Media as Extensions of Our Central Nervous System: Ratios of sensation


“The electric light is pure information”

Though Mcluhan books are written in a difficult style — at once enigmatic, epigrammatic and overgrown with arcane literary, historic allusions and flamboyantly undecipherable aphorisms he put out a few concepts that I find useful for our purposes.

McLuhan suggests that the world is explained and experienced differently depending on the specific “ratios of sense” that members of a culture share in the sensoria they learn to inhabit. New technology demands that we surrender our identity, writes McLuhan. The approach of our time is to use not one but several models for experimentation, he writes.

Technology, like the lightbulb before, has reshaped patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It forced us to rethink and re-evaluate virtually every idea, behavior and institution previously taken for granted. Print technology provided the audience. Electrical technology produced the masses. The public consists of individuals walking with different, fixed viewpoints. New technology demands that we surrender our identity.

For example, the alphabet stresses the sense of sight, which in turn causes us to think in linear, objective terms. The medium of the alphabet thus has the effect of reshaping the way in which we, collectively and individually, perceive and understand our environment.

Media are extensions of some physical, social, psychological, or intellectual function of the human race. Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act. When these ratios change, men change. All organizations, but especially biological ones, struggle to remain constant in their inner condition amidst the variations of outer shock and change. The man made social environment as an extension of man’s physical body is no exception.

I think where people go wrong in imagining post-capitalist economies is starting with values. The stacking order is technology → economics → values. You need to start with alternative technological principles. Example: design with degradation/aging as a feature not bug.

Venkatesh Rao

Man thus becomes the sex organs of the machine world just as the bee is of the plant world, permitting it to reproduce and constantly evolve to higher forms. Particularly in countries where literate values are deeply institutionalized, this is a highly traumatic process, since the clash of the old segmented visual culture and the new integral electronic culture creates a crisis of identity.

The Russian dictionary defines the sense of touch as follows: “In reality all five senses can be reduced to one” the sense of touch. The tongue and palate sense the food; the ear, sound waves; the nose, emanations; the eyes, rays of light. This serves to highlight how the hierarchization of the senses can vary significantly even between cultures. Any single perceptual modality may include or overlap multiple sensory structures, time and space as well as other modes of perception.

We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.

Anaïs Nin

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