumption results in Fallout, which in nuclear terminology is the product of a Ground Strike. A diet of eye-scream ain’t good for a growing Star Child.
The ground is The Social Medea.
Because All The World’s A Stage – it never happened.
The Golden Globe is Ra-Dio-Gaga.
Open your ears, close your eyes, and enjoy the Tribal Echo Chamber!
In the meantime, here’s a little something to prep you for re-entry.