The Global Village: A Prison or a Palace?

in #mcluhan5 years ago

In discussing past forecasts or predictions that have come true, Marshall McLuhan is both famous and infamous for predicting both what is now known as the Internet and the resulting evolution of media, culture, and technology connection that would come with a networked world (Uvanović,2017). McLuhan is known both for his accuracy at predicting the culture and his openness about the potential for this culture to become extremely dystopian (Uvanović,2017). In examining the concept that would come to be known as the “global village”, McLuhan expounds upon the positive and negative aspects of how media and commerce would be affected and would in turn affect (McLuhan et al., 1968).

McLuhan examined the history of media with a focus on television and radio to then extrapolate how the intersection between military industrial complex and an increasingly educated population would reciprocally influence each other to predict a future landscape that had the potential to be both utopian and dystopian in their extreme implementations (McLuhan et al., 1968). In examining one of his previous works “The Medium is the Message”, McLuhan had initially laid out a theory that explained why media as an extension of humans laid the groundwork for an increasingly mediated world (McLuhan & Fiore, 1967). In that framework the expanding reach of the network brings both the potential to even the playing field for individuals in the most rural areas to allow them to compete with the biggest organizations without the end product suffering in quality (McLuhan & Fiore, 1967).

In addition to increasing access to means of media production, the expansion of the mediated network also brings the capacity to increase influence on the humans themselves (McLuhan & Fiore, 1967). It is this simultaneous potential for democratization of media production with the capacity for potentially unfettered global influence that McLuhan cautiously treads between describing the potential for a utopia to be a dystopia cleverly disguised by a central authority (McLuhan & Fiore, 1967). In predicting the Internet, McLuhan also predicts that this medium will become a battle-ground for nation-states to exert influence over their populations with increasing competition coming from what would be classified as enemies of the state (McLuhan et al., 1968).

Two forces that would have had major influence on the trajectory of these predictions would be the military-industrial complex and whether there is a culture of self-awareness in any given country. As President Eisenhower famously noted, the threat of military-industrial complex exerting unseen and extreme force on the evolution of the American economy and the global economy by proxy was a legitimate concern in the 1960’s (Ledbetter, 2011). In a related manner, the proliferation of propaganda via nation-state, enemy of the state, or chaotic nefarious actor then becomes an existential threat and the awareness levels of a given population becomes a major force that affects the trajectory of change (Haigh et al., 2018). It is the intersection of these two forces that become the focus of McLuhan’s predictions due to the nature of how he anticipated both technology and culture would evolve (McLuhan et al, 1968).

As the NPL network and ARPANET were launched in 1969, the beginning stages of the Internet were directly tied to military research and development (Lukasik, 2010). As McLuhan both deals with predicting technology and the culture that will emerge with that technology, he forecasts a future in which individuals will be so mediated that it will be impossible to tell from where influence is coming (McLuhan et al., 1968). In this context, McLuhan’s predictions about the military interest in exerting control over the network can be summed in a quote, “War has always been a form of compulsory education for the other guy”(McLuhan et al., 1968).


Haigh, M., Haigh, T., & Kozak, N. I. (2018). Stopping fake news: The work practices of peer-to-peer counter propaganda. Journalism studies, 19(14), 2062-2087.

Ledbetter, J. (2011). Unwarranted influence: Dwight D. Eisenhower and the military industrial complex. Yale University Press.

Lukasik, S. (2010). Why the ARPANET was built. IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 33(3), 4-21.

McLuhan, M., & Fiore, Q. (1967). The medium is the message. New York, 123, 126-128.

McLuhan, M., Fiore, Q., & Agel, J. (1968). War and peace in the global village (Vol. 127). New York: Bantam Books.

Uvanović, Ž. (2017). Marshall McLuhan’s Ambivalent Prophecies of Digital Age and Kathrin Röggla’s Pessimistic Diagnoses. Primerjalna književnost, 40(1), 95.

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