Friday, July 23, 2010

How IT Came to Rule the World: Churchill and McLuhan

This post restarts my mini-series on How IT Came to Rule the World originally published at ©

0.1 One of Marshall McLuhan’s most celebrated intellectual “probes” was his paraphrase of Winston Churchill’s infamous “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” Churchill was addressing Parliament some two years after a devastating air raid by the Nazis that destroyed the House of Commons.[i] McLuhan reworded Churchill’s concern in the 1960s with a more topical “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” Writing in a time when the electronic media was exploding in the American consciousness, McLuhan undertook a commitment to understand the role of media, particularly electronic media in modern society and his probe serves here as a point of departure for understanding the emergence of information technologies and simultaneously interrogating their impact as a force increasingly “ruling” the modern world, both in terms of cultural, economic, and political power as well as the preponderance of protocols and procedures ordering our digital world.

[i] “On the night of May 10, 1941, with one of the last bombs of the last serious raid, our House of Commons was destroyed by the violence of the enemy, and we have now to consider whether we should build it up again, and how, and when.” He continued with the above quote arguing for the Chamber’s restoration, citing its “form, convenience, and dignity.”

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