M E D I A
No Medium becomes extinct by Amanda Griscom
Just as our city streets are festooned with architecture of a whole range of styles - some dating centuries back, our modes of perception reflect a compendium of media influences: the dominant one of the time as well as vestiges of its predecessors which may never become obsolete.
McLuhan explains, borrowing from the work of Alexis De Tocqueville, the political symptoms of print media in eighteenth-century France and Britain: "[In France] the typographic principles of uniformity, continuity and lineality had overlaid the complexities of ancient feudal and oral society. In England, however, such was the power of the ancient oral traditions of common law, backed by the medieval institution of Parliament, that no uniformity or continuity of the new visual print culture could take complete hold... Hence the discontinuity and unpredictability of English culture". The paradigmatic shift from oral to written culture, did not necessarily render the oral obsolete, as De Tocqueville suggests in his explanation of the discontinuity and unpredictability of English culture.
When new media descend upon a culture they do not eradicate the influence of their antecedents, but reposition and supplement them. McLuhan had faith in the Digital Revolution only with the understanding that we will continue to value the booty reaped from print media:
Those who panic now about the threat of the newer media and about the revolution we are forging, vaster in scope than that of Gutenberg, are obviously lacking in cool visual detachment and gratitude for that most potent gift bestowed on Western man by literacy and typography: his power to act without reaction or involvement. It is this kind of specialization by dissociation that has created Western power and efficiency. Without this dissociation of action from feeling and emotion people are hampered and hesitant. Print taught Western man to say, "damn the torpedoes. Full steam ahead!"
A new medium is never an addition to an old one, nor does it leave the old one in peace. It never ceases to oppress the older media until it finds new shapes and positions for them. Each medium, if its bias is properly exploited, reveals and communicates a unique aspect of reality, of truth. Each offers a different perspective, a way of seeing an otherwise hidden dimension of reality. It's not a question of one reality being true, the other ones distortions. One allows us to see from here, another from there, a third from still another perspective; taken together they give us a more complete whole, a greater truth. New essentials are brought to the fore, including those made invisible by the "blinders" of old languages. Yet a new language is rarely welcomed by the old. The oral traditions distrusted writing, manuscript culture was contemptuous of printing, book culture hated the press, that heap of passions.