Saturday, March 24, 2007

Marshall McLuhan, that sly old fox.

Thinking about Marshall McLuhan's statement, "The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perceptions steadily and without any resistance" (page 18, Understanding Media), I'd like to share a little anecdote from my information life.

A few months ago, I was in New Orleans with my boyfriend for a 2-week vacation. We were staying in an apartment without an Internet connection, which to him is about as awful as being without plumbing or food. He brought his laptop, and every day we/he would go to a nearby coffee shop with wifi and "google doodle" for about an hour. Cravings satisfied, we were then free to take walks, read books, listen to music, and vacation peacefully.

One day we decided to go to the Pharmacy Museum, which we had passed on a walk the day before. It was rainy, so we wanted to call to find out the hours before stepping outside, but EMERGENCY! HOW WILL WE FIND THE PHONE NUMBER? My boyfriend was distraught. Would he have to go out into the rain with his laptop and find a wifi coffeeshop to get this number? As he tromped around the apartment preparing to do just that, I looked at him with calm surprise. I got up, walked over to a cabinet, opened it, pulled out a phone book, and handed it to him. He was stunned. Not only had it not occurred to him to use a phone book, HE WAS UNABLE TO USE IT! He could not locate the phone number and did not know the difference between the white and yellow pages. Needless to say, I had a lot of fun at his expense for days afterwards.

Today, I am ashamed to say, I did nearly the same thing while at my sister's house. I recently moved into her guest house and we are now having trouble with phone and Internet lines. Sitting in her living room, I tried to look up the customer service line for AT&T (using the Internet) so that I could use my cell phone to call in the problem. Since we are having Internet connection trouble, the page wouldn't load and I became frustrated. She then walked into her dining room, opened a cabinet, pulled out a phone book, and handed it to me. The number was in the front and I had not thought of this solution. I haven't told my boyfriend about this yet.

So, later today, as I was reading McLuhan, I began to think about his assertion that we are changed by this media whether we like it or not, regardless of the content. It is not what I read on the Internet that determines whether or not I am forever changed by it. It is the existence of the Internet that changes society (and therefore me). McLuhan says that "our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot" (p.18). I AM THAT IDIOT, if McLuhan is to be believed. Dang!

I suppose my point is that I have been either unaware or unwilling to admit how much I have come to depend on certain technologies, prefering instead to tease my boyfriend about his information choices and (what I saw as) dependencies. If the effects of technology do occur without resistance, then perhaps I should stop resisting so much?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

did you sniff the phone book?