In 1978, Marshall McLuhan, Jerry Brown, then Governor of California, publisher Stewart Brand and Adriana Gianturco, then director of California's Transportation Department, met to discuss the development of various media and major changes in civilization. The transcript of their conversation was first published in the 'CoEvolution Quarterly'. 

Marshall McLuhan maintained, "Television is not a visual medium. It is an acoustic medium, an audile-tactile medium; the image is not visual. Its components are innumerable little mobile dots rubbing against each other and creating a very tactile abrasive effect. There’s no shutters, there’s no pictures on TV. No frames, you see. It’s just a continuous pick-up. And it’s fed to the viewer – he doesn’t look at a screen, it looks at him. 

"The viewer is the screen on TV, and he goes inside the image. TV is inner trip, it's addiction and inner. Now, it's also peripheral, there's no point of view on TV, and this too confuses ordinary school kid who is (all peripheral). It's like this. It shoots out acoustically, you see, just like ripples on a wave. No tunnel vision is possible on TV, and tunnel vision is what any kid needs learning to read.

"I have a friend in Ireland who once explained to his tennis students, 'Don't read any books during the summer – ruins your game.' Because the book is tunnel vision and tennis is all peripheral. Now, a good car driver is not a tunnel vision man. A highly literate person is a lousy car driver, because he can’t see to the side."

Was watching television incompatible with good reading habits?

Marshall McLuhan explained, "The imagery there is, instead of sitting back objectively looking at a page, you are drawn into that tube, as an inner trip. You’re totally involved. You have no objectivity, no distance. And it is acoustic. It resonates. But this is a hidden ground, because superficially people think they're looking at a visual program. And they're not. They're not looking at all – they’re absorbed, involved in a resonating experience. And it is not objective, it is entirely subjective.

"Another area where you can study hidden ground is in the sudden successes of movies, tunes, musical forms, behind every sudden success there's a new ground. ('Star Wars' is) nostalgia. Loss of identity drives people to nostalgia. The electronic man has no physical body. He puts nostalgia in place of the physical body. Huge new hunger for the way-back-when. They even develop nostalgia for yesterday's movies. But 'Star Wars' is based on Flash Gordon and comics of the '50s, when kids were growing up. And they feel safe back there. There were moral values, solid certainties."

As noted, the audiences watching 'Star Wars' were mostly teens. Marshall McLuhan continued, "Exactly, but the same with 'American Graffiti' (1973). The kids are looking for some sort of stability. And the old comics have that kind of solid moral values – everything was right or wrong. And there are no moral values at the speed of light. Moral values just dissolve.

"That's why you have separatism all around the world. Legal structures will not hold up at the speed of light. Electric information takes the place of legal bonds. The separatism in Quebec is based upon an upsurge of acoustic memories, nostalgia for the past and the sudden desire to break the legal bonds with Canada. It ain't gonna happen. But that's the motivation."

Marshall McLuhan argued Quebec would continue to remain part of Canada because, "Oh, there's lots of countervailing forces. Take quite a while to explain the number of countervailing forces. The American South was oral country in 1860, it wanted out. The sudden upsurge of oral memories in the South came with the telegraph, 1840. Now, you can open any American history book about the causes of the American Civil War and you will find the first statement is, we don't know what caused the Civil War."

Of the 1840 telegraph, Marshall McLuhan elaborated, "I suggest that, that was a new hidden ground. The telegraph was just 20 years old when the South wanted out. At the present time (1978) the South is in, you've got a Southern boy in the White House (Jimmy Carter), Huck Finn in the White House. The Deep South is in the White House for the first time in American history. Now why?

"The TV has created a kind of nostalgic image of the South – including (Alex) Haley's 'Roots' and so on. This is a very very powerful hidden ground. Carter knows nothing about it. Nobody told him. By the same token of course, (Richard) Nixon lost the battle exactly on that front. He had no idea what sort of image to present to the world. All he has was a private face. And a private face is of no use at all on television. You have to have a group face. That's called charisma.

"You have to look like a lot of other nice guys. Had Nixon had a beard, he would still be in the White House. Because he would have had a kind of familiar Abe Lincoln look that would have given him just the necessary edge to survive. But that miserable private face hanging out. He didn't look like anybody else except Nixon. And that won't work. The group identity is where the nostalgia is now. We're looking for who were we back when.

"But nostalgia is an electric phenomenon, taking the place of old hardware. We could even work up a nostalgia for the present we're in, but that hasn't been thought about yet. Now one of the things that happens at the speed of light is that people lose their goals in life. You cannot have a private objective at the speed of light. Too big an area is covered at the speed of light. So goal-orientation and objective seeking is out as far as the young are concerned today. It's meaningless.

"So what takes the place of goals and objectives? Well, role-playing means teaming up with other people in jobs and tasks, changing the whole shape of work and jobs into group form. And, which is in a way tribal, or family, patterns. I think at the speed of light the return to family patterns and tribal patterns is inevitable. Or is overwhelming. But I was going to mention another huge hidden factor in the situation that we're talking about. I'm talking now about the brain hemispheres.

"You've all heard about the twin hemispheres. Because all the work was done right here in California. The twin hemispheres, it has been discovered, have varying degrees of a dominance or prevalence in our lives. The left hemisphere is logical, connected, and lineal, and classificatory. Everything that we like to do in the way of putting words in their places, which is grammar or ordinary expression.

"The right hemisphere is not lineal, it is simultaneous, it’s a world where you can recognize faces. The left hemisphere, the logical one, cannot recognize a human face. Only the right hemisphere can see a face or a pattern, a complex character. So art, all artistic form, is in the right hemisphere, and all acoustic form and music is in the right hemisphere because it’s simultaneous.

"What is happening in the simultaneous or acoustic hemisphere, the right hemisphere, has underneath it a new environment of electric information. For the first time in human history electric information is underneath the right hemisphere and pushing it up, up, up. The old dominance of the left hemisphere depended upon lineality in organized road systems and production systems and so on.

"All the lineal connected activities of man over the centuries supported the dominance of the left hemisphere, which is logical and, of course, legalistic. The dominance of that hemisphere has been enormously altered by the sudden environment of simultaneous information. The world has now got everywhere on this planet available to it simultaneous environments of information. The satellites are available everywhere and so are the telegraph and the telephone.

"Now simultaneity just automatically gives preference to the right hemisphere. This has nothing to do with value judgments. We’re not saying which is good, which is bad. This is just the way we are, happened to be put together. The implication is that as we move into the right hemisphere again we are going Third World. And you have only to study the Third World to know what America is becoming very rapidly.

"That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. It just means that we find huge sympathy now with Oriental attitudes to experience. The kids take it for granted that the occult, the hidden, and the mysterious is their thing. The ordinary kid today (in 1978) knows all about horoscopes, all about all sorts of hidden factors. He takes it for granted. It’s not taught at school."

It was suggested the low reading scores and the problems in schools emerged because the kids were thinking about something else. Marshall McLuhan continued, "Well, of course. If the left hemisphere is getting pushed down and the other one up it means that music – rock'n'roll and whatnot – is taking the place of literacy. Insofar as it is based upon our own technologies, which are part of us, yes, it’s evolutionary. Because, after all, your technologies are an extension of your own body and nervous system."

Would bureaucracy lead to crisis? Marshall McLuhan continued, "Absolutely. To anarchy. Because the only way to live with bureaucracy is to bypass it and to increasingly undermine it. Today (in 1978) work is the moving of information. The way you people here and people in any part of this community spend their time from day to night is processing information. That is your work. Now that is not a job. Information processing is role-playing. Role-playing means having a variety of jobs simultaneously. A mother has a role, she doesn't have a job. She has dozens and dozens of jobs, simultaneously. And that's what you people are involved in. Or all of us."  

Adriana Gianturco: But there’s a whole other sector of the economy, blue-collar jobs which are more fragmented, more mechanistic, more formalized, less role-playing than they ever were before.

Marshall McLuhan: Yes, that's right. And that means they’re just reaching the point of flip, they're just about over. Any kind of work, any kind of activity just at the point of flip into the opposite form exaggerates all its characteristics to the extreme. When any particular form of activity reaches its terms of potential it flips into the opposite form. It shows exaggerated features of all the old forms just before they cease to exist. Money speeds activity, obsolesces barter, retrieves potlatch, and flips into credit, which is not money.

Marshall McLuhan also made the point, "The good old Greeks and Romans. I've spent a lot of time studying their problems. The alphabet destroyed Greece – in 100 years it was dead. The alphabet invaded the Greek sensibility with this new rigid logic pattern which created a Plato and Aristotle overnight. And Euclid. All left-hemisphere boys. Extreme left hemisphere. And they wiped out the old pre-Socratics.

"Remember some of the pre-Socratics like who was the 'you can only step into a river once'? Heraclitus and that group were all wiped out overnight by the alphabet. But naturally the world was still surrounded with oral societies, the little area of literacy, Greek and Roman, was still surrounded by Third World occultism – Asiatic they called it, which included Christianity. And they fought it back and they took over a lot of the setup again.

"One of the mysteries to me is why did the new thing, Christianity, ever latch on to the new thing, the alphabet? Why did Christianity, why did this entirely right-hemisphere thing latch onto this entirely left-hemisphere thing? The Greek or Roman literacy. Which was entirely logical. And left hemisphere. Lineal. Euclidean. Why did Christianity ever take on that thing?

"Well, you could say that anything as extremely right hemisphere as Christianity needs something to prop it up. On the other hand, today (in 1978), with electric technology you no longer need Greek or Roman literacy to propagate Christianity. For the first time in the history of the church, Christianity could use the electric technology for propagation of the faith."

Occult, astrology, magic (or vibes) according to Marshall McLuhan, "It's acoustic. You don't have to fit it. You tune it. Literally. Fitting is left hemisphere. Tuning is right hemisphere. In the year 1900 Max Planck produced this new quantum physics in which he pulled out all the connections, said there’s no connections in matter. The same year Picasso pulled out all the connections in space between art forms.

"The same year Freud, that’s 1900, Freud pulled out the connections were between the conscious and the unconscious and began his dream analysis. In that year all the connections were pulled out between all the things that had been joined before. And at the same time when Picasso pulled out the connections in space – cubism means all spaces simultaneously – when he pulled out those connections he plunged back into the utmost form of primitive consciousness.

"That is where modern man started, in 1900. Back into the most primitive kind of awareness. And this is where it’s at. Electronically we have an opportunity to harmonize the various components of our lives beyond the dreams of anybody of an earlier time. Because with that sort of power and information available and speed, it is possible to create a total harmony out of the noises of the environment or out of the noises of the economy or anything.

"We can musically harmonize our lives to a fantastic degree today (in 1978). And we are tending that way. Information overload is pattern recognition, says IBM. Once you create enough chaos then you get order. You know, by the time your house gets into a sufficient mess you take a few hours off and tidy it up. And that’s the state we’re at today in the world.

"Individualism in the sense of just carving a little old egotistic path for yourself, that’s way behind us. People are reaching the point where they’re just going to abandon that overnight. Capitalism, I think, like communism, is way behind us. Something we passed long ago. In terms of sharing our knowledge and our technologies to create a consumer society for everybody, we passed the communist dream decades ago. And as far as capitalism is concerned, I don't think it ever had a dream. But whatever it was it's no longer here."

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