Is this the first man to predict social media?
You may not think you know him, but his name was Marshall McLuhan, and he was born one hundred years ago. His theories on media inspired Andy Warhol to say that “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” he is the professor who magically appears during an argument in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, and he predicted the world wide web before Tim Berners Lee reached his teens. We use his terms like “global village” naturally, so why isn’t he a household name?
Although well known in the 1960s, gracing the cover of Newsweek and granting interviews to Playboy Magazine, McLuhan’s star waned posthumously, as academics dismissed his theories as technological determinism, his writings as mere soundbytes, ironically, just as the age of the internet was dawning. Smartphones have created media as “extensions of self” McLuhan talked about, while Twitter certainly became the medium that was the message.
Against the backdrop of social media, citizen journalism, the cult of celebrity and and post-reality TV stars, the Watershed Media Centre revisit McLuhan’s prescient thoughts through a season of films and talks through this October at the Watershed Media Centre in Bristol.
Annie Hall of course has a screening, as does The Social Network, alongside more provocative offerings like Life In The Day - a film made of YouTube footage from around the world, and Picnic in Space - a rare and surprisingly psychedelic window into McLuhan’s mind in 1967, debating the role of modern media and jazz…
On Thursday 6th October, a special seminar will take place with McLuhan contemporary Ihor Holubizky, ex-Channel 4/ BBC Commissioner Matt Locke and iShed director Clare Reddington, who said in a recent Wired interview that “fundamental to McLuhan’s theories was the idea that technology is an extension of ourselves - a network infrastructure could become an extension of the nervous system”. She adds: “If you consider this in relation to the time that McLuhan was writing, in the 1960s, this seems crazy but it’s different now when our mobile phones are glued to our hands and we have cloud computing. In a way, these devices have become extensions of ourselves.”