Marshall McLuhan’s Playboy Interview

Playboy March 1969
March, 1969. As the US was about to be distracted from the disaster that was Vietnam by landing on the moon, Playboy magazine published a lengthy interview with Canadian father of media studies and patron saint of Wired magazine, Marshall McLuhan.

In nearly 14 pages of solid text, McLuhan talks about how society is only able to be consciously aware of the environment that has preceded it and how new media simultaneously extend the senses and numb them: “Narcissus narcosis, a syndrome whereby man remains as unaware of the psychic and social effects of his new technology as a fish of the water it swims in.” He goes on to explain how “the visual function was overdeveloped” and how visual space replaced acoustic space of tribal man. He then gets a little hallucinogenic, predicting the return of tribal man living in “cosmic harmony”. There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. In another article in the same magazine, Arthur C. Clarke predicts that the solar system will become an extension of the earth by the year 2000.

McLuhan is famous for his enigmatic but pithy slogan “the medium is the message” from his 1964 book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. In The Architect of July 1987, Martin Pawley explained this slogan as “the medium of one age becomes the message of its successor”, completely misquoting McLuhan’s Playboy interview but at the same time, unlocking its mystery. Architecture was the medium that embodied memory before Gutenberg’s invention of the press. Then the publication took over this mantle and now the internet – something McLuhan narrowly missed but predicted, at least sociologically.

“The content or message of any particular medium has about as much importance as the stenciling on the casing of an atomic bomb” he said – something worth bearing in mind when flicking through your architectural pornography. Or your Playboy.
Playboy March 1969 p.75

Playboy March 1969 p.53


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