Forward to 1960 ...Marshall McLuhan’s “Tribal Drums” – more relevant today than ever?

It is common when blogging  to re-post video that is current, up to date, modern.  I’m breaking with that trend on this post by linking to a clip dating from 1960.

 Marshall McLuhan was a key thinker in the early days of electric  media – when television and radio were emerging forces.  He achieved near guru status with his concept of “The Global Village”.   The fascinating thing about this speech is that, with a simple substitution of terms, this interview could have been recorded today.  Replace McLuhan’s “tribal man” with  Marc Prensky’s “digital native” and you wouldn’t be too far wrong.  McLuhan speaks of “modern” media as being a “continually sounding tribal drum” – echoes of the Internet and media saturation.

Interestingly, in terminology from the 60s,  he speaks of young people being “with it” and people who are still stuck in the world of the book as being “away from it”. (This is not to suggest that McLuhan decries the book; far from it – he acknowledges the book as “the first learning machine”.)  “With it” and “Away from it” – could not these terms describe the gulf between  social media users and those that choose to avoid them?

Amongst the things that struck me when I saw this clip for the first time recently was how perceptive McLuhan was.  Apart from the simple substitutions such as the ones alluded to above and despite being more than 50 years old, the concepts in this interview are as modern as tomorrow.  But, the second thing that struck me was – how is this possible?  How is it possible that, after more than 50 years we are STILL predicting the demise of  static text, books etc.  How is it possible that, after 50 years of technological innovation and the tsunami of the internet and the microprocessor,  the debate is still recognisably the same?  What roadblocks are reducing  the digital revolution to device  evolution?

It strikes me that the issue is not really one of technology at all – but one of mind set.  To borrow another metaphor usually attributed to McLuhan – we are like drivers of a car looking forward ...but  staring into the rear view mirror – so, in effect, we end up looking at where we’ve come from.  The effect of this is that we use technology to re-create the things we have always done.  It makes sense to continue with the status quo if, but only if, doing so serves a valid and relevant purpose. 

 If education is to take advantage of technology we need to stop, consider the possibilities created by the digital revolution and move forward - otherwise people in 2060 will still be marvelling at how perceptive and prophetic McLuhan was.

Access the video here or watch below.




Original concept – thanks to keynote speech by Professor Teemu Leinonen  (Aalto University – Helsinki) delivered at AADES2011 – Australasian Association of Distance Education Schools annual conference, Hobart, Tasmania, July 2011 for showing the clip during his presentation.

URL of video:

Marshall McLuhans image


Views: 3106

Tags: ICT, Marc, Marshall, McLuhan, Prensky, WWW, drums, education, global, schools, More…teaching, technology, tribal, village


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