“Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards”*…
45 years ago, four eminences took the stage at the University of Toronto: Irish actor Jack MacGowran, best known for his interpretations of Samuel Beckett; English poet and dramatist W.H. Auden; American architect and theorist of humanity’s way of life Buckminster Fuller; and Canadian literary scholar turned media technology oracle Marshall McLuhan. Now only did all four men come from different countries, they came from very different points on the intellectual and cultural map. The CBC recorded them for broadcast on its long-running series Ideas, prefacing it with an announcement that “the ostensible subject of their discussion is theatre and the visual arts.”
Key word: ostensible. “That topic is soon forgotten as two modes of perception clash,” says the announcer, “that of Professor McLuhan, who is one of the most famous interpreters of contemporary 20th-century cultural trends, and that of W.H. Auden, who cheerfully admits to being ‘a 19th-century man’ and sees no reason to change.” And so, though Fuller and MacGowan do occasionally provide their perspective, the panel turns into a rollicking debate between McLuhan and Auden, more or less from the point where the former — making one of his characteristically compelling proclamations — declares that modern media brings us to a world in which “there is no audience. There are only actors.” But the latter objects: “I profoundly disapprove of audience participation.”…
The conversation is above; for more of the backstory: “Marshall McLuhan, W.H. Auden & Buckminster Fuller Debate the Virtues of Modern Technology & Media (1971).
* Aldous Huxley,
As we mind the message that is the medium, we might send tasty birthday wishes to John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich; he was born on this date in 1718. Lore suggests that the Earl, an enthusiastic gambler, instructed his servants to skip the distraction of a served meal, asking instead for “meat between two pieces of bread” to be consumed as he remained at the gaming table. While there’s no real historical support for the tale, the comestible is nonetheless still known as a “sandwich.”
Montagu also had a nautical edge, serving as First Lord of the Admiralty from 1771-1782. He was sufficiently regarded that Captain Cook named the Sandwich Islands in his honor. On the other hand, he was widely blamed for the sorry state of readiness displayed by the British Navy during the “Unpleasantness with the Colonies.” (Indeed, it may in gratitude for Montagu’s help– however inadvertent– that American’s have adopted the sandwich as our national dish…)