Marshall McLuhan, despite being viewed by many as a prophet and a saint in regard to modern media and communication, is dead. He is dead in the biological sense. Long since buried and decomposing. And yet, by his own prophecies, he is very much alive. Alive when you turn on your television, when you check your email, when you update your Facebook status. Or is he? Do his words still resonate as clear today as during his critique of the famous Kennedy/Nixon debates? Do we still ask ourselves whether or not the “medium is the message”? Or, has McLuhan finally become obscured by the constant drone of the new media storm?
I may be too young to tell, having grown up accustomed to this bombardment of media noise. As I perceive it, McLuhan both predicted his own demise and his eternal life. Whether we take the time to understand the evolution of technology or not, it continues to evolve. Anachronism will not halt this process, and old ways will eventually be cannibalized or discarded. McLuhan saw this with his own work. Preferring spoken word over written, McLuhan resisted publishing books, much like those who opposed the printing press. Now, the epic poet has been obsolesced, and even the printed book is headed that route.
Even McLuhan’s own body worked against him. After suffering a stroke in 1979 he lost the ability to speak. McLuhan’s medium for making messages was muted. Just one year later, unable to express his frustration over seeing his life’s work taken out with the trash, he died.
Like the penguin who cannot produce a unique mating call to be heard among the chaos of the rook, McLuhan was silenced forever. And yet, his silencing speaks volumes. It conveys his message more powerfully than the largest billboard or the loudest orchestra. Not that the medium is the message, but that messages themselves are fleeting. They only hold meaning as long as they exist, and they only exist as long as there are those who are able to make meaning from them. The tools, or media, used to make that meaning should be whatever is most relevant at the time. So go and speak, or write, or Tweet… while you still can.