Tag Archives: electronic media

Tales of a Retribalized Corporate Knowledge Worker in the Egalitarian Information Age

Quite the long title, I know! But that is essentially who I am these days when I put on my “day job” hat as a “Business Process Consultant” for a major health insurance company. The work world that I plunge myself into is totally transformed from just a generation ago by the ubiquitous electronic media which (to use media philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s analogy), is the “water we swim in”.

In his extensive 1969 interview in Playboy Magazine, McLuhan said…

The electronically induced technological extensions of our central nervous systems… are immersing us in a world-pool of information movement and are thus enabling man to incorporate within himself the whole of mankind. The aloof and dissociated role of the literate man of the Western world is succumbing to the new, intense depth participation engendered by the electronic media and bringing us back in touch with ourselves as well as with one another. But the instant nature of electric-information movement is decentralizing — rather than enlarging — the family of man into a new state of multitudinous tribal existences.

McLuhan called this transformation “retribalization”.

In my mom and dad’s generation the norm of professional “knowledge work” in the U.S. was to have a hierarchy of “bosses” who actively directed your activities within “siloed” groups and departments. Your coworker peers were typically white males of northern European ancestry, with women supporting professional work as secretaries. Most collaboration with those coworkers was done face to face and most written communication was done (by secretaries) using a typewriter to produce written memos & other documents that flowed from person to person in a time frame of days or even weeks. Diagrams, charts and other visual documents were painstakingly built by graphic specialists well in advance of presentations.

But the work world I plunge myself into these days is nothing like that.

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Mud Wrestling with McLuhan Part 2 – Retribalization

So following up on my first piece on the subject, I continue my metaphorical mud wrestle with the outside the box ideas of the coiner of the term “Global Village”, Marshall McLuhan. I almost had the occasion to meet the man in Toronto in 1970, since he was a collaborator and friend of my mom’s best friend Mary Jane Shoultz, one of my “Feminist Aunts”. Though I missed that opportunity, Mary Jane regaled me with his ideas over the years of my older youth, and I must say they resonated with my own emerging view of the world as a kid growing up in the age of electronic media.

What recently rekindled my intimate tangle with McLuhan’s ideas was a link shared with me to his extensive 1969 interview in Playboy Magazine, which I had never read, probably focused at that age on the magazine’s other featured content! In my first piece on the interview, I focused on his ideas on how revolutions in communication technology – particularly, phonetic literacy, printing and now electronic media – have successively transformed human culture.

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Mud Wrestling with Marshall McLuhan

Well… mud wrestling in a sort of metaphorical way. My latest attempt to embrace and wrestle to the ground his at times elliptical ideas, with the title of this piece my homage to an outside-the-box thinker and crafter of provocative aphorisms like “the medium is the message”, its corollary, “the medium is the massage”, and the “Global Village”.

Though I only came close to meeting him once, I learned about McLuhan’s ideas through a dear family friend and one-time McLuhan collaborator, Mary Jane Shoultz, who I willingly let regale me with the synthesis of their radical thinking during my teen years in the 1970s. Mary Jane meshed McLuhan’s ideas on how we are profoundly impacted by our communication technology with her own radical feminist thought to come up with such provocative concepts as “spliteracy” and “patriarchal pimperialism”. She was my favorite “Feminist Aunt”, and beyond my own mom (Jane Roberts) probably had more influence on my own developing world view than anyone else in my youth.

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