Light Through McLuhan

It is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's concept of the 'Noosphere', along with the evolutionary theories of technological extension suggested by Sigmund Freud, Henri Bergson, Lewis Mumford and Edward T. Hall, that enables McLuhan to conceive first of a sensus communis, and later of a 'collective unconscious' (using C.G. Jung's term) that is 'external' and environmental rather than individual.1

McLuhan suggests that the phonetic alphabet has proved so fragmentary to human interaction and experience that there is great urgency for 'communal processing' to retain our rationality under electronic conditions.2

As he elaborates: 'just as ... our individual senses get processed by some sort of inner common sense ... so with the media as extensions of our senses. These cooperative technological extensions of ourselves undergo a social or communal processing which gives them unity ...'3

In fact McLuhan's letters of the early 1960's refer continually to the 'external' sensus communis and McLuhan's vision of a global 'con-sensus' of the senses, which he saw as achievable by means of electronic technology.

He suggests that the 'city' used to serve this function of consensus, but that this can happen only so long as its technologies are 'rudimentary in the form of writing and architecture'.4

Today, says McLuhan, 'the city no longer exists except as a cultural ghost for tourists.... the city is obsolete ... The INSTANTANEOUS global coverage of radio-TV make the city form meaningless, functionless. Cities were once related to the realities of production and intercommunication. Not now.'5

McLuhan proposed the University as 'the only possible model for consensus' in the electronic age, writing in 1961 that this 'need not be locational, or geographic.'6

It is clear that the 'city' or 'University' that McLuhan envisioned today takes the form of 'cyberspace' or the World Wide Web.

While Teilhard saw technology as gradually freeing more and more of the population to spend its 'surplus of free energy' in the occupation of 'research', McLuhan says that electronic communications technology rather impel us to 'translate' everything into its currency, i.e. 'information'.7

He muses upon the transformation of human beings as speaking agents to a situation where technologies 'speak' outside us.8

He also, like Teilhard, invokes Bergson's argument for a 'cosmic' consciousness post speech.

McLuhan says in Understanding Media that the computer gives the possibility for humankind to 'by-pass languages' altogether in celebration of a 'general cosmic consciousness'.9