Marshall McLuhan: The future of the future is the present

Marshall McLuhan, was a convert to catholicism and described by one of his colleagues as “a mystic Catholic humanist”.

And if the man who coined the phrase “the medium is the message” were alive today, there isn’t much that would surprise him — not the Internet, or Google, or Twitter, or WikiLeaks, or even the phone-hacking scandal now transfixing much of the U.K.

In broad outline, if not in precise detail, he predicted all of these and more.

“Rereading him, I still get new insights,” says Robert Logan, a former colleague of the Canadian media guru some now call The First Seer of Cyberspace. “The man was a total genius. If he came back today, on his 100th anniversary, he would say, ‘Yeah, that’s about what I expected – and people haven’t learned a thing.”

Possibly, they never will.

Or maybe the heightened popular interest and critical attention being accorded McLuhan during this, the centenary of his birth, may yet help us fumble toward a clearer understanding of the parlous digital world that he anticipated and whose name he coined — the global village.

“McLuhan’s value today lies in applying his methods,” says Mark Federman, former chief strategist at the McLuhan Centre in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto. “It’s cool that he predicted the future, but what we should do is learn from his methods.”

Those methods aren’t easy to summarize, much less emulate, and there is considerable disagreement among academics about the meaning of McLuhan’s often cryptic or even oxymoronic pronouncements — “the future of the future is the present,” for example, or “the effects come first; the causes, later” — but there is no doubt the man’s stature and influence are firmly in the ascendant once again, after a long period of decline.

More than anything else, it’s the frenetic expansion of the Internet in recent years that has renewed international fascination with the Canadian communications visionary.

Read more of “A century after his birth, Marshall McLuhan is ‘still ahead of us‘.


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