How Future comes Present

InfoMcL

I was born and raised as a child in the 1950’s. During that unique period of history, the USA was growing in many ways. Our military infrastructure, which had been necessarily pumped up during the big war in the early 1940’s, was morphing into an expansive peacetime economy. While we had needed tanks, guns, airplanes, aircraft carriers, etc in 1943, by 1953 our nascent prosperity demanded automobiles, interstate highways, refrigerators, washing machines and all the features of what was fast becoming modern life in America.

In the midst of all that economic expansion and life-changing technology, television entered the picture in a big way.

My g-generation was the first to grow up with TV, and this made a big difference in the way we thought and felt about everything. Now no one really knew what to expect of us baby boomers, because there never had been before, in the history of the world, a generation of kids who grew up with that lit-up screen projecting the world into everybody’s living room.

So the old folks, most notably Lyndon Johnson, were taken by surprise when, in the 1960’s, half the kids had no interest in carrying on with the capitalistic crusades of previous generations. We had not lived through that earlier time–the 1940’s–in which the USA’s “greatest generation” had shed blood and sweated blood and shed tears for the purpose of defeating national socialism and fascism in the world.

Furthermore, we grew up with a TV in the living room, and that changed everything.

Now our children–the X-er’s, the millenials, etc–are manifesting a similar sea-change, as they are growing up, and have grown up, in the age of the internet. So it seems to me that my generation, the boomers, are now carrying the burden of watching a bunch of kids come along who have a totally different worldview. While we were natives of the TV age, they are natives of the Online age.

Now the question in my mind is, how will they be different from us?

During the past year or so, I have been studying the historical time in which I grew up, while at the same living in the present, and seeking to understand the times in which our three children (now in their thirties)  have grown up.

My research led me to consider the work of Marshall McLuhan.

If you don’t know who he is, but you are wondering, google it.

For the sake of simplicity in this presentation, I will say that he accurately figured out, early on, a few things about the effects of TV and radio on my generation. He was prescient, which means he could see where things were headed, where history was taking us, into a wide world of information exploration. Here is an example of what I’m talking about.

On May 8, 1966, while being interviewed by Robert Fulford on Canadian Broadcasting, Marshall McLuhan described future communication* in this way:

“Instead of going out and buying a packaged book of which there have been five thousand copies printed, you will go to the telephone, describe your interests, your needs, your problems, and say you’re working on a history of Egyptian arithmetic. You know a bit of Sanskrit, you’re qualified in German, and you’re a good mathematician, and they say it will be right over. And they at once xerox, with the help of computers from the libraries of the world, all the latest material just for you personally, not as something to be put on a bookshelf. They send you the package as a direct personal service. This is where we’re heading under electronic information conditions. Products are increasingly becoming services.”

*quoted from page 101 of : Understanding Me, lectures and interviews, Marshall McLuhan; ed. Stephanie McLuhan and David Staines, with foreword by Tom Wolfe

The above quote was spoken presciently by Marshall McLuhan in 1966.

Now, in 2017, here is my revision of his statement, according to how his prediction has actually played out:

Instead of opening the Encyclopedia, you will use your electronic device to key in a word or phrase for your search. You may refine the search including a keyword about, for instance,  the history of rocket science. The online services know that: you have an interest in physics, you’ve got a BA level of information usage, and you can lean on your device for any calculations necessary. In the blinking of an eye, the search results pops up on your screen. You choose, let’s say, the Wikipedia link for starters, because you know the site’s sources are populated by researchers and their databases all over the world. Then you get to pick and choose which linked info you want to include in your own work. This is where we have evolved to under “electronic information conditions.” Information has become both a product and a service.

If you compare McLuhan’s prediction with my interpretation of how this has played out in the real world of 2017, the textual exercise could be instructive about how history actually develops, as compared to how we think it might unfold: close, perhaps, but not exact.

And here’s something to ponder.  About nineteen and a half centuries ago, Paul of Tarsus wrote:

“For now, we see through a glass, darkly.”

Which to me means: we can formulate educated guesses about what the future holds, but the picture is not clear to us. So, what else is new?  It’s up to you to find out. My experience says this could take a lifetime of learning.

King of Soul

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