“The late Marshall McLuhan, a media and communication theorist, coined the term“global village” in 1964 to describe the phenomenon of the world’s culture shrinking and expanding at the same time due to pervasive technological advances that allow for instantaneous sharing of culture”.
Imagine the vast spectrum of all the cultures in the world. Listen to the music—from the gentle drum beats of Africa, to the melodic didgeridoo of Australia, to the scream of the electric guitar. Taste the curry from India, the coconut milk from Thailand, the cheeseburger from the United States. Now imagine that all these cultures are compressed into one super-culture.
the visionary media theorist who gave us the phrases “global village” and “the medium is the message,” was born a century ago. At the time, McLuhan’s journey from obscure Canadian English professor to world famous sage was almost complete. He was the first to tell IBM, for example, that they were not in the machine business, but the information business. Today, the term “information technology” is commonplace, but fifty years ago it was a revolutionary idea.
It is no exaggeration to say that McLuhan also predicted the internet. While other futurists declared that computers could lead to either utopia or Big Brother, McLuhan quietly anticipated Facebook and Twitter. Writing in 1967, thirteen years before the first Web site even went live, McLuhan got the trivial, distracting qualities of our digital life just right. He told us there would someday be “one big gossip column,” powered by an “electronically computerized dossier bank,” that would keep an uneraseable record of our tiniest actions. This would be the background noise against which our lives would play out.
How did McLuhan attain such foresight? Through “pattern recognition,” yet another phrase we owe to him. As a way of thinking, it is an excellent tool for survival in a world of information overload. In pattern recognition, facts are less important than the patterns they reveal, and comprehension takes a back seat to intuition. It is a skill we have all had to learn just to keep pace in our jobs and our lives, though not everybody can apply it as widely and effortlessly as McLuhan did.
It is a fact of nature that animals that are in danger of being eaten watch everything at once. Prey species-cows, sheep, gazelles, zebras-warily scan their surroundings, never riveting on a single object. Only predators point with their eyes. Hawks, wolves, tigers-and humans-gaze directly at what they want to eat, or ponder. Consequently computer scientists are designing machines that can monitor what we`re looking at. Stare at any part of the monitor screen, and the machine responds.
When used today, “global village” usually has positive connotations. As media and commerce make us more interconnected, the argument goes, the world shrinks into a peaceful, prosperous, global village. But McLuhan did not think of the global village as a happy place at all. He saw it as a place of terror, the home we would all have to move to when electronic media had finished re-tribalizing us.
The last ten years conform painfully with McLuhan’s predictions. High hopes for globalization have given way to what seems now like permanent economic uncertainty. Privacy has become harder to manage in the age of social media, and may even seem old-fashioned to the rising generation. The War on Terror is still officially being waged, and is perhaps the most McLuhan-esque feature of the present.
Since it began in 2001, the War on Terror has slowly become one of those assumptions behind every news story — part of the media environment that we step into every day, as McLuhan once famously said, “like a warm bath.” The News of the World hacking scandal, with its terrible crime, invasion of privacy, global scope, and empowered popular outcry could be the perfect illustration of all of McLuhan’s ideas operating at once.