Tag Archives: retribalization

Mud Wrestling with McLuhan Part 3 – Youth and Education

In my previous pieces based on Playboy magazine’s extensive 1969 interview with Marshall McLuhan, I looked first at McLuhan’s ideas on how revolutions in our communication technology – particularly the inventions of phonetic literacy, later printing, and most recently electronic media – have fundamentally changed how we perceive the world and thus organize our society. Second, I focused on his idea that people who have grown up in an age using electronic media – radio, movies, television, computers and now the Internet – are becoming in his words “post-literate” and “retribalizing”, which involves moving away from individualism and back to a more collective experience of the world.

For my fellow Baby-boomers, this post-literate retribalization would be most stereotypically seen in the whole hippie subculture with its at times paradoxical conformist non-conformity, including the whole sex, drugs, rock and roll, long hair, bell-bottoms and tie dye thing, the collective focus on “peace, love, joy” and sense of solidarity, as the band The Who sang, “talkin bout my g-g-g-generation”. Think thousands of young people at an anti-war rally holding hands and singing in unison, “All we are saying is give peace a chance”.

For my kids in the Millennial generation, with their developmental milieu of computers, cell phones and the Internet, their “hive mind” of connections with each other through their ubiquitous electronic devices would seem the most obvious evidence of perhaps an even higher level of the same retribalization. A blank stare at times to their parents or other adults, masking a complicated web of virtual “kinship” with each other.

So in this third installment of my messy tussle with the ideas of this “metaphysician of media”, I want to look at the issues he raises regarding the development of retribalized youth in a culture that still has not come to grips with its post-literate zeitgeist. My fellow Baby-boomers these days cavalierly throw around the term “gone viral” like we’re still hip and all, but I don’t think we fully understand what it means when our entire culture is in the grips of such virtual infections spread by our ubiquitous electronic media.

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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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The Death of Literacy?

There’s been a thread on the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) listserv I participate in titled “The Death of Literacy”, started by one of the more active list participants, Todd, who is closing down his book store which he has unsuccessfully tried to transform into a learning center or perhaps a library for alternative schools in the San Francisco Bay area where he lives. He is bemoaning a generation of young people who appear to be turned off to books and literature (at least the printed and bound versions you buy in bookstores or borrow from the library), in favor of electronic media and particularly dazzling video games that to many in the older generations seem like tools for killing time, perhaps self-medicating the stresses of life, and little more.

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The Soundtrack of my Life

My life has been lived to a soundtrack. Growing up in an age of ubiquitous car radios, restaurant juke boxes, record players and later stereos, it seems like the popular songs of the day were always playing in the background, over and over. Music affects us emotionally and can evoke strong feelings of all sorts in the listener. In my case it also became a sort of storage mechanism for a lot of those strong feelings.

Forty years later I can hear a pretty mundane pop song like Tommy Rowe’s “Dizzy”, which I heard constantly when I was in my junior high years and I can be overcome with the feelings of being that young teenage boy with a crush on a girl but afraid to tell her or even talk to her. Those sort of emotional memories stay with you and I believe shape you subconsciously.

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