The good, the bad, and the perplexing

First, a couple of notes from our discussion last week on customize-ability in devices:

  1. Motorola is working on producing a modular phone with parts that users can swap out/upgrade themselves depending on what they want from a phone (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/10/29/motorolas-modular-smartphone-will-be-the-anti-iphone/). Bigger camera because you like taking pictures? Doable! Yourself! More speed? Sure!
  2. The free software movement that is trying to develop a truly free version of Android (http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2013/10/replicant/) that you can use as is  or completely customize yourself, including their free software app store, where all apps can be modified and improved by their users, as can the code for the store itself.
  3. If the two could be combined – a modular phone with completely accessible, non-proprietary, user-manipulable code…is that the dynabook? Or close to it?

Second, on McLuhan.

I was particularly struck by his assertion that the common stance that media themselves are neither good nor bad, but depend upon how they are used  “is the numb stance of the technological idiot”. I know I myself am guilty of this charge, I’ve said it in debates about certain technologies. I think, and perhaps this is the cognitive dissonance speaking, that McLuhan’s real beef was with unthinking acceptance of media, brushed away with platitudes. McLuhan powerfully asserts that “we become what we behold…subliminal and docile acceptance of media impact has made them prisons without walls for their human users”. Fair enough, and I think there’s an alarming level of truth in that–it’s a common lament that you can’t go out to a restaurant without seeing entire families sitting at the table, entranced by their smartphones, with nary a whisper of conversation to be heard. McLuhan observes that “new technology possesses the power to hypnotize because it isolates the senses”, and I find this compelling.

However, the thing I can’t quite reconcile is that idea that any prevarication is proof positive of unassuming acceptance. So, for example, we discussed MMORPGs like World of Warcraft a couple of weeks ago, or our dependence on our cell phones and laptops. Games have merit…sometimes, and laptops and cell phones have made our lives much easier…except when they don’t. Is this the numb stance, or is it a pragmatic acknowledgement that almost all tools have the potential for misuse? I suppose McLuhan would assert that obscures the larger and more important point, that we’re asleep at the wheel and simply adapting ourselves to these new media without awareness and critical engagement, or true understanding of how the media are transforming us, but…and perhaps this is because of McLuhan’s work, I’m not sure that’s entirely true. I’m interested to hear what others thought later today.

2 thoughts on “The good, the bad, and the perplexing

  1. Pingback: McLuhan, the Medium, the Containers, and Libraries | lauren's library blog

  2. Pingback: McLuhan, Value, and the Message | Free Range

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