Alex Shevelenko
Alex Shevelenko
Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan

Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media: The extensions of man


Understanding Media
The extensions of man

London and New York


Introduction 3
1 The Medium is the Message 7
2 Media Hot and Cold 24
3 Reversal of the Overheated Medium 36
4 The Gadget Lover: Narcissus as Narcosis 45
5 Hybrid Energy: Les Liaisons Dangereuses 53
6 Media as Translators 62
7 Challenge and Collapse: the Nemesis of Creativity 68

8 The Spoken Word: Flower of Evil? 83
9 The Written Word: an Eye for an Ear 88
10 Roads and Paper Routes 97
11 Number: Profile ofthe Crowd 115
12 Clothing: Our Extended Skin 129
13 Housing: New Look and New Outlook 133

14 Money: the Poor Man's Credit Card 142
15 Clocks: the Scent of Time 157
16 The Print: How to Dig it 170
17 Comics: Mad Vestibule to TV 178
18 The Printed Word: Architect of Nationalism 185
19 Wheel, Bicycle, and Airplane 195
20 The Photograph: the Brothel-without-Walls 204
21 Press: Government by News Leak 220
22 Motorcar: the Mechanical Bride 236
23 Ads: Keeping Upset with the Joneses 246
24 Games: the Extensions of Man 254
25 Telegraph: the Social Hormone 267
26 The Typewriter: into the Age of the Iron Whim 281
27 The Telephone: Sounding Brass or TinklingSymbol? 289
28 The Phonograph: the Toy that Shrank the National Chest
29 Movies: the Reel World 310
30 Radio: the Tribal Drum 324
31 Television: the Timid Giant 336
32 Weapons: War of the Icons 369
33 Automation: Learning a Living 378

Part I


James Reston wrote in The New York Times (July 7, 1957):
A health director . . . reported this week that a small
mouse, which presumably had been watching television,
attacked a little girl and her full-grown cat. . . . Both
mouse and cat survived, and the incident is recorded
here as a reminder that things seem to be changing.

After three thousand years of explosion, by means of frag-
mentary and mechanical technologies, the Western world is
imploding. During the mechanical ages we had extended our bodies
in space. Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we
have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace,
abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.
Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the extensions of man-- the
technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative
process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to
the whole of human society, much

as we have already extended our senses and our nerves by the
various media Whether the extension of consciousness, so long
sought by advertisers for specific products, will be "a good thing" is a
question that admits of a wide solution. There is little possibility of
answering such questions about the extensions of man without
considering all of them together. Any extension, whether of skin,
hand, or foot, affects the whole psychic and social complex.
Some of the principal extensions, together with some of their psychic
and social consequences, are studied in this book. Just how little
consideration has been given to such matters in the past can be
gathered from the consternation of one of the editors of this book.
He noted in dismay that "seventy-five per cent of your material is
new. A successful book cannot venture to be more than ten per cent
new." Such a risk seems quite worth taking at the present time when
the stakes are very high, and the need to understand the effects of
the extensions of man becomes more urgent by the hour.
In the mechanical age now receding, many actions could be taken
without too much concern. Slow movement insured that the
reactions were delayed for considerable periods of time. Today the
action and the reaction occur almost at the same time. We actually
live mythically and integrally, as it were, but we continue to think in
the old, fragmented space and time patterns of the pre-electric age.
Western man acquired from the technology of literacy the power to
act without reacting. The advantages of fragmenting himself in this
way are seen in the case of the surgeon who would be quite helpless
if he were to become humanly involved us in the whole of mankind
and to incorporate with in his operation. We acquired the art of
carrying out the most dangerous social operations with complete
detachment. But our
detachment was a posture of noninvolvement. In the electric age,
when our central nervous system is technologically extended to
whole of mankind and to incorporate the

whole of mankind in us, we necessarily participate, in depth, in the
consequences of our every action. It is no longer possible to adopt
the aloof and dissociated role of the literate Westerner.
The Theater of the Absurd dramatizes this recent dilemma of
Western man, the man of action who appears not to be involved in
the action. Such is the origin and appeal of Samuel Beckett's clowns.
After three thousand years of specialist explosion and of increasing
specialism and alienation in the technological extensions of our
bodies, our world has become compressional by dramatic reversal.
As electrically contracted, the globe is no more than a village.
Electric speed in bringing all social and political functions together in
a sudden implosion has heightened human awareness of
responsibility to an intense degree. It is this implo-sive factor that
alters the position of the Negro, the teen-ager, and some other
groups. They can no longer be contained, in the political sense of
limited association. They are now involved in our lives, as we in
theirs, thanks to the electric media.
This is the Age of Anxiety for the reason of the electric implosion that
compels commitment and participation, quite regardless of any
"point of view." The partial and specialized character of the viewpoint,
however noble, will not serve at all in the electric age. At the
information level the same upset has occurred with the substitution
of the inclusive image for the mere viewpoint. If the nineteenth
century was the age of the editorial chair, ours is the century of the
psychiatrist's couch. As extension of man the chair is a specialist
ablation of the posterior, a sort of ablative absolute of backside,
whereas the couch extends the integral being. The psychiatrist
employs the couch, since it removes the temptation to express
private points of view and obviates the need to rationalize events.
The aspiration of our time for wholeness, empathy and depth of
awareness is a natural adjunct of electric technology. The age of
mechanical industry that preceded us found vehement assertion of
private outlook the natural mode of expression. Every

culture and every age has its favorite model of perception and
knowledge that it is inclined to prescribe for everybody and
everything. The mark of our time is its revulsion against imposed
patterns. We are suddenly eager to have things and people declare
their beings totally. There is a deep faith to be found in this new
attitude— a faith that concerns the ultimate harmony of all being.
Such is the faith in which this book has been written. It explores the
contours of our own extended beings in our technologies, seeking
the principle of intelligibility in each of them. In the full confidence
that it is possible to win an understanding of these forms that will
bring them into orderly service, I have looked at time anew,
accepting very little of the conventional wisdom concerning them.
One can say of media as Robert Theobald has said of economic
depressions: "There is one additional factor that has helped to
control depressions, and that is a better understanding of their
development." Examination of the origin and development of the
individual extensions of man should be preceded by a look at some
general aspects of the media, or extensions of man, beginning with
the never-explained numbness that each extension brings about in
the individual and society.


In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all
things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be
reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the
message. This is merely to say that the personal and social
consequences of any medium-- that is, of any extension of ourselves
-- result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each
extension of ourselves, or by any new technology. Thus, with
automation, for example, the new patterns of human association
tend to eliminate jobs, it is true. That is the negative result. Positively,
automation creates roles for people, which is to say depth of
involvement in their work and human association that our preceding
mechanical technology had destroyed. Many people would be
disposed to say that it was not the machine, but what one did with
the machine, that was its meaning or message. In terms of the ways
in which the machine altered our relations to one another and to
ourselves, it mattered not in the least whether it turned out
cornflakes or Cadillacs. The restructuring of human work and
association was

shaped by the technique of fragmentation that is the essence of
machine technology. The essence of automation technology is the
opposite. It is integral and decentralist in depth, just as the machine
was fragmentary, centralist, and superficial in its patterning of
human relationships.
The instance of the electric light may prove illuminating in this
connection. The electric light is pure information. It is a medium
without a message, as it were, unless it is used to spell out some
verbal ad or name. This fact, characteristic of all media, means that
the "content" of any medium is always another medium. The content
of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print,
and print is the content of the telegraph. If it is asked, "What is the
content of speech?," it is necessary to say, "It is an actual process of
thought, which is in itself nonverbal." An abstract painting represents
direct manifestation of creative thought processes as they might
appear in computer designs. What we are considering here,
however, are the psychic and social consequences of the designs or
patterns as they amplify or accelerate existing processes. For the
"message" of any medium or technology is the change of scale or
pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs. The railway did
not introduce movement or transportation or wheel or road into
human society, but it accelerated and enlarged the scale of previous
human functions, creating totally new kinds of cities and new kinds
of work and leisure. This happened whether the railway functioned in
a tropical or a northern environment and is quite independent of the
freight or content of the railway medium. The airplane, on the other
hand, by accelerating the rate of transportation, tends to dissolve the
railway form of city, politics, and association, quite independently of
what the airplane is used for.
Let us return to the electric light. When the light is being used for
brain surgery or night baseball is a matter of indifference. It could be
argued that these activities are in some way the

"content" of the electric light, since they could not exist without the
electric light. This fact merely underlines the point that "the medium
is the message" because it is the medium that shapes and controls
the scale and form of human association and action. The content or
uses of such media are as diverse as they are ineffectual in shaping
the form of human association. Indeed, it is only too typical that the
"content" of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium. It
is only today that industries have become aware of the various kinds
of business in which they are engaged. When IBM discovered that it
was not in the business of making office equipment or business
machines, but that it was in the business of processing information,
then it began to navigate with dear vision. The General Electric
Company makes a considerable portion of its profits from electric
light bulbs and lighting systems. It has not yet discovered that, quite
as much as A.T.& T., it is in the business of moving information.
The electric light escapes attention as a communication medium just
because it has no "content." And this makes it an invaluable instance
of how people fail to study media at all. For it is not till the electric
light is used to spell out some brand name that it is noticed as a
medium. Then it is not the light but the "content" (or what is really
another medium) that is noticed. The message of the electric light is
like the message of electric power in industry, totally radical,
pervasive, and decentralized. For electric light and power are
separate from their uses, yet they eliminate time and space factors
in human association exactly as do radio, telegraph, telephone, and
TV, creating involvement in depth.
A fairly complete handbook for studying the extensions of man could
be made up from selections from Shakespeare. Some might quibble
about whether or not he was referring to TV in these familiar lines
from Romeo and Juliet:
But soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It speaks, and yet says nothing.

In Othello, which, as much as King Lear, is concerned with the
torment of people transformed by illusions, there are these lines that
bespeak Shakespeare's intuition of the transforming powers of new
Is there not charms
By which the property of youth and maidhood
May be abus'd? Have you not read Roderigo,
Of some such thing?

In Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, which is almost completely
devoted to both a psychic and social study of communication,
Shakespeare states his awareness that true social and political
navigation depend upon anticipating the consequences of

The providence that's in a watchful state
Knows almost every grain of Plutus' gold,
Finds bottom in the uncomprehensive deeps,
Keeps place with thought, and almost like the gods
Does thoughts unveil in their dumb cradles.

The increasing awareness of the action of media, quite
independently of their "content" or programming, was indicated in
the annoyed and anonymous stanza:

In modern thought, (if not in fact)
Nothing is that doesn't act,
So that is reckoned wisdom which
Describes the scratch but not the itch.

The same kind of total, configuration awareness that reveals why the
medium is socially the message has occurred in the most recent and
rad,cal medial theories. In his Stress of Life, Hans

Selye tells of the dismay of a research colleague on hearing of
Selye's theory:

When he saw me thus launched on yet another enraptured
description of what I had observed in animals treated with
this or that impure, toxic material, he looked at me with
desperately sad eyes and said in obvious despair: "But
Selye, try to realize what you are doing before it is too late!
You have now decided to spend your entire life studying
the pharmacology of dirt!"
(Hans Selye, The Stress of Life)

As Selye deals with the total environmental situation in his "stress"
theory of disease, so the latest approach to media study considers
not only the "content" but the medium and the cultural matrix within
which the particular medium operates. The older unawareness of
the psychic and social effects of media can be illustrated from
almost any of the conventional pronouncements.
In accepting an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame
a few years ago, General David Sarnoff made this statement: "We
are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for
the sins of those who wield them. The products of modern science
are not in themselves good or bad; it is the way they are used that
determines their value." That is the voice of the current
somnambulism. Suppose we were to say, "Apple pie is in itself
neither good nor bad; it is the way it is used that determines its
value." Or, "The smallpox virus is in itself neither good nor bad; it is
the way it is used that determines its value." Again, "Firearms are in
themselves neither good nor bad; it is the way they are used that
determines their value." That is, if the slugs reach the right people
firearms are good. If the TV tube fires the right ammunition at the
right people it is good. I am not being perverse. There is simply
nothing in the Sarnoff statement that will bear scrutiny, for it ignores
the nature of the medium.

of any and all media, in the true Narcissus style of one hypnotized by
the amputation and extension of his own being in a new technical
form. General Sarnor Twent on to explain his attitude to the
technology of print, saying that it was true that print caused much
trash to circulate, but it had also disseminated the Bible and the
thoughts of seers and philosophers. It has never occurred to
General Sarnoffthat any technology could do anything but add itself
on to what we already are.
Such economists as Robert Theobald, W W. Rostow, and John
Kenneth Galbraith have been explaining for years how it is that
"classical economics" cannot explain change or growth. And the
paradox of mechanization is that although it is itself the cause of
maximal growth and change, the principle of mechanization
excludes the very possibility of growth or the understanding of
change. For mechanization is achieved by fragmentation of any
process and by putting the fragmented parts in a series. Yet, as
David Hume showed in the eighteenth century, there is no principle
of causality in a mere sequence. That one thing follows another
accounts for nothing. Nothing follows from following, except change.
So the greatest of all reversals occurred with electricity, that ended
sequence by making things instant. With instant speed the causes of
things began to emerge to awareness again, as they had not done
with things in sequence and in concatenation accordingly. Instead of
asking which came first, the chicken or the egg, it suddenly seemed
that a chicken was an egg's idea for getting more eggs.
Just before an airplane breaks the sound barrier, sound waves
become visible on the wings of the plane. The sudden visibility of
sound just as sound ends is an apt instance of that great pattern of
being that reveals new and opposite forms just as the earlier forms
reach their peak performance. Mechanization was never so vividly
fragmented or sequential as in the birth of the movies the moment
that translated us beyond mechanism into the world of growth and
organic interrelation. The movie, by

message. The message, it seemed, was the "content." as people
used to ask what a painting was about. Yet they never thought to
ask what a melody was about, nor what a house or a dress was
about. In such matters, people retained some sense of the whole
pattern, of form and function as a unity. But in the electric age this
integral idea of structure and configuration has become so prevalent
that educational theory has taken up the matter. Instead of working
with specialized "problems" in arithmetic, the structural approach
now follows the linea of force in the field of number and has small
children meditating about number theory and "sets."
Cardinal Newman said of Napoleon, "He understood the grammar of
gunpowder." Napoleon had paid some attention to other media as
well, especially the semaphore telegraph that gave him a great
advantage over his enemies. He is on record for saying that "Three
hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand
Alexis de Tocqueville was the first to master the grammar of print
and typography. He was thus able to read off the message of
coming change in France and America as if he were reading aloud
from a text that had been handed to him. In fact, the nineteenth
century in France and in America was just such an open book to de
Tocqueville because he had learned the grammar of print. So he,
also, knew when that grammar did not apply. He was asked why he
did not write a book on England, since he knew and admired
England. He replied:
One would have to have an unusual degree of philosophical folly to
believe oneself able to judge England in six months. A year always
seemed to me too short a time in which to appreciate the United
States properly, and it is much easier to acquire clear and precise
notions about the American Union than about Great Britain. In
America all laws derive in a sense from the same line of thought.
The whole of society, so to speak is

founded upon a single fact; everything springs from a simple
principle. One could compare America to a forest pierced by a
multitude of straight roads all converging on the same point. One
has only to find the center and everything is revealed at a glance.
But in England the paths run criss-cross, and it is only by travelling
down each one of them that one can build up a picture of the whole.
De Tocqueville, in earlier work on the French Revolution, had
explained how it was the printed word that, achieving cultural
saturation in the eighteenth century, had homogenized the French
nation. Frenchmen were the same kind of people from north to south
The typographic principles of uniformity, continuity, and lineality had
overlaid the complexities of ancient feudal and oral society. The
Revolution was carried out by the new literati and lawyers.
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. The result was that the most
important event in English history has never taken place; namely,
the English Revolution on the lines of die French Revolution. The
American Revolution had no medieval legal institutions to discard or
to root out, apart from monarchy. And many have held that the
American Presidency has become very much more personal and
monarchical than any European monarch ever could be.
De Tocqueville's contrast between England and America is clearly
based on the fact of typography and of print culture creating
uniformity and continuity. England, he says, has rejected this
principle and dung to the dynamic or oral common-law tradition.
Hence the discontinuity and unpredictable quality of English culture.
The grammar of print cannot help to construe the message of oral
and nonwritten culture and

institutions. The English aristocracy was properly classified as
barbarian by Matthew Arnold because its power and status had
nothing to do with literacy or with the cultural forms of typography.
Said the Duke of Gloucester to Edward Gibbon upon the publication
of his Decline and Fall; "Another damned fat book, eh, Mr. Gibbon?
Scribble, scribble, scribble, eh, Mr. Gibbon?" De Tocqueville was a
highly literate aristocrat who was quite able to be detached from the
values and assumptions of typography. That is why he alone
understood the grammar of typography. And it is only on those terms,
standing aside from any structure or medium, that its principles and
lines of force can be discerned. For any medium has the power of
imposing its own assumption on the unwary. Prediction and control
consist in avoiding this subliminal state of Narcissus trance. But the
greatest aid to this end is simply in knowing that the spell can occur
immediately upon contact, as in the first bars of a melody.
A Passage to India by E. M. Forster is a dramatic study of the
inability of oral and intuitive oriental culture to meet with the rational,
visual European patterns of experience. "Rational," of course, has
for the West long meant "uniform and continuous and sequential." In
other words, we have confused reason with literacy, and rationalism
with a single technology. Thus in the electric age man seems to the
conventional West to become irrational. In Forster's novel the
moment of truth and dislocation from the typographic trance of the
West comes in the Marabar Caves. Adela Quested's reasoning
powers cannot cope with the total inclusive field of resonance that is
India. After the Caves:
Lite went on as usual, but had no consequences, that is
to say, sounds did not echo nor thought develop.
Everything seemed cut off at its root and therefore
infected with illusion."
A Passage to India (the phrase is from Whitman, who saw America
headed Eastward) is a parable of Western man in the electric age,
and is only incidentally related to Europe or the Orient. The ultimate
conflict between sigh and sound, between written and

The killer is regarded as we do a cancer victim. "How terrible it must
be to feel like that," they say. J. M. Synge took up this idea very
effectively in his Playboy of the Western World.
If the criminal appears as a nonconformist who is unable to meet the
demand of technology that we behave in uniform and continuous
patterns, literate man is quite inclined to see others who cannot
conform as somewhat pathetic. Especially the child, the cripple, the
woman, and the colored person appear in a world of visual and
typographic technology as victims of injustice. On the other hand, in
a culture that assigns roles instead of jobs to people -- the dwarf, the
skew, the child create their own spaces. They are not expected to fit
into some uniform and repeatable niche that is not their size anyway.
Consider the phrase "It's a man's world." As a quantitative
observation endlessly repeated from within a homogenized culture,
this phrase refers to the men in such a culture who have to be
homogenized Dagwoods in order to belong at all. It is in our I.Q.
testing that we have produced the greatest flood of misbegotten
standards. Unaware of our typographic cultural bias, our testers
assume that uniform and continuous habits are a sign of intelligence,
thus eliminating the ear man and the tactile man.
C. P. Snow, reviewing a book of A. L Rowse (The New York Times
Book Review, December 24, 1961) on Appeasement and the road to
Munich, describes the top level of British brains and experience in
the 1930s. "Their I.Q.'s were much higher than usual among political
bosses. Why were they such a disaster?" The view of Rowse, Snow
approves: "They would not listen to warnings because they did not
wish to hear." Being anti-Red made it impossible for them to read the
message of Hitler. But their failure was as nothing compared to our
present one The American stake in literacy as a technology or
uniformity applied to every level of education, government, industry,
and social life is totally threatened by the electric technology. The
threat of Stalin Hitler was external. The electric technology is within

gates, and we are numb, deaf, blind, and mute about its encounter
with the Gutenberg technology, on and through which the American
way of life was formed. It is, however, no time to suggest strategies
when the threat has not even been acknowledged to exist. I am in
the position of Louis Pasteur telling doctors that their greatest enemy
was quite invisible, and quite unrecognized by them. Our
conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are
used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot. For
the "content" of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by
the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. The effect of the
medium is made strong and intense just because it is given another
medium as "content." The content of a movie is a novel or a play or
an opera. The effect of the movie form is not related to its program
content. The "content" of writing or print is speech, but the reader is
almost entirely unaware either of print or of speech.
Arnold Toynbee is innocent of any understanding of media as they
have shaped history, but he is full of examples that the student of
media can use. At one moment he can seriously suggest that adult
education, such as the Workers Educational Association in Britain, is
a useful counterforce to the popular press. Toynbee considers that
although all of the oriental societies have in our time accepted the
industrial technology and its political consequences: "On the cultural
plane, however, there is no uniform corresponding tendency."
(Somervell, I. 267) This is like the voice of the literate man,
floundering in a milieu of ads, who boasts, "Personally, I pay no
attention to ads." The spiritual and cultural reservations that the
oriental peoples may have toward our technology will avail them not
at all. The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions
or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily
and without any resistance. The serious artist is the only person able
to encounter technology with impunity, just because he is an expert
aware of the changes in sense perception.

The operation of the money medium in seventeenth-century Japan
had effects not unlike the operation of typography in the West The
penetration of the money economy, wrote G. B. San-som (in Japan.
Cresset Press, London, 193 1) "caused a slow but irresistible
revolution, culminating in the breakdown of feudal government and
the resumption of intercourse with foreign countries after more than
two hundred years of seclusion." Money has reorganized the sense
life of peoples just because it is an extension of our sense lives. This
change does not depend upon approval or disapproval of those
living in the society.
Arnold Toynbee made one approach to the transforming power of
media in his concept of "etherialization," which he holds to be the
principle of progressive simplification and efficiency in any
organization or technology. Typically, he is ignoring the effect of the
challenge of these forms upon the response of our senses. He
imagines that it is the response of our opinions that is relevant to the
effect of media and technology in society, a "point of view" that is
plainly the result of the typographic spell. For the man in a literate
and homogenized society ceases to be sensitive to the diverse and
discontinuous life of forms. He acquires the illusion of the third
dimension and the "private point of view" as part of his Narcissus
fixation, and is quite shut off from Blake's awareness or that of the
Psalmist, that we become what we behold.
Today when we want to get our bearings in our own culture, and
have need to stand aside from the bias and pressure exerted by any
technical form of human expression, we have only to visit a society
where that particular form has not been felt, or a historical period in
which it was unknown. Professor Wilbur Schramm made such a
tactical move in studying Television in the Lives of Our Children. He
found areas where TV had not penetrated at all and ran some tests.
Since he had made no study of the peculiar nature of the TV image,
his tests were of "content" preferences, viewing time, and
vocabulary counts. In a word, his

approach to the problem was a literary one, albeit unconsciously so.
Consequently, he had nothing to report. Had his methods been
employed in 1500 a.d. to discover the effects of the printed book in
the lives of children or adults, he could have found out nothing of the
changes in human and social psychology resulting from typography.
Print created individualism and nationalism in the sixteenth century.
Program and "content" analysis offer no dues to the magic of these
media or to their subliminal charge.
Leonard Doob, in his report Communication in Africa, tells of one
African who took great pains to listen each evening to the BBC news,
even though he could understand nothing of it. Just to be in the
presence of those sounds at 7 p.m. each day was important for him.
His attitude to speech was like ours to melody--the resonant
intonation was meaning enough. In the seventeenth century our
ancestors still shared this native's attitude to the forms of media, as
is plain in the following sentiment of the Frenchman Bernard Lam
expressed in The Art of Speaking (London, 1696):

Tis an effect of the Wisdom of God, who created Man to be
happy, that whatever is useful to his conversation (way of life) is
agreeable to him ... because all victual that conduces to nour-
ishment is relishable, whereas other things that cannot be
assimulated and be turned into our substance are insipid. A
Discourse cannot be pleasant to the Hearer that is not easily to
the Speaker; nor can it be easily pronounced unless it be heard
with delight.

Here is an equilibrium theory of human diet and expression such as
even now we are only striving to work out again for media after
centuries of fragmentation and specialism.
Pope Pius XII was deeply concerned that there be serious study of
the media today. On February 1 7, 1 950, he said:

oral kinds of perception and organization of existence is upon us.
Since understanding stops action, as Nietzsche observed, we can
moderate the fierceness of this conflict by understanding the media
that extend us and raise these wars within and without us.
Detribalization by literacy and its traumatic effects on tribal man is
the theme of a book by the psychiatrist J. C. Carothers, The African
Mind in Health and Disease (World Health Organization, Geneva,
1953). Much of his material appeared in an article in Psychiatry
magazine, November, 1959: "The Culture, Psychiatry, and the
Written Word." Again, it is electric speed that has revealed the lines
of force operating from Western technology in the remotest areas of
bush, savannah, and desert. One example is the Bedouin with his
battery radio on board the camel. Submerging natives with floods of
concepts for which nothing has prepared them is the normal action
of all of our technology. But with electric media Western man himself
experiences exactly the same inundation as the remote native. We
are no more prepared to encounter radio and TV in our literate milieu
than the native of Ghana is able to cope with the literacy that takes
him out of his collective tribal world and beaches him in individual
isolation. We are as numb in our new electric world as the native
involved in our literate and mechanical culture.
Electric speed mingles the cultures of prehistory with the dregs of
industrial marketeers, the nonliterate with the semiliterate and the
postliterate. Mental breakdown of varying degrees is the very
common result of uprooting and inundation with new information and
endless new patterns of information. Wyndham Lewis made this a
theme of his group of novels called The Human Age. The first of
these. The Childerraass, is concerned precisely with accelerated
media change as a kind of massacre of the innocents. In our own
world as we become more aware of the effects of technology on
psychic formation and manifestation, we are losing all confidence in
our right to assign guilt. Ancient prehistoric societies regard violent
crime as pathetic.

sheer speeding up the mechanical, carried us from the world of
sequence and connections into the world of creative configuration
and structure. The message of the movie medium is that of transition
from lineal connections to configurations. It is the transition that
produced the now quite correct observation: "If it works, it's
obsolete." When electric speed further takes over from mechanical
movie sequences, then the lines of force in structures and in media
become loud and clear. We return to the inclusive form of the icon.
To a highly literate and mechanized culture the movie appeared as a
world of triumphant illusions and dreams diat money could buy. It
was at this moment of the movie that cubism occurred, and it has
been described by E. H. Gombrich (Art and Illusion) as "the most
radical attempt to stamp out ambiguity and to enforce one reading of
the picture-that of a man-made construction, a colored canvas." For
cubism substitutes all facets of an object simultaneously for the
"point of view" or facet of perspective illusion. Instead of the
specialized illusion of the third dimension on canvas, cubism sets up
an interplay of planes and contradiction or dramatic conflict of
patterns, lights, textures that "drives home the message" by
involvement. This is held by many to be an exercise in painting, not
in illusion.
In other words, cubism, by giving the inside and outside, the top,
bottom, back, and front and die rest, in two dimensions, drops the
illusion of perspective in favor of instant sensory awareness of the
whole. Cubism, by seizing on instant total awareness, suddenly
announced that the medium is the message. Is it not evident that the
moment that sequence yields to the simultaneous, one is in the
world of the structure and of configuration? Is that not what has
happened in physics as in painting, poetry, and in communication?
Specialized segments of attention have shifted to total field, and we
can now say, "The medium is the message" quite naturally. Before
the electric speed and total field, it was not obvious that the medium
is the

The killer is regarded as we do a cancer victim. "How terrible it must
be to feel like that," they say. J. M. Synge took up this idea very
effectively in his Playboy of the Western World.
If the criminal appears as a nonconformist who is unable to meet the
demand of technology that we behave in uniform and continuous
patterns, literate man is quite inclined to see others who cannot
conform as somewhat pathetic. Especially the child, the cripple, the
woman, and the colored person appear in a world of visual and
typographic technology as victims of injustice. On the other hand, in
a culture that assigns roles instead of jobs to people 梩 he dwarf, the
skew, the child create their own spaces. They are not expected to fit
into some uniform and repeatable niche that is not their size anyway.
Consider the phrase "It's a man's world." As a quantitative
observation endlessly repeated from within a homogenized culture,
this phrase refers to the men in such a culture who have to be
homogenized Dagwoods in order to belong at all. It is in our I.Q.
testing that we have produced the greatest flood of misbegotten
standards. Unaware of our typographic cultural bias, our testers
assume that uniform and continuous habits are a sign of intelligence,
thus eliminating the ear man and the tactile man.
C. P. Snow, reviewing a book of A. L Rowse (The New York Times
Book Review, December 24, 1961) on Appeasement and the road to
Munich, describes the top level of British brains and experience in
the 1930s. "Their I.Q.'s were much higher than usual among political
bosses. Why were they such a disaster?" The view of Rowse, Snow
approves: "They would not listen to warnings because they did not
wish to hear." Being anti-Red made it impossible for them to read the
message of Hitler. But their failure was as nothing compared to our
present one The American stake in literacy as a technology or
uniformity applied to every level of education, government, industry,
and social life is totally threatened by the electric technology. The
threat of Stalin Hitler was external. The electric technology is within

gates, and we are numb, deaf, blind, and mute about its encounter
with the Gutenberg technology, on and through which the American
way of life was formed. It is, however, no time to suggest strategies
when the threat has not even been acknowledged to exist. I am in
the position of Louis Pasteur telling doctors that their greatest enemy
was quite invisible, and quite unrecognized by them. Our
conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are
used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot. For
the "content" of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by
the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. The effect of the
medium is made strong and intense just because it is given another
medium as "content." The content of a movie is a novel or a play or
an opera. The effect of the movie form is not related to its program
content. The "content" of writing or print is speech, but the reader is
almost entirely unaware either of print or of speech.
Arnold Toynbee is innocent of any understanding of media as they
have shaped history, but he is full of examples that the student of
media can use. At one moment he can seriously suggest that adult
education, such as the Workers Educational Association in Britain, is
a useful counterforce to the popular press. Toynbee considers that
although all of the oriental societies have in our time accepted the
industrial technology and its political consequences: "On the cultural
plane, however, there is no uniform corresponding tendency."
(Somervell, I. 267) This is like the voice of the literate man,
floundering in a milieu of ads, who boasts, "Personally, I pay no
attention to ads." The spiritual and cultural reservations that the
oriental peoples may have toward our technology will avail them not
at all. The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions
or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily
and without any resistance. The serious artist is the only person able
to encounter technology with impunity, just because he is an expert
aware of the changes in sense perception.

The operation of the money medium in seventeenth-century Japan
had effects not unlike the operation of typography in the West The
penetration of the money economy, wrote G. B. San-som (in Japan.
Cresset Press, London, 193 1) "caused a slow but irresistible
revolution, culminating in the breakdown of feudal government and
the resumption of intercourse with foreign countries after more than
two hundred years of seclusion." Money has reorganized the sense
life of peoples just because it is an extension of our sense lives. This
change does not depend upon approval or disapproval of those
living in the society.
Arnold Toynbee made one approach to the transforming power of
media in his concept of "etherialization," which he holds to be the
principle of progressive simplification and efficiency in any
organization or technology. Typically, he is ignoring the effect of the
challenge of these forms upon the response of our senses. He
imagines that it is the response of our opinions that is relevant to the
effect of media and technology in society, a "point of view" that is
plainly the result of the typographic spell. For the man in a literate
and homogenized society ceases to be sensitive to the diverse and
discontinuous life of forms. He acquires the illusion of the third
dimension and the "private point of view" as part of his Narcissus
fixation, and is quite shut off from Blake's awareness or that of the
Psalmist, that we become what we behold.
Today when we want to get our bearings in our own culture, and
have need to stand aside from the bias and pressure exerted by any
technical form of human expression, we have only to visit a society
where that particular form has not been felt, or a historical period in
which it was unknown. Professor Wilbur Schramm made such a
tactical move in studying Television in the Lives of Our Children. He
found areas where TV had not penetrated at all and ran some tests.
Since he had made no study of the peculiar nature of the TV image,
his tests were of "content" preferences, viewing time, and
vocabulary counts. In a word, his

approach to the problem was a literary one, albeit unconsciously so.
Consequently, he had nothing to report. Had his methods been
employed in 1500 a.d. to discover the effects of the printed book in
the lives of children or adults, he could have found out nothing of the
changes in human and social psychology resulting from typography.
Print created individualism and nationalism in the sixteenth century.
Program and "content" analysis offer no dues to the magic of these
media or to their subliminal charge.
Leonard Doob, in his report Communication in Africa, tells of one
African who took great pains to listen each evening to the BBC news,
even though he could understand nothing of it. Just to be in the
presence of those sounds at 7 p.m. each day was important for him.
His attitude to speech was like ours to melody--the resonant
intonation was meaning enough. In the seventeenth century our
ancestors still shared this native's attitude to the forms of media, as
is plain in the following sentiment of the Frenchman Bernard Lam
expressed in The Art of Speaking (London, 1696):
‘Tis an effect of the Wisdom of God, who created Man to be
happy, that whatever is useful to his conversation (way of life) is
agreeable to him ... because all victual that conduces to nour-
ishment is relishable, whereas other things that cannot be
assimulated and be turned into our substance are insipid. A
Discourse cannot be pleasant to the Hearer that is not easie to
the Speaker; nor can it be easily pronounced unless it be heard
with delight.
Here is an equilibrium theory of human diet and expression such as
even now we are only striving to work out again for media after
centuries of fragmentation and specialism.
Pope Pius XII was deeply concerned that there be serious study of
the media today. On February 1 7, 1 950, he said:

It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of modern society and
the stability of its inner life depend in large part on the maintenance
of an equilibrium between the strength of the techniques of
communication and the capacity of the individual's own reaction.
Failure in this respect has for centuries been typical and total for
mankind. Subliminal and docile acceptance of media impact has
made them prisons without walls for their human users. As A. ].
Liebling remarked in his book The Press, a man is not free if he
cannot see where he is going, even if he has a gun to help him get
there. For each of the media is also a powerful weapon with which to
clobber other media and other groups. The result is that the present
age has been one of multiple civil wars that are not limited to the
world of art and entertainment. In War and Human Progress,
Professor J. U Nef declared: "The total wars of our time have been
the result of a series of intellectual mistakes ..."
If the formative power in the media are the media themselves, that
raises a host of large matters that can only be mentioned here,
although they deserve volumes. Namely, that technological media
are staples or natural resources, exactly as are coal and cotton and
oil. Anybody will concede that society whose economy is dependent
upon one or two major staples like cotton, or grain, or lumber, or fish,
or cattle is going to have some obvious social patterns of
organization as a result. Stress on a few major staples creates
extreme instability in the economy but great endurance in the
population. The pathos and humor of the American South are
embedded in such an economy of limited staples. For a society
configured by reliance on a few commodities accepts them as a
social bond quite as much as the metropolis does the press. Cotton
and oil, like radio and TV, become fixed charges" on the entire
psychic life of the community. And this pervasive fact creates the
unique cultural flavor of any

society. It pays through the nose and all its other senses for each
staple that shapes its life.
That our human senses, of which all media are extensions, are also
fixed charges on our personal energies, and that they also configure
the awareness and experience of each one of us, may be perceived
in another connection mentioned by the psychologist C. G. Jung:
Every Roman was surrounded by slaves. The slave and his
psychology flooded ancient Italy, and every Roman became
inwardly, and of course unwittingly, a slave. Because living con-
stantly in the atmosphere of slaves, he became infected through
the unconscious with their psychology. No one can shield
himself from such an influence (Contributions to Analytical
Psychology, London, 1928).

Media Cold and Hot

"The rise of the waltz," explained Curt Sachs in the World History of
the Dance, "was a result of that longing for truth, simplicity,
closeness to nature, and primitivism, which the last two-thirds of the
eighteenth century fulfilled." In the century of jazz we are likely to
overlook the emergence of the waltz as a hot and explosive human
expression that broke through the formal feudal barriers of courtly
and choral dance styles.
There is a basic principle that distinguishes a hot medium like radio
from a cool one like the telephone, or a hot medium like the movie
from a cool one like TV. A hot medium is one that extends one single
sense in "high definition." High definition is the state of being well
filled with data. A photograph is, visually, "high definition." A cartoon
is "low definition," simply because very little visual information is
provided. Telephone is a cool medium. or one of low definition,
because the ear is given a meager amount of information. And
speech is a cool medium of low definition, because so little is given
and so much has to be filled in by the listener. On the other hand, ho,
media do not

leave so much to be filled in or completed by the audience. Hot
media are, therefore, low in participation, and cool media are high in
participation or completion by the audience. Naturally, therefore, a
hot medium like radio has very different effects on the user from a
cool medium like the telephone.
A cool medium like hieroglyphic or ideogrammic written characters
has very different effects from the hot and explosive medium of the
phonetic alphabet. The alphabet, when pushed to a high degree of
abstract visual intensity, became typography. The printed word with
its specialist intensity burst the bonds of medieval corporate guilds
and monasteries, creating extreme individualist patterns of
enterprise and monopoly. But the typical reversal occurred when
extremes of monopoly brought back the corporation, with its
impersonal empire over many lives. The hotting-up of the medium of
writing to repeatable print intensity led to nationalism and the
religious wars of the sixteenth century. The heavy and unwieldy
media, such as stone, are time binders. Used for writing, they are
very cool indeed, and serve to unify the ages; whereas paper is a
hot medium that serves to unify spaces horizontally, both in political
and entertainment empires.
Any hot medium allows of less participation than a cool one, as a
lecture makes for less participation than a seminar, and a book for
less than dialogue. With print many earlier forms were excluded from
life and art, and many were given strange new intensity. But our own
time is crowded with examples of the principle that the hot form
excludes, and the cool one includes. When ballerinas began to
dance on their toes a century ago, it was felt that the art of the ballet
had acquired a new "spirituality." With this new intensity, male
figures were excluded from ballet. The role of women had also
become fragmented with the advent of industrial specialism and the
explosion of home functions into laundries, bakeries, and hospitals
on the periphery of the community. Intensity or high definition

specialism and fragmentation in living as in entertainment, which
explains why any intense experience must be "forgotten,"
"censored," and reduced to a very cool state before it can be
"learned" or assimilated. The Freudian "censor" is less of a moral
function than an indispensable condition of learning. Were we to
accept fully and directly every shock to our various structures of
awareness, we would soon be nervous wrecks, doing double-talces
and pressing panic buttons every minute. The "censor" protects our
centra] system of values, as it does our physical nervous system by
simply cooling off the onset of experience a great deal. For many
people, this cooling system brings on a lifelong state of psychic rigor
mortis, or of somnambulism, particularly observable in periods of
new technology.
An example of the disruptive impact of a hot technology succeeding
a cool one is given by Robert Theobald in The Rich and the Poor.
When Australian natives were given steel axes by the missionaries,
their culture, based on the stone axe, collapsed. The stone axe had
not only been scarce but had always been a basic status symbol of
male importance. The missionaries provided quantities of sharp
steel axes and gave them to women and children. The men had
even to borrow these from the women, causing a collapse of male
dignity. A tribal and feudal hierarchy of traditional kind collapses
quickly when it meets any hot medium of the mechanical, uniform,
and repetitive kind. The medium of money or wheel or writing, or any
other form of specialist speed-up of exchange and information, will
serve to fragment a tribal structure. Similarly, a very much greater
speedup, such as occurs with electricity, may serve to restore a
tribal pattern of intense involvement such as took place with the
introduction of radio in Europe, and is now tending to happen as a
result oi TV m America. Specialist technologies detribalize. The
nonspecia ist electric technology retribalizes. The process of upset
resulting from a new distribution of skills is accompanied
by much culture lag in which people feel compelled to look at

new situations as if they were old ones, and come up with ideas of
"population explosion" in an age of implosion. Newton, in an age of
clocks, managed to present the physical universe in the image of a
clock. But poets like Blalce were far ahead of Newton in their
response to the challenge of the clock. Blake spoke of the need to
be delivered "from single vision and Newton's sleep," knowing very
well that Newton's response to the challenge of the new mechanism
was itself merely a mechanical repetition of the challenge. Blake saw
Newton and Locke and others as hypnotized Narcissus types quite
unable to meet the challenge of mechanism. W B. Yeats gave the
full Blakean version of Newton and Locke in a famous epigram:
Locke sank into a swoon;
The garden died;
Cod took the spinning jenny Out of his side.

Yeats presents Locke, the philosopher of mechanical and lineal
associationism, as hypnotized by his own image. The "garden," or
unified consciousness, ended. Eighteenth-century man got an
extension of himself in the form of the spinning machine that Yeats
endows with its full sexual significance. Woman, herself, is thus
seen as a technological extension of man's being.
Blake's counterstrategy for his age was to meet mechanism with
organic myth. Today, deep in the electric age, organic myth is itself a
simple and automatic response capable of mathematical formulation
and expression, without any of the imaginative perception of Blake
about it. Had he encountered the electric age, Blake would not have
met its challenge with a mere repetition of electric form. For myth is
the instant vision of a complex process that ordinarily extends over a
long period. Myth is contraction or implosion of any process, and the
instant speed of electricity confers the mythic dimension on ordinary
industrial and social

action today. We live mythically but continue to think frag-mentarily
and on single planes.
Scholars today are acutely aware of a discrepancy between their
ways of treating subjects and the subject itself. Scriptural scholars of
both the Old and New Testaments frequently say that while their
treatment must be linear, the subject is not. The subject treats of the
relations between God and man, and between God and the world,
and of the relations between man and his neighbor-- all these
subsist together, and act and react upon one another at the same
time. The Hebrew and Eastern mode of thought tackles problem and
resolution, at the outset of a discussion, in a way typical of oral
societies in general. The entire message is then traced and retraced,
again and again, on the rounds of a concentric spiral with seeming
redundancy. One can stop anywhere after the first few sentences
and have the full message, if one is prepared to "dig" it. This kind of
plan seems to have inspired Frank Lloyd Wright in designing the
Guggenheim Art Gallery on a spiral, concentric basis. It is a
redundant form inevitable to the electric age, in which the concentric
pattern is imposed by the instant quality, and overlay in depth, of
electric speed. But the concentric with its endless intersection of
planes is necessary for insight. In fact, it is the technique of insight,
and as such is necessary for media study, since no medium has its i
meaning or existence alone, but only in constant interplay with other
The new electric structuring and configuring of life more and more
encounters the old lineal and fragmentary procedures and tools of
analysis from the mechanical age. More and more we turn from the
content of messages to study total effect. Kenneth Boulding put this
matter in The Image by saying, "The meaning of a message is the
change which i, produces in the image." Concern with effect. rather
than meaning is a basic change of our electric time, for effect
involves the total situation, and not a single level information
movement. Strangely, there is recognition of this

matter of effect rather than information in the British idea of libel:
"The greater the truth, the greater the libel."
The effect of electric technology had at first been anxiety. Now it
appears to create boredom. We have been through the three stages
of alarm, resistance, and exhaustion that occur in every disease or
stress of life, whether individual or collective. At least, our exhausted
slump after the first encounter with the electric has inclined us to
expect new problems. However, backward countries that have
experienced little permeation with our own mechanical and specialist
culture are much better able to confront and to understand electric
technology. Not only have backward and nonindustrial cultures no
specialist habits to overcome in their encounter with
electromagnetism, but they have still much of their traditional oral
culture that has the total, unified "field" character of our new
electromagnetism. Our old industrialized areas, having eroded their
oral traditions automatically, are in the position of having to
rediscover them in order to cope with the electric age.
In terms of the theme of media hot and cold, backward countries are
cool, and we are hot. The "city slicker" is hot, and the rustic is cool.
But in terms of the reversal of procedures and values in the electric
age, the past mechanical time was hot, and we of the TV age are
cool. The waltz was a hot, fast mechanical dance suited to the
industrial time in its moods of pomp and circumstance. In contrast,
the Twist is a cool, involved and chatty form of improvised gesture.
The jazz of the period of the hot new media of movie and radio was
hot jazz. Yet jazz of itself tends to be a casual dialogue form of
dance quite lacking in the repetitive and mechanical forms of the
waltz. Cool jazz came in quite naturally after the first impact of radio
and movie had been absorbed.
In the special Russian issue of Life magazine for September 13.
1963, it is mentioned in Russian restaurants and night clubs,
"though the Charleston is tolerated, the Twist is taboo." All this

is to say that a country in the process of industrialization is inclined
to regard hot jazz as consistent with its developing programs. The
cool and involved form of the Twist, on the other hand, would strike
such a culture at once as retrograde and incompatible with its new
mechanical stress. The Charleston, with its aspect of a mechanical
doll agitated by strings, appears in Russia as an avant-garde form.
We, on the other hand, find the avant-jarde in the cool and the
primitive, with its promise of depth involvement and integral
The "hard" sell and the "hot" line become mere comedy in the TV
age, and the death of all the salesmen at one stroke of the TV axe
has turned the hot American culture into a cool one that is quite
unacquainted with itself. America, in fact, would seem to be living
through the reverse process that Margaret Mead described in Time
magazine (September 4, 1954): "There are too many complaints
about society having to move too fast to keep up with the machine.
There is great advantage in moving fast if you move completely, if
social, educational, and recreational changes keep pace. You must
change the whole pattern at once and the whole group together 梐
nd the people themselves must decide to move."
Margaret Mead is thinking here of change as uniform speedup of
motion or a uniform hotting-up of temperatures in backward
societies. We are certainly coming within conceivable range of a
world automatically controlled to the point where we could say, "Six
hours less radio in Indonesia next week or there will be a great
falling off in literary attention." Or, "We can ! program twenty more
hours of TV in South Africa next week to cool down the tribal
temperature raised by radio last week." Whole cultures could now be
programmed to keep their emotional climate stable in the same way
that we have begun to know something about maintaining
equilibrium in the commercial economies of the world
In the merely personal and private sphere we are often

reminded of how changes of tone and attitude are demanded of
different times and seasons in order to keep situations in hand.
British clubmen, for the sake of companionship and amiability, have
long excluded the hot topics of religion and politics from mention
inside the highly participational club. In the same vein, W. H. Auden
wrote, "... this season the man of goodwill will wear his heart up his
sleeve, not on it. ... the honest manly style is today suited only to
Iago" (Introduction to John Betjeman's Slick But Not Streamlined). In
the Renaissance, as print technology hotted up the social milieu to a
very high point, the gentleman and the courtier (Hamlet 桵 ercutio
style) adopted, in contrast, the casual and cool nonchalance of the
playful and superior being. The Iago allusion of Auden reminds us
that Iago was the alter ego and assistant of the intensely earnest
and very non-nonchalant General Othello. In imitation of the earnest
and forthright general, Iago hotted up his own image and wore his
heart on his sleeve, until General Othello read him loud and clear as
"honest Iago," a man after his own grimly earnest heart.
Throughout The City in History, Lewis Mumford favors die cool or
casually structured towns over the hot and intensely filled-in cities.
The great period of Athens, he feels, was one during which most of
the democratic habits of village life and participation still obtained.
Then burst forth the full variety of human expression and exploration
such as was later impossible in highly developed urban centers, For
the highly developed situation is, by definition, low in opportunities of
participation, and rigorous in its demands of specialist fragmentation
from those who would control it. For example, what is known as "job
enlargement" today in business and in management consists in
allowing the employee more freedom to discover and define his
function. Likewise, in reading a detective story the reader par-
ticipates as co-author simply because so much has been left out of
the narrative. The open-mesh silk stocking is far more

sensuous than the smooth nylon, just because the eye must act as
hand in filling in and completing the image, exactly as in the mosaic
of the TV image.
Douglas Cater in The Fourth Branch of Government tells how the
men of the Washington press bureaus delighted to complete or fill in
the blank of Calvin Coolidge's personality. Because he was so like a
mere cartoon, they felt the urge to complete his image for him and
his public. It is instructive that the press applied the word "cool" to
Cal. In the very sense of a cool medium, Calvin Coolidge was so
lacking in any articulation of data in his public image that there was
only one word for him. He was real cool. In the hot 1920s, the hot
press medium found Cal very cool and rejoiced in his lack of image,
since it compelled the participation of the press in filling in an image
of him for the public. By contrast, F.D.R. was a hot press agent,
himself a rival of the newspaper medium and one who delighted in
scoring off the press on the rival hot medium of radio. Quite in
contrast, Jack Paar ran a cool show for the cool TV medium, and
became a rival for the patrons of the night spots and their allies in
the gossip columns. Jack Paar's war with the gossip columnists was
a weird example of clash between a hot and cold medium such as
had occurred with the "scandal of the rigged TV quiz shows." The
rivalry between the hot press and radio media, on one hand, and TV
on the other, for the hot ad buck, served to confuse and to overheat
the issues in the affair that pointlessly involved Charles van Doren.
An Associated Press story from Santa Monica, California, August 9,
1962, reported how
Nearly loo traffic violators watched a police traffic accident film today
to atone for their violations. Two had to be treated tor nausea and
Viewers were offered a $5.00 reduction in fines if they agreed to see
the movie, Signal 30, made by Ohio State police.

It showed twisted wreckage and mangled bodies and recorded the
screams of accident victims.
Whether the hot film medium using hot content would cool off the hot
drivers is a moot point. But it does concern any understanding of
media. The effect of hot media treatment cannot include much
empathy or participation at any time. In this connection an insurance
ad that featured Dad in an iron lung surrounded by a joyful family
group did more to strike terror into the reader than all the warning
wisdom in the world. It is a question that arises in connection with
capital punishment. Is a severe penalty the best deterrent to serious
crime? With regard to the bomb and the cold war, is the threat of
massive retaliation the most effective means to peace? Is it not
evident in every human situation that is pushed to a point of
saturation that some precipitation occurs? When all the available
resources and energies have been played up in an organism or in
any structure there is some kind of reversal of pattern. The spectacle
of brutality used as deterrent can brutalize. Brutality used in sports
may humanize under some conditions, at least. But with regard to
the bomb and retaliation as deterrent, it is obvious that numbness is
the result of any prolonged terror, a fact that was discovered when
the fallout shelter program was broached. The price of eternal
vigilance is indifference.
Nevertheless, it makes all the difference whether a hot medium is
used in a hot or a cool culture. The hot radio medium used in cool or
nonliterate cultures has a violent effect, quite unlike its effect, say in
England or America, where radio is felt as entertainment. A cool or
low literacy culture cannot accept hot media like movies or radio as
entertainment. They are, at least, as radically upsetting for them as
the cool TV medium has proved to be for our high literacy world.
And as for the cool war and the hot bomb scare, the cultural strategy
that is desperately needed is humor and play. It is play

that cools off the hot situations of actual life by miming them.
Competitive sports between Russia and the West will hardly : serve
that purpose of relaxation. Such sports are inflammatory, it is plain.
And what we consider entertainment or fun in our media inevitably
appears as violent political agitation to a cool ; culture.
One way to spot the basic difference between hot and cold media
uses is to compare and contrast a broadcast of a symphony
performance with a broadcast of a symphony rehearsal. Two of the
finest shows ever released by the CBC were of Glenn Gould's
procedure in recording piano recitals, and Igor Stravinsky's
rehearsing the Toronto symphony in some of his new i work. A cool
medium like TV, when really used, demands this involvement in
process. The neat tight package is suited to hot J media, like radio
and gramophone. Francis Bacon never tired of contrasting hot and
cool prose. Writing in "methods" or complete packages, he
contrasted with writing in aphorisms, or single observations such as
"Revenge is a kind of wild justice." The passive consumer wants
packages, but those, he suggested, who are concerned in pursuing
knowledge and in seeking causes will resort to aphorisms, just
because they are incomplete and require participation in depth.
The principle that distinguishes hot and cold media is perfectly
embodied in the folk wisdom: "Men seldom make passes at girls
who wear glasses." Glasses intensify the outward-going vision, and
fill in the feminine image exceedingly, Marion the Librarian
notwithstanding. Dark glasses, on the other hand, ere- ; ate the
inscrutable and inaccessible image that invites a great deal of
participation and completion.
Again, in a visual and highly literate culture, when we meet a person
for the first time his visual appearance dims out the sound of the
name, so that in self-defense we add- "How do you spell your
name?" Whereas, in an ear culture, the sound of a man’s name the
overwhelming fact, as Joyce knew when he

said in Finneoans Wake, "Who gave you that numb?" For the name
of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers.
Another vantage point from which to test the difference between hot
and cold media is the practical joke. The hot literary medium
excludes the practical and participant aspect of the joke so
completely that Constance Rourke, in her American Humor, con-
siders it as no joke at all. To literary people, the practical joke with its
total physical involvement is as distasteful as the pun that derails us
from the smooth and uniform progress that is typographic order.
Indeed, to the literary person who is quite unaware of the intensely
abstract nature of the typographic medium, it is the grosser and
participant forms of art that seem "hot," and the abstract and
intensely literary form that seems "cool." "You may perceive,
Madam," said Dr. Johnson, with a pugilistic smile, "that I am
well-bred to a degree of needless scrupulosity." And Dr. Johnson
was right in supposing that "well-bred" had come to mean a
white-shirted stress on attire that rivaled the rigor of the printed page.
"Comfort" consists in abandoning a visual arrangement in favor of
one that permits casual participation of the senses, a state that is
excluded when any one sense, but especially the visual sense, is
hotted up to the point of dominant command of a situation.
On the other hand, in experiments in which all outer sensation is
withdrawn, the subject begins a furious fill-in or completion of senses
that is sheer hallucination. So the hotting-up of one sense tends to
effect hypnosis, and the cooling of all senses tends to result in


A headline for June 21, 1963, read:
The Times of London Service, Geneva: The agreement to
establish a direct communication link between Washington and
Moscow for emergencies was signed here yesterday by Charles
Stelle of the United States and Semyon Tsarapkin of the Soviet
The link, known as the hot line, will be opened within sixty days,
according to U.S. officials. It will make use of leased commercial
circuits, one cable and the other wireless, using teleprinter
The decision to use the hot printed medium in place of the cool,
participational, telephone medium is unfortunate in the extreme. No
doubt the decision was prompted by the literary

bias of the West for the printed form, on the ground that it is more
impersonal than the telephone. The printed form has quite different
implications in Moscow from what it has in Washington. So with the
telephone. The Russians' love of this instrument, so congenial to
their oral traditions, is owing to the rich nonvisual involvement it
affords. The Russian uses the telephone for the sort of effects we
associate with the eager conversation of the lapel-gripper whose
face is twelve inches away.
Both telephone and teleprinter as amplifications of the unconscious
cultural bias of Moscow, on one hand, and of Washington, on the
other, are invitations to monstrous misunderstandings. The Russian
bugs rooms and spies by ear, finding this quite natural. He is
outraged by our visual spying, however, finding this quite unnatural.
The principle that during the stages of their development all things
appear under forms opposite to those that they finally present is an
ancient doctrine. Interest in the power of things to reverse
themselves by evolution is evident in a great diversity of
observations, sage and jocular. Alexander Pope wrote
Vice is a monster of such frightful mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
But seen too oft, familiar with its face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

A caterpillar gazing at the butterfly is supposed to have remarked.
"Waal, you'll never catch me in one of those durn things."
At another level we have seen in this century the changeover from
the debunking of traditional myths and legends to their reverent
study. As we begin to react in depth to the social life and problems of
our global village, we become reactionaries. Involvement that goes
with our instant technologies transforms the most "socially
conscious" people into conservatives. When

Sputnik had first gone into orbit a schoolteacher asked her
second-graders to write some verse of the subject. One child wrote:
The stars are so big,
The earth is so small, Stay as you are.

With man his knowledge and the process of obtaining knowledge
are of equal magnitude. Our ability to apprehend galaxies and
subatomic structures, as well, is a movement of faculties that include
and transcend them. The second-grader who wrote the words above
lives in a world much vaster than any which a scientist today has
instruments to measure, or concepts to describe. As W B. Yeats
wrote of this reversal, "The visible world is no longer a reality and the
unseen world is no longer a dream."
Associated with this transformation of the real world into science
fiction is the reversal now proceeding apace, by which the Western
world is going Eastern, even as the East goes Western. Joyce
encoded this reciprocal reverse in his cryptic phrase:
The West shall shake the East awake While ye have the night for
The title of his Finnegans Wake is a set of multi-leveled puns on the
reversal by which Western man enters his tribal, or Finn, cycle once
more, following the track of the old Finn, but wide awake this time as
we re-enter the tribal night. It is like our contemporary
consciousness of the Unconscious.
The stepping-up of speed from the mechanical to the instant electric
form reverses explosion into implosion. In our present electric age
the imploding or contracting energies of our world now clash with the
old expansionist and traditional patterns of

organization. Until recently our institutions and arrangements, social,
political, and economic, had shared a one-way pattern. We still think
of it as "explosive," or expansive; and though it no longer obtains, we
still talk about the population explosion and the explosion in learning.
In fact, it is not the increase of numbers in the world that creates our
concern with population. Rather, it is the fact that everybody in the
world has to live in the utmost proximity created by our electric
involvement in one another's lives. In education, likewise, it is not the
increase in numbers of those seeking to learn that creates the crisis.
Our new concern with education follows upon the changeover to an
interrelation in knowledge, where before the separate subjects of the
curriculum had stood apart from each other. Departmental
sovereignties have melted away as rapidly as national sovereignties
under conditions of electric speed. Obsession with the older patterns
of mechanical, one-way expansion from centers to margins is no
longer relevant to our electric world. Electricity does not centralize,
but decentralizes. It is like the difference between a railway system
and an electric grid system: the one requires rail-heads and big
urban centers. Electric power, equally available in the farmhouse
and the Executive Suite, permits any place to be a center, and does
not require large aggregations. This reverse pattern appeared quite
early in electrical "labor-saving" devices, whether a toaster or
washing machine or vacuum cleaner. Instead of saving work, these
devices permit everybody to do his own work. What the nineteenth
century had delegated to servants and housemaids we now do for
ourselves. This principle applies in toto in the electric age. In politics,
it permits Castro to exist as independent nucleus or center. It would
permit Quebec to leave the Canadian union in a way quite
inconceivable under the regime of the railways. The railways require
a uniform political and economic space. On the other hand, airplane
and radio permit the utmost discontinuity and diversity in spatial

Today the great principle of classical physics and economics and
political science, namely that of the divisibility of each process, has
reversed itself by sheer extension into the unified field theory; and
automation in industry replaces the divisibility of process with the
organic interlacing of all functions in the com-plex. The electric tape
succeeds the assembly line.
In the new electric Age of Information and programmed production,
commodities themselves assume more and more the character of
information, although this trend appears mainly in the increasing
advertising budget. Significantly, it is those com- modities that are
most used in social communication, cigarettes, cosmetics, and soap
(cosmetic removers) that bear much of the burden of the upkeep of
the media in general. As electric information levels rise, almost any
kind of material will serve any kind of need or function, forcing the
intellectual more and more into the role of social command and into
the service of production.
It was Julien Benda's Great Betrayal that helped to clarify the new
situation in which the intellectual suddenly holds the whip hand in
society. Benda saw that the artists and intellectuals who had long
been alienated from power, and who since Voltaire had been in
opposition, had now been drafted for service in the highest echelons
of decision-making. Their great betrayal was that they had
surrendered their autonomy and had become the flunkies of power,
as the atomic physicist at the present moment is the flunky of the
war lords.
Had Benda known his history, he would have been less angry and
less surprised. For it has always been the role of intelligentsia to act
as liaison and as mediators between old and new power groups.
Most familiar of such groups is the case of the Greek slaves, who
were for long the educators and confidential clerks of the Roman
power. And it is precisely this servile role of the confidential clerk to
the tycoon –commerce, military, or political -- that the educator
has continued to play in the Western

world until the present moment. In England "the Angries" were a
group of such clerks who had suddenly emerged from the lower
echelons by the educational escape hatch. As they emerged into the
upper world of power, they found that the air was not at all fresh or
bracing. But they lost their nerve even quicker than Bernard Shaw
lost his. Like Shaw, they quickly settled down to whimsy and to the
cultivation of entertainment values.
In his Study of History, Toynbee notes a great many reversals of
form and dynamic, as when, in the middle of the fourth century A.D.,
the Germans in the Roman service began abruptly to be proud of
their tribal names and to retain them. Such a moment marked new
confidence born of saturation with Roman values, and it was a
moment marked by the complementary Roman swing toward
primitive values. (As Americans saturate with European values,
especially since TV, they begin to insist upon American coach lamps,
hitching posts, and colonial kitchen-ware as cultural objects.) Just as
the barbarians got to the top of the Roman social ladder, the
Romans themselves were disposed to assume the dress and
manners of tribesmen out of the same frivolous and snobbish spirit
that attached the French court of Louis XVI to the world of
shepherds and shepherdesses. It would have seemed a natural
moment for the intellectuals to have taken over while the governing
class was touring Disneyland, as it were. So it must have appeared
to Marx and his followers. But they reckoned without understanding
die dynamics of the new media of communication. Marx based his
analysis most untimely on the machine, just as the telegraph and
other implosive forms began to reverse the mechanical dynamic.
The present chapter is concerned with showing that in any medium
or structure there is what Kenneth Boulding calls a "break boundary
at which the system suddenly changes into another or passes some
point of no return in its dynamic processes." Several such "break
boundaries" will be discussed

later including the one from stasis to motion, and from the
mechanical to the organic in the pictorial world. One effect of the
static photo had been to suppress the conspicuous consumption of
the rich, but the effect of the speed-up of the photo had been to
provide fantasy riches for the poor of the entire globe.
Today the road beyond its break boundary turns cities into highways,
and the highway proper takes on a continuous urban character.
Another characteristic reversal after passing a road break boundary
is that the country ceases to be the center of all work, and the city
ceases to be the center of leisure. In fact, improved roads and
transport have reversed the ancient pattern and made cities the
centers of work and the country the place of leisure and of
Earlier, the increase of traffic that came with money and roads had
ended the static tribal state (as Toynbee calls the nomadic
food-gathering culture). Typical of the reversing that occurs at break
boundaries is the paradox that nomadic mobile man, the hunter and
food-gatherer, is socially static. On the other hand, sedentary,
specialist man is dynamic, explosive, progressive. The new
magnetic or world city will be static and iconic or inclusive. In the
ancient world the intuitive awareness of break boundaries as points
of reversal and of no return was embodied in the Greek idea of
hubris, which Toynbee presents in his Study of History, under the
head of "The Nemesis of Creativity" and "The Reversal of
Roles." The Greek dramatists presented the idea of creativity as
creating, also, its own kind of blindness, as in the case of Oedipus
Rex, who solved the riddle of the Sphinx. It was as if the Greeks felt
that the penalty for one break-through was a general sealing-off of
awareness to the total field. In a Chinese work-The Way and Its
Power (A. Waley translation)--there is a series of instances of the
overheated medium, the overextended man or culture, and the
peripety or reversal that inevitably

He who stands on tiptoe does not stand firm;
He who takes the longest strides does not walk the fastest...
He who boasts of what he will do succeeds in nothing;
He who is proud of his work achieves nothing that endures.
One of the most common causes of breaks in any system is the
cross-fertilization with another system, such as happened to print
with the steam press, or with radio and movies (that yielded the
talkies). Today with microfilm and micro-cards, not to mention
electric memories, the printed word assumes again much of the
handicraft character of a manuscript. But printing from movable type
was, itself, the major break boundary in the history of phonetic
literacy, just as the phonetic alphabet had been the break boundary
between tribal and individualist man.
The endless reversals or break boundaries passed in the interplay of
the structures of bureaucracy and enterprise include the point at
which individuals began to be held responsible and accountable for
their "private actions." That was the moment of the collapse of tribal
collective authority. Centuries later, when further explosion and
expansion had exhausted the powers of private action, corporate
enterprise invented the idea of Public Debt, making the individual
privately accountable for group action.
As the nineteenth century heated up the mechanical and dis-
sociative procedures of technical fragmentation, the entire attention
of men turned to the associative and the corporate. In the first great
age of the substitution of machine for human toil Carlyle and the
Pre-Raphaelites promulgated the doctrine of Work as a mystical
social communion, and millionaires like Ruskin and Morris toiled like
navvies for esthetic reasons. Marx was an impressionable recipient
of these doctrines. Most bizarre of all the reversals in the great
Victorian age of mechanization and high moral tone is the
counter-strategy of Lewis Carroll and

Edward Lear, whose nonsense has proved exceedingly durable.
While the Lord Cardigans were taking their blood baths in the Valley
of Death, Gilbert and Sullivan were announcing that the boundary
break had been passed.


Narcissus as Narcosis
The Greek myth of Narcissus is directly concerned with a fact of
human experience, as the word Narcissus indicates. It is from the
Greek word narcosis, or numbness. The youth Narcissus mistook
his own reflection in the water for another person. This extension of
himself by mirror numbed his perceptions until he became the
servomechanism of his own extended or repeated image. The
nymph Echo tried to win his love with fragments of his own speech,
but in vain. He was numb. He had adapted to his extension of
himself and had become a closed system.
Now the point of this myth is the fact that men at once become
fascinated by any extension of themselves in any material other than
themselves. There have been cynics who insisted that men fall
deepest in love with women who give them back their own image.
Be that as it may, the wisdom of the Narcissus myth does not
convey any idea that Narcissus fell in

love with anything he regarded as himself. Obviously he would have
had very different feelings about the image had he known it was an
extension or repetition of himself. It is, perhaps, indicative of the bias
of our intensely technological and, therefore, narcotic culture that we
have long interpreted the Narcissus story to mean that he fell in love
with himself, that he imagined the reflection to be Narcissus!
Physiologically there are abundant reasons for an extension of
ourselves involving us in a state of numbness. Medical researchers
like Hans Selye and Adolphe Jonas hold that all extensions of
ourselves, in sickness or in health, are attempts to maintain
equilibrium. Any extension of ourselves they regard as
"autoamputation," and they find that the autoamputative power or
strategy is resorted to by the body when the perceptual power
cannot locate or avoid the cause of irritation. Our language has
many expressions that indicate this self-amputation that is imposed
by various pressures. We speak of "wanting to jump out of my skin"
or of "going out of my mind," being "driven batty" or "flipping my lid."
And we often create artificial situations that rival the irritations and
stresses of real life under controlled conditions of sport and play.
While it was no part of the intention of Jonas and Selye to provide an
explanation of human invention and technology, they have given us
a theory of disease (discomfort) that goes far to explain why man is
impelled to extend various parts of his body by a kind of
autoamputation. In the physical stress of superstimulation of various
kinds, the central nervous system acts to protect itself by a strategy
of amputation or isolation of the offending organ, sense, or function.
Thus, the stimulus to new invention is the stress of acceleration of
pace and increase of load. For example, in the case of the wheel as
an extension of the toot, the pressure of new burdens resulting from
the acceleration of exchange by written and monetary media was
the immediate occasion of the extension or "amputation" of this
function from

our bodies. The wheel as a counter-irritant to increased burdens, in
turn, brings about a new intensity of action by its amplification of a
separate or isolated function (the feet in rotation). Such amplification
is bearable by the nervous system only through numbness or
blocking of perception. This is the sense of the Narcissus myth. The
young man's image is a self-amputation or extension induced by
irritating pressures. As counter-irritant, the image produces a
generalized numbness or shock that declines recognition.
Self-amputation forbids self-recognition.
The principle of self-amputation as an immediate relief of strain on
the central nervous system applies very readily to the origin of the
media of communication from speech to computer.
Physiologically, the central nervous system, that electric network
that coordinates the various media of our senses, plays the chief
role. Whatever threatens its function must be contained, localized, or
cut off, even to the total removal of the offending organ. The function
of the body, as a group of sustaining and protective organs for the
central nervous system, is to act as buffers against sudden
variations of stimulus in the physical and social environment.
Sudden social failure or shame is a shock that some may "take to
heart" or that may cause muscular disturbance in general, signaling
for the person to withdraw from the threatening situation.
Therapy, whether physical or social, is a counter-irritant that aids in
that equilibrium of the physical organs which protect the central
nervous system. Whereas pleasure is a counter-irritant (e.g., sports,
entertainment, and alcohol), comfort is the removal of irritants. Both
pleasure and comfort are strategies of equilibrium for the central
nervous system.
With the arrival of electric technology, man extended, or set outside
himself, a live model of the central nervous system itself. To the
degree that this is so, it is a development that suggests a desperate
and suicidal autoamputation, as if the central nervous

system could no longer depend on the physical organs to be
protective buffers against the slings and arrows of outrageous
mechanism. It could well be that the successive mechanizations of
the various physical organs since the invention of printing have
made too violent and superstimulated a social experience for the
central nervous system to endure.
In relation to that only too plausible cause of such development, we
can return to the Narcissus theme. For if Narcissus is numbed by his
self-amputated image, there is a very good reason for the numbness.
There is a close parallel of response between the patterns of
physical and psychic trauma or shock. A person suddenly deprived
of loved ones and a person who drops a few feet unexpectedly will
both register shock. Both the loss of family and a physical fall are
extreme instances of amputations of the self. Shock induces a
generalized numbness or an increased threshold to all types of
perception. The victim seems immune to pain or sense.
Battle shock created by violent noise has been adapted for dental
use in the device known as audiac. The patient puts on headphones
and turns a dial raising the noise level to the point that he feels no
pain from the drill. The selection of a single sense for intense
stimulus, or of a single extended, isolated, or "amputated" sense in
technology, is in part the reason for the numbing effect that
technology as such has on its makers and users. For the central
nervous system rallies a response of general numbness to the
challenge of specialized irritation.
The person who falls suddenly experiences immunity to all pain or
sensory stimuli because the central nervous system has to be
protected from any intense thrust of sensation. Only gradually does
he regain normal sensitivity to sights and sounds, at which time he
may begin to tremble and perspire and to react as he would have
done if the central nervous system had been prepared in advance
for the fall that occurred unexpectedly. Depending on which sense or
faculty is extended

technologically, or "autoamputated," the "closure" or
equilibrium-seeking among the other senses is fairly predictable. It is
with the senses as it is with color. Sensation is always 100 per cent,
and a color is always 100 per cent color. But the ratio among the
components in the sensation or the color can differ infinitely. Yet if
sound, for example, is intensified, touch and taste and sight are
affected at once. The effect of radio on literate or visual man was to
reawaken his tribal memories, and the effect of sound added to
motion pictures was to diminish the role of mime, tactility, and
kinesthesis. Similarly, when nomadic man turned to sedentary and
specialist ways, the senses specialized too. The development of
writing and the visual organization of life made possible the
discovery of individualism, introspection and so on. Any invention or
technology is an extension or self-amputation of our physical bodies,
and such extension also demands new ratios or new equilibriums
among the other organs and extensions of the body. There is, for
example, no way of refusing to comply with the new sense ratios or
sense "closure" evoked by the TV image. But the effect of the entry
of the TV image will vary from culture to culture in accordance with
the existing sense ratios in each culture. In audile-tactile Europe TV
has intensified the visual sense, spurring them toward American
styles of packaging and dressing. In America, the intensely visual
culture, TV has opened the doors of audile-tactile perception to the
non-visual world of spoken languages and food and the plastic arts.
As an extension and expediter of the sense life, any medium at once
affects the entire field of the senses, as the Psalmist explained long
ago in the 113th Psalm:
Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of men's hands.
They have mouths, but they speak not;
Eyes they have, but they see not;
They have ears, but they hear not;

Noses have they, but they smell not;
They have hands, but they handle not;
Feet have they, but they walk not;
Neither speak they through their throat.
They that make them shall be like unto them;
Yea, every one that trusteth in them.

The concept of "idol" for the Hebrew Psalmist is much like that of
Narcissus for the Greek mythmaker. And the Psalmist i insists that
the beholding of idols, or the use of technology, conforms men to
them. "They that make them shall be like unto them." This is a
simple fact of sense "closure." The poet Blake! developed the
Psalmist's ideas into an entire theory of communication and social
change, It is in his long poem of Jerusalem that he explains why
men have become what they have beheld What they have, says
Blake, is "the spectre of the Reasoning Power in Man" that has
become fragmented and "separated from Imagination and enclosing
itself as in steel." Blake, in a word, sees man as fragmented by his
technologies. But he insists that these technologies are
self-amputations of our own organs. When so amputated, each
organ becomes a closed system of great new intensity that hurls
man into "martyrdoms and wars." Moreover, Blake announces as his
theme in Jerusalem the organs of perception:
If Perceptive Organs vary, Objects of Perception seem to vary: If
Perceptive Organs close, their Objects seem to close also.
To behold, use or perceive any extension of ourselves in
tech-nological form is necessarily to embrace it. To listen to radio or
to read the primed page is to accept these extensions of ourselves
into our personal system and to undergo the "closure" or dis-
placement of perception that follows automatically. It is this
continuous embrace of our own technology in daily use that

puts us in the Narcissus role of subliminal awareness and numbness
in relation to these images of ourselves. By continuously embracing
technologies, we relate ourselves to them as servo-mechanisms.
That is why we must, to use them at all, serve these objects, these
extensions of ourselves, as gods or minor religions. An Indian is the
servo-mechanism of his canoe, as the cowboy of his horse or the
executive of his clock.
Physiologically, man in the normal use of technology (or his
variously extended body) is perpetually modified by it and in turn
finds ever new ways of modifying his technology. Man becomes, as
it were, the sex organs of the machine world, as the bee of the plant
world, enabling it to fecundate and to evolve ever new forms. The
machine world reciprocates man's love by expediting his wishes and
desires, namely, in providing him with wealth. One of the merits of
motivation research has been the revelation of man's sex relation to
the motorcar.
Socially, it is the accumulation of group pressures and irritations that
prompt invention and innovation as counter-irritants. War and the
fear of war have always been considered the main incentives to
technological extension of our bodies. Indeed, Lewis Mumford, in his
The City in History, considers the walled city itself an extension of
our skins, as much as housing and clothing. More even than the
preparation for war, the aftermath of invasion is a rich technological
period; because the subject culture has to adjust all its sense ratios
to accommodate the impact of the invading culture. It is from such
intensive hybrid exchange and strife of ideas and forms that the
greatest social energies are released, and from which arise the
greatest technologies. Buckminster Fuller estimates that since 1910
the governments of the world have spent 31/2 trillion dollars on
airplanes. That is 62 times the existing gold supply of the world.
The principle of numbness comes into play with electric technology,
as with any other. We have to numb our central nervous system
when it is extended and exposed, or we will die.

Thus the age of anxiety and of electric media is also the age of the
unconscious and of apathy. But it is strikingly the age of
consciousness of the unconscious, in addition. With our central
nervous system strategically numbed, the tasks of conscious
awareness and order are transferred to the physical life of man, so
that for the first time he has become aware of technology as an
extension of his physical body. Apparently this could not have
happened before the electric age gave us the means of instant, total
field-awareness. With such awareness, the subliminal life, private
and social, has been hoicked up into full view, with the result that we
have "social consciousness" presented to us as a cause of
guilt-feelings. Existentialism offers a philosophy of structures, rather
than categories, and of total social involvement instead of the
bourgeois spirit of individual separateness or points of view. In the
electric age we wear all mankind as our skin.


Les Liaisons Dangereuses
"For most of our lifetime civil war has been raging in the world of art
and entertainment. . . . Moving pictures, gramophone records, radio,
talking pictures. ..." This is the view of Donald McWhinnie, analyst of
the radio medium. Most of this civil war affects us in the depths of
our psychic lives, as well, since the war is conducted by forces that
are extensions and amplifications of our own beings. Indeed, the
interplay among media is only another name for this civil war" that
rages in our society and our psyches alike. "To the blind all things
are sudden," it has been said. The crossings or hybridizations of the
media release great new force and energy as by fission or fusion.
There need be no blindness in these matters once we have been
notified that there is anything to observe.
It has now been explained that media, or the extensions of man, are
"make happen" agents, but not "make aware" agents.

The hybridizing or compounding of these agents offers an especially
favorable opportunity to notice their structural components and
properties. "As the silent film cried out for sound so does the sound
film cry out for color," wrote Sergei Eisenstein in his Notes of a Film
Director. This type of observation can be extended systematically to
all media: "As the printing press cried out for nationalism, so did the
radio cry out for tribalism" These media, being extensions of
ourselves, also depend upon us for their interplay and their evolution.
The fact that they do interact and spawn new progeny has been a
source of wonder over the ages. It need baffle us no longer if we
trouble to scrutinize their action. We can, if we choose, think things
out before we put them out.
Plato, in all his striving to imagine an ideal training school, failed to
notice that Athens was a greater school than any university even he
could dream up. In other words, the greatest school had been put
out for human use before it has been thought out. Now, this is
especially true of our media. They are put out long before they are
thought out. In fact, their being put outside us tends to cancel the
possibility of their being thought of at all.
Everybody notices how coal and steel and cars affect the
arrangements of daily existence. In our time, study has finally turned
to the medium of language itself as shaping the arrangements of
daily life, so that society begins to look like a linguistic echo or repeat
of language norms, a fact that has disturbed the Russian Communist
party very deeply. Wedded as they are to nineteenth-century
industrial technology as the basis of class liberation, nothing could
be more subversive of the Marxian dialectic than the idea that
linguistic media shape social development, as much as do the
means of production.
In fact, of all the great hybrid unions that breed furious release of
energy and change, there is none to surpass the meeting of literate
and oral cultures. The giving to man of an eye for an ear

by phonetic literacy is, socially and politically, probably the most
radical explosion mat can occur in any social structure. This
explosion of the eye, frequently repeated in "backward areas," we
call Westernization. With literacy now about to hybridize the cultures
of the Chinese, the Indians, and the Africans, we are about to
experience such a release of human power and aggressive violence
as makes the previous history of phonetic alphabet technology seem
quite tame.
That is only the East side story, for the electric implosion now brings
oral and tribal ear-culture to the literate West. Not only does the
visual, specialist, and fragmented Westerner have now to live in
closest daily association with all the ancient oral cultures of the earth,
but his own electric technology now begins to translate the visual or
eye man back into the tribal and oral pattern with its seamless web
of kinship and interdependence.
We know from our own past the kind of energy that is released, as
by fission, when literacy explodes the tribal or family unit. What do
we know about the social and psychic energies that develop by
electric fusion or implosion when literate individuals are suddenly
gripped by an electromagnetic field, such as occurs in the new
Common Market pressure in Europe? Make no mistake, the fusion
of people who have known individualism and nationalism is not the
same process as the fission of "backward" and oral cultures that are
just coming to individualism and nationalism. It is the difference
between the "A" bomb and the "H" bomb. The latter is more violent,
by far. Moreover, the products of electric fusion are immensely
complex, while the products of fission are simple. Literacy creates
very much simpler kinds of people than those that develop in the
complex web of ordinary tribal and oral societies. For the fragmented
man creates the homogenized Western world, while oral societies
are made up of people differentiated, not by their specialist skills or
visible marks, but by their unique emotional mixes. The oral man's
inner world is a tangle of complex emotions and feelings

that the Western practical man has long ago eroded or sup-pressed
within himself in the interest of efficiency and practicality.
The immediate prospect for literate, fragmented Western man
encountering the electric implosion within his own culture is his
steady and rapid transformation into a complex and depth-structured
person emotionally aware of his total interdependence with the rest
of human society. Representatives of the older Western
individualism are even now assuming the appearance, for good or ill,
of Al Capp's General Bull Moose or of the John Birchers, tribally
dedicated to opposing the tribal. Fragmented, literate, and visual
individualism is not possible in an electrically patterned and
imploded society. So what is to be done? Do we dare to confront
such facts at the conscious level, or is it best to becloud and repress
such matters until some violence releases us from the entire burden?
For the fate of implosion and interdependence is more terrible for
Western man than the fate of explosion and independence for tribal
man. It may be merely temperament in my own case, but I find some
easing of the burden in just understanding and clarifying the issues.
On the other hand, since consciousness and awareness seem to be
a human privilege, may it not be desirable to extend this condition to
our hidden conflicts, both private and social?
The present book, in seeking to understand many media, the
conflicts from which they spring, and the even greater conflicts to
which they give rise, holds out the promise of reducing these
conflicts by an increase of human autonomy. Let us now note a few
of the effects of media hybrids, or of the interpenetration of one
medium by another.
Life at the Pentagon has been greatly complicated by jet travel, or
example. Every few minutes an assembly gong rings to summon
many specialists from their desks to hear a personal report from an
expert from some remote part of the world Meantime, the undone
paper work mounts on each desk. And

each department daily dispatches personnel by jet to remote areas
for more data and reports. Such is the speed of this process of the
meeting of the jet plane, the oral report, and the typewriter that those
going forth to the ends of the earth often arrive unable to spell the
name of the spot to which they have been sent as experts. Lewis
Carroll pointed out that as large-scale maps got more and more
detailed and extensive, they would tend to blanket agriculture and
rouse the protest of farmers. So why not use the actual earth as a
map of itself? We have reached a similar point of data gathering
when each stick of chewing gum we reach for is acutely noted by
some computer that translates our least gesture into a new
probability curve or some parameter of social science. Our private
and corporate lives have become information processes just
because we have put our central nervous systems outside us in
electric technology. That is the key to Professor Boorstin's
bewilderment in The Image, or What Happened to the American
The electric light ended the regime of night and day, of indoors and
out-of-doors. But it is when the light encounters already existing
patterns of human organization mat the hybrid energy is released.
Cars can travel all night, ball players can play all night, and windows
can be left out of buildings. In a word, the message of the electric
light is total change. It is pure information without any content to
restrict its transforming and informing power.
If the student of media will but meditate on the power of this medium
of electric light to transform every structure of time and space and
work and society that it penetrates or contacts, he will have the key
to the form of the power that is in all media to reshape any lives that
they touch. Except for light, all other media come in pairs, with one
acting as the "content" of the other, obscuring the operation of both.
It is a peculiar bias of those who operate media for the owners that
they be concerned about the program content of radio, or

press, or film. The owners themselves are concerned more about
the media as such, and are not inclined to go beyond "what the
public wants" or some vague formula. Owners are aware of the
media as power, and they know that this power has little to do with
"content" or the media within the media.
When the press opened up the "human interest" keyboard after the
telegraph had restructured the press medium, the newspaper killed
the theater, just as TV hit the movies and the night dubs very hard.
George Bernard Shaw had the wit and imagination to fight back. He
put the press into the theater,! taking over the controversies and the
human interest world of the press for the stage, as Dickens had
done for the novel. The movie took over the novel and the
newspaper and the stage, all at once. Then TV pervaded the movie
and gave the theater-in-the-round back to the public.
What I am saying is that media as extensions of our senses institute
new ratios, not only among our private senses, but among
themselves, when they interact among themselves. Radio changed
the form of the news story as much as it altered the film image in the
talkies. TV caused drastic changes in radio programming, and in the
form of the thing or documentary novel. It is the poets and painters
who react instantly to a new medium like radio or TV. Radio and
gramophone and tape recorder gave us back the poet's voice as an
important dimension of the poetic experience. Words became a kind
of painting with light, again. But TV, with its deep-participation mode,
caused young poets suddenly to present their poems in cafes, in
public parks, anywhere. After TV, they suddenly felt the need for
personal contact with their public. (In print-oriented Toronto,
poetry-reading in the public parks is a public offense. Religion Pities
are permitted, but not poetry as many young poets recently
John O'Hara, the novelist, wrote in The New York Times Boot
Review of November 27, 1955.

You get a great satisfaction from a book. You know your reader is
captive inside those covers, but as novelist you have to imagine the
satisfaction he's getting. Now, in the theaterٛ well, I used to drop in
during both productions of Pal Joey and watch, not imagine, the
people enjoy it. I'd willingly start my next novel-- about a small
town--right now, but I need the diversion of a play.
In our age artists are able to mix their media diet as easily as their
book diet. A poet like Yeats made the fullest use of oral peasant
culture in creating his literary effects. Quite early, Eliot made a great
impact by the careful use of jazz and film form. The Love Song of J.
Alfred Prufrock gets much of its power from an inter-penetration of
film form and jazz idiom. But this mix reached its greatest power in
The Waste Land and Sweeney Agonistes. Prufrock uses not only
film form but the film theme of Charlie Chaplin, as did James Joyce
in Ulysses. Joyce's Bloom is a deliberate takeover from Chaplin
("Chorney Choplain," as he called him in Finnegans Wake). And
Chaplin, just as Chopin had adapted the pianoforte to the style of the
ballet, hit upon the wondrous media mix of ballet and film in
developing his Pavlova-like alternation of ecstasy and waddle. He
adopted the classical steps of ballet to a movie mime that converged
exactly the right blend of the lyric and the ironic that is found also in
Prufrock and Ulysses. Artists in various fields are always the first to
discover how to enable one medium to use or to release the power
of another. In a simpler form, it is the technique employed by
Charles Boyer in his kind of French-English blend of urbane, throaty
The printed book had encouraged artists to reduce all forms of
expression as much as possible to the single descriptive and
narrative plane of the printed word. The advent of electric media
released art from this straitjacket at once, creating the world of Paul
Klee, Picasso, Braque, Eisenstein, the Marx Brothers, and James

A headline in The New York Times Rook Review (September 16.
1962) trills: There's Nothing Like a Best Seller to Set Hollywood
Of course, nowadays, movie stars can only be lured from the
beaches or science-fiction or some self-improvement course by the
cultural lure of a role in a famous book. That is the way that the
interplay of media now affects many in the movie colony. They have
no more understanding of their media problems than does Madison
Avenue. But from the point of view of the owners of the film and
related media, the best seller is a form of insurance that some
massive new gestalt or pattern has been isolated in the public
psyche. It is an oil strike or a gold mine that can be depended on to
yield a fair amount of boodle to the careful and canny processer.
Hollywood bankers, that is, are smarter than literary historians, for
the latter despise popular taste except when it has been filtered
down from lecture course to literary handbook.
Lillian Ross in Picture wrote a snide account of the filming of The
Red Bodge of Courage. She got a good deal of easy kudos for a
foolish book about a great film by simply assuming the superiority of
the literary medium to the film medium. Her book got much attention
as a hybrid.
Agatha Christie wrote far above her usual good level in a group of
twelve short stories about Hercule Poirot, called The Labours of
Hercules. By adjusting the classical themes to make reasonable
modern parallels, she was able to lift the detective form to
extraordinary intensity.
Such was, also, the method of James Joyce in Dubliners and
Ulysses, when the precise classical parallels created the true hybrid
energy. Baudelaire, said Mr. Eliot, "taught us how to raise the
imagery of common life to first intensity." It is done, not by any direct
heave-ho of poetic strength, but by a simple adjustment of situations
from one culture in hybrid form with those of mother. It is precisely in
this way that during wars and

migrations new cultural mix is the norm of ordinary daily life.
Operations Research programs the hybrid principle as a technique
of creative discovery.
When the movie scenario or picture story was applied to the idea
article, the magazine world had discovered a hybrid that ended the
supremacy of the short story. When wheels were put in tandem form,
the wheel principle combined with the lineal typographic principle to
create aerodynamic balance. The wheel crossed with industrial,
lineal form released the new form of the airplane.
The hybrid or the meeting of two media is a moment of truth and
revelation from which new form is born. For the parallel between two
media holds us on the frontiers between forms that snap us out of
the Narcissus-narcosis. The moment of the meeting of media is a
moment of freedom and release from the ordinary trance and
numbness imposed by them on our senses.


The tendency of neurotic children to lose neurotic traits when
telephoning has been a puzzle to psychiatrists. Some stutterers lose
their stutter when they switch to a foreign language. That
technologies are ways of translating one kind of knowledge into
another mode has been expressed by Lyman Bryson in the phrase
"technology is explicitness." Translation is thus a 'spelling-out"
of forms of knowing. What we call "mechanization ' is a translation of
nature, and of our own natures, into amplified and specialized forms.
Thus the quip in Finnegans Wake, “What bird has done yesterday
man may do next year," is a strictly literal observation of the courses
of technology. The Power of technology as dependent on alternately
grasping and letting go in order to enlarge the scope of action has
been observed as the power of the higher arboreal apes as
compared with those that are on the ground. Elias Canetti made the
proper association of this power of the higher apes to grasp and let
go, with the strategy of the stock market speculators. It is all
capsulated in the popular variant on Robert Browning: "A man's

must exceed his grasp or what's a metaphor." All media are active
metaphors in their power to translate experience into new forms.
The spoken word was the first technology by which man was able to
let go of his environment in order to grasp it in a new way. Words are
a kind of information retrieval that can range over the total
environment and experience at high speed. Words are complex
systems of metaphors and symbols that translate experience into
our uttered or outered senses. They are a technology of explicitness.
By means of translation of immediate sense experience into vocal
symbols the entire world can be evoked and retrieved at any instant.
In this electric age we see ourselves being translated more and
more into the form of information, moving toward the technological
extension of consciousness. That is what is meant when we say that
we daily know more and more about man. We mean that we can
translate more and more of ourselves into other forms of expression
that exceed ourselves. Man is a form of expression who is
traditionally expected to repeat himself and to echo the praise of his
Creator. "Prayer," said George Herbert, "is reversed thunder." Man
has the power to reverberate the Divine thunder, by verbal
By putting our physical bodies inside our extended nervous systems,
by means of electric media, we set up a dynamic by which all
previous technologies that are mere extensions of hands and feet
and teeth and bodily heat-controls--all such extensions of our bodies,
including cities--will be translated into information systems.
Electromagnetic technology requires utter human docility and
quiescence of meditation such as befits an organism that now wears
its brain outside its skull and its nerves outside its hide. Man must
serve his electric technology with the same servo-mechanistic
fidelity with which he served his coracle, his canoe, his typography,
and all other extensions of his physical organs. But there is this
difference, that previous technologies were partial and fragmentary,
and the electric is

total and inclusive. An external consensus or conscience is now as
necessary as private consciousness. With the new media, however,
it is also possible to store and to translate everything; and, as for
speed, that is no problem. No further acceleration is possible this
side of the light barrier.
Just as when information levels rise in physics and chemistry, it is
possible to use anything for fuel or fabric or building material, so with
electric technology all solid goods can be summoned to appear as
solid commodities by means of information circuits set up in the
organic patterns that we call "automation" and information retrieval.
Under electric technology the entire business of man becomes
learning and knowing. In terms of what we still consider an
"economy" (the Greek word for a household), this means that all
forms of employment become "paid learning," and all forms of
wealth result from the movement of information. The problem of
discovering occupations or employment may prove as difficult as
wealth is easy.
The long revolution by which men have sought to translate nature
into art we have long referred to as "applied knowledge." "Applied"
means translated or carried across from one kind of material form
into another. For those who care to consider this amazing process of
applied knowledge in Western civilization, Shakespeare's As You
Like It provides a good deal to think about. His forest of Arden is just
such a golden world of translated benefits and joblessness as we
are now entering via the gate of electric automation.
It is no more than one would expect that Shakespeare should nave
understood the Forest of Arden as an advance model of the age of
automation when all things are translatable into anything else that is
And this our life, exempt from public haunt
Find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,

Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.
I would not change it.
Happy is your Grace,
That can translate the stubbornness of fortune
Into so quiet and so sweet a style.
(As You Like It, II, i. 15-21)

Shakespeare speaks of a world into which, by programming, as it
were one can play back the materials of the natural world in a variety
of levels and intensities of style. We are close to doing just this on a
massive scale at the present time electronically. Here is the image of
the golden age as one of complete metamorphoses or translations
of nature into human art, that stands ready of access to our electric
age. The poet Stephane Mallarme thought "the world exists to end in
a book." We are now in a position to go beyond that and to transfer
the entire show to the memory of a computer. For man, as Julian
Huxley observes, unlike merely biological creatures, possesses an
apparatus of transmission and transformation based on his power to
store experience. And his power to store, as in a language itself, is
also a means of transformation of experience:
"Those pearls that were his eyes."

Our dilemma may become like that of the listener who phoned the
radio station: "Are you the station that gives twice as much weather?
Well, turn it off. I'm drowning." Or we might return to the state of
tribal man, for whom magic rituals are his means of "applied
knowledge." Instead of translating nature into art, the native
nonliterate attempts to invest nature with spiritual energy.
Perhaps there is a key to some of these problems in the Freudian
idea that when we fail to translate some natural event

or experience into conscious art we "repress" it. It i ^ mechanism
that also serves to numb us in the presence of those extensions of
ourselves that are the media studied in this book. For just as a
metaphor transforms and transmits experience, so do the media.
When we say, "I'll take a rain-check on that," We translate a social
invitation into a sporting event, stepping up the conventional regret
to an image of spontaneous disappointment: "Your invitation is not
just one of those casual gestures that 1 must brush off. It makes me
feel all the frustration of an interrupted ball game that I can't get with
it." As in all metaphors, there are complex ratios among four parts:
"Your invitation is to ordinary invitations as ball games are to
conventional social life. It is in this way that by seeing one set of
relations through another set that we store and amplify experience in
such forms as money. For money is also a metaphor. And all media
as extensions of ourselves serve to provide new transforming vision
and awareness. "It is an excellent invention," Bacon says, "that Pan
or the world is said to make choice of Echo only (above all other
speeches or voices) for his wife, for that alone is true philosophy
which doth faithfully render the very words of the world ..."
Today Mark II stands by to render the masterpieces of literature from
any language into any other language, giving as follows, the words
of a Russian critic of Tolstoy about "War and World (peace…But
nonetheless culture not stands) costs on
place. Something translate. Something print." (Boorstin, 141)
Our very word "grasp" or "apprehension" points to the process of
getting at one thing through another, of handling and sensing many
facets at a time through more than one sense at a time. It begins to
be evident that "touch" is not skin but the interplay of the senses,
and the “keep in touch” and “getting in touch” is a matter of fruitful
meeting of senses, of sight translated into sound and sound into
movement, and taste and smell. The “common sense” was for many
centuries held to be the peculiar human power of translating one
kind of experience

of one sense into all the senses, and presenting the result
nntinuously as a unified image to the mind. In fact, this image of a
unified ratio among the senses was long held to be the mark four
rationality, and may in the computer age easily become so again For
it is now possible to program ratios among the senses that approach
the condition of consciousness. Yet such a condition would
necessarily be an extension of our own consciousness as much as
wheel is an extension of feet in rotation. Having extended or
translated our central nervous system into the electromagnetic
technology, it is but a further stage to transfer our consciousness to
the computer world as well. Then, at least, we shall be able to
program consciousness in such wise that it cannot be numbed nor
distracted by the Narcissus illusions of the entertainment world that
beset mankind when he encounters himself extended in his own
If the work of the city is the remaking or translating of man into a
more suitable form than his nomadic ancestors achieved, then might
not our current translation of our entire lives into die spiritual form of
information seem to make of the entire globe, and of the human
family, a single consciousness?


The Nemesis of Creativity
It was Bertrand Russell who declared that the great discovery of the
twentieth century was the technique of the suspended judgment. A.
N. Whitehead, on the other hand, explained how the great discovery
of the nineteenth century was the discovery of the technique of
discovery. Namely, the technique of starting with the thing to be
discovered and working back, step by step, as on an assembly line,
to the point at which it is necessary to start in order to reach the
desired object. In the arts this meant starting with the effect and then
inventing a poem, painting, or building that would have just that
effect and no other.
But the "technique of the suspended judgment" goes further. It
anticipates the effect of, say, an unhappy childhood on an adult, and
offsets the effect before it happens. In psychiatry, it is the technique
of total permissiveness extended as an anesthetic

for the mind, while various adhesions and moral effects of false
judgments are systematically eliminated.
This is a very different thing from the numbing or narcotic effect of
new technology that lulls attention while the new form slams the
gates of judgment and perception. For massive social surgery is
needed to insert new technology into the group mind, and this is
achieved by the built-in numbing apparatus discussed earlier Now
the "technique of the suspended judgment" presents the possibility
of rejecting the narcotic and of postponing indefinitely the operation
of inserting the new technology in the social psyche. A new stasis is
in prospect.
Werner Heisenberg, in The Physicist's Conception of Nature, is an
example of the new quantum physicist whose over-all awareness of
forms suggests to him that we would do well to stand aside from
most of them. He points out that technical change alters not only
habits of life, but patterns of thought and valuation, citing with
approval the outlook of the Chinese sage:
AsTzu-Gung was traveling through the regions north of the river
Han, he saw an old man working in his vegetable garden. He
had dug an irrigation ditch. The man would descend into a well,
fetch up a vessel of water in his arms and pour it out into the
ditch. While his efforts were tremendous the results appeared to
be very meager.
Tzu-Gung said, "There is a way whereby you can irrigate a
hundred ditches in one day, and whereby you can do much with
little effort. Would you not like to hear of it?"
Then the gardener stood up, looked at him and said, "And what
would that be?"
Tsu-Gung replied, "You take a wooden lever, weighted at the
back and light in front. In this way you can bring up water so
quickly that it just gushes out. This is called a draw-well."
Then anger rose up in the old man's face, and he said, "I have
heard my teacher say that whoever uses machines does all

his work like a machine. He who does his work like a machine
grows a heart like a machine, and he who carries the heart of a
machine in his breast loses his simplicity. He who has lost his
simplicity becomes unsure in the strivings of his soul.
Uncertainty in the strivings of the soul is something which does
not agree with honest sense. It is not that I do not know of such
things; I am ashamed to use them."

Perhaps the most interesting point about this anecdote is that it
appeals to a modern physicist. It would not have appealed to
Newton or to Adam Smith, for they were great experts and advo-
cates of the fragmentary and the specialist approaches. It is by
means quite in accord with the outlook of the Chinese sage that
Hans Selye works at his "stress" idea of illness. In the 1920s he had
been baffled at why physicians always seemed to concentrate on
the recognition of individual diseases and specific remedies for such
isolated causes, while never paying any attention to the "syndrome
of just being sick." Those who are concerned with the program
"content" of media and not with the medium proper, appear to be in
the position of physicians who ignore the "syndrome of just being
sick." Hans Selye, in tackling a total, inclusive approach to the field
of sickness, began what Adolphe Jonas has continued in Irritation
and Counter-Irritation; namely, a quest for the response to injury as
such, or to novel impact of any kind. Today we have anesthetics that
enable us to perform the most frightful physical operations on one
The new media and technologies by which we amplify and extend
ourselves constitute huge collective surgery carried out on the social
body with complete disregard for antiseptics. If the operations are
needed, the inevitability of infecting the whole system during the
operation has to be considered. For in operating on society with a
new technology, it is not the incised area that is most affected. The
area of impact and incision is numb. It is the entire system that is
changed. The effect of radio is visual.

fleet of the photo is auditory. Each new impact shifts the ratios
among all the senses. What we seek today is either a means of
controlling these shifts in the sense-ratios of the psychic and social
outlook, or a means of avoiding them altogether. To have a
disease without its symptoms is to be immune. No society has ever
known enough about its actions to have developed immunity to its
new extensions or technologies. Today we have begunto sense that
art may be able to provide such immunity.
In the history of human culture there is no example of a conscious
adjustment of the various factors of personal and social life to new
extensions except in the puny and peripheral efforts of artists. The
artist picks up the message of cultural and technological challenge
decades before its transforming impact occurs. He, then, builds
models or Noah's arks for facing the change that is at hand. "The
war of 1870 need never have been fought had people read my
Sentimental Education," said Gustave Flaubert.
It is this aspect of new art that Kenneth Galbraith recommends to the
careful study of businessmen who want to stay in business. For in
the electric age there is no longer any sense in talking about the
artist's being ahead of his time. Our technology is, also, ahead of its
time, if we reckon by the ability to recognize it for what it is. To
prevent undue wreckage in society, the artist tends now to move
from the ivory tower to the control tower of society. Just as higher
education is no longer a frill or luxury but a stark need of production
and operational design in the electric age, so the artist is
indispensable in the shaping and analysis and understanding of the
life of forms, and structures created by electric technology.
The percussed victims of the new technology have invariably
muttered cliches about the impracticality of artists and their fanciful
preferences. But in the past century it has come generally
acknowledged that, in the words of Wyndham Lewis. "The artist is
always engaged in writing a detailed history of the future

because he is the only person aware of the nature of the present."
Knowledge of this simple fact is now needed for human survival. The
ability of the artist to sidestep the bully blow of new technology of
any age, and to parry such violence with full awareness, is age-old.
Equally age-old is the inability of the percussed victims, who cannot
sidestep the new violence, to recognize their need of the artist. To
reward and to make celebrities of artists can, also, be a way of
ignoring their prophetic work, and preventing its timely use for
survival. The artist is the man in any field, scientific or humanistic,
who grasps the implications of his actions and of new knowledge in
his own time. He is the man of integral awareness.
The artist can correct the sense ratios before the blow of new
technology has numbed conscious procedures. He can correct diem
before numbness and subliminal groping and reaction begin. If this
is true, how is it possible to present the matter to those who are in a
position to do something about it? If there were even a remote
likelihood of this analysis being true, it would warrant a global
armistice and period of stock-taking. If it is true that the artist
possesses the means of anticipating and avoiding the
consequences of technological trauma, then what are we to think of
the world and bureaucracy of "art appreciation"? Would it not seem
suddenly to be a conspiracy to make die artist a frill, a fribble, or a
MUltown? If men were able to be convinced that art is precise
advance knowledge of how to cope with the psychic and social
consequences of the next technology, would they all become artists?
Or would they begin a careful translation of new art forms into social
navigation charts? 1 am curious to know what would happen if art
were suddenly seen for what it is, namely, exact information of how
to rearrange one's psyche in order to anticipate the next blow from
our own extended faculties. Would we, then, cease to look at works
of art as an explorer might regard the gold and gems used as the
ornaments of simple nonliterates?

At any rate, in experimental art, men are given the exact
specifications of 'coming violence to their own psyches from their
own counter-irritants or technology. For those parts of ourselves that
we thrust out in the form of new invention are attempts to counter or
neutralize collective pressures and irritations. But the counter-irritant
usually proves a greater plague than the initial irritant, like a drug
habit. And it is here that the artist can show us how to "ride with the
punch," instead of "taking it on the chin " It can only be repeated that
human history is a record of "taking it on the chin."
Emile Durkheim long ago expressed the idea that the specialized
task always escaped the action of the social conscience. In this
regard, it would appear that the artist is the social conscience and is
treated accordingly! "We have no art," say the Balinese; "we do
everything as well as possible."
The modern metropolis is now sprawling helplessly after the impact
of the motorcar. As a response to the challenge of railway speeds
die suburb and the garden city arrived too late, or just in time to
become a motorcar disaster. For an arrangement of functions
adjusted to one set of intensities becomes unbearable at another
intensity. And a technological extension of our bodies designed to
alleviate physical stress can bring on psychic stress that may be
much worse. Western specialist technology transferred to the Arab
world in late Roman times released a furious discharge of tribal
The somewhat devious means of diagnosis that have to be used to
pin down the actual form and impact of a new medium are not unlike
those indicated in detective fiction by Peter Cheyney.
In You Cant's Keep the Change (Collins, London, 1956) he wrote:
A case to Callaghan was merely a collection of people, some of
whom -- all of whom -- were giving incorrect information, or
telling lies, because circumstances either forced them or led
them into the process.

But the fact that they had to tell lies; had to give false
impres-sions, necessitated a reorientation of their own
viewpoints and their own lives. Sooner or later they became
exhausted or careless. Then, and not until then, was an
investigator able to put his finger on the one fact that would lead
him to a possible logical solution.

It is interesting to note that success in keeping up a respectable front
of customary kind can only be done by a frantic scramble back of the
facade. After the crime, after the blow has fallen, the facade of
custom can only be held up by swift rearrangement of the props. So
it is in our social lives when a new technology strikes, or in our
private life when some intense and, therefore, indigestible
experience occurs, and the censor acts at once to numb us from the
blow and to ready the faculties to assimilate the intruder. Peter
Cheyney's observations of a mode of detective fiction is another
instance of a popular form of entertainment functioning as mimic
model of the real thing.
Perhaps the most obvious "closure" or psychic consequence of any
new technology is just the demand for it. Nobody wants a motorcar
till there are motorcars, and nobody is interested in TV until there are
TV programs. This power of technology to create its own world of
demand is not independent of technology being first an extension of
our own bodies and senses. When we are deprived of our sense of
sight, the other senses take up the role of sight in some degree. But
the need to use the senses that are available is as insistent as
breathing--a fact that makes sense of the urge to keep radio and TV
going more or less continuously. The urge to continuous use is quite
independent of the content" of public programs or of the private
sense life, being testimony to the fact that technology is part of our
bodies. Electric technology is directly related to our central nervous
systems, so it is ridiculous to talk of "what the public wants" played
over its own nerves. This question would be like asking people what

sort of sights and sounds they would prefer around them in an urban
metropolis! Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous
systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit
from taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don't really
have any rights left. Leasing our eyes and ears and nerves to
commercial interests is like handing over the common speech to a
private corporation, or like giving the earth's atmosphere to a
company as a monopoly. Something like this has already happened
with outer space, for the same reasons that we have leased our
central nervous systems to various corporations. As long as we
adopt the Narcissus attitude of regarding the extensions of our own
bodies as really out there and really independent of us, we will meet
all technological challenges with the same sort of banana-skin
pirouette and collapse.
Archimedes once said, "Give me a place to stand and I will move the
world." Today he would have pointed to our electric media and said,
"I will stand on your eyes, your ears, your nerves, and your brain,
and the world will move in any tempo or pattern I choose." We have
leased these "places to stand" to private corporations.
Arnold Toynbee has devoted much of his A Study of History to
analyzing the kinds of challenge faced by a variety of cultures during
many centuries. Highly relevant to Western man is Toynbee's
explanation of how the lame and the crippled respond to their
handicaps in a society of active warriors. They become specialists
like Vulcan, the smith and armorer. And how do whole communities
act when conquered and enslaved? The same strategy serves them
as it does the lame individual in a society of warriors. They
specialize and become indispensable to their masters. It is probably
the long human history of enslavement, and the collapse into
specialism as a counter-irritant, that have put the stigma of servitude
and pusillanimity on the figure
of the specialist, even in modern times. The capitulation of Western
man to his technology, with its crescendo of specialized

demands, has always appeared to many observers of our world as a
kind of enslavement. But the resulting fragmentation has been
voluntary and enthusiastic, unlike the conscious strategy of
specialism on the part of the captives of military conquest.
It is plain that fragmentation or specialism as a technique of
achieving security under tyranny and oppression of any kind has an
attendant danger. Perfect adaptation to any environment is achieved
by a total channeling of energies and vital force that amounts to a
kind of static terminus for a creature. Even slight changes in the
environment of the very well adjusted find them without any resource
to meet new challenge. Such is the plight of the representatives of
"conventional wisdom" in any society. Their entire stake of security
and status is in a single form of acquired knowledge, so that
innovation is for them not novelty but annihilation.
A related form of challenge that has always faced cultures is the
simple fact of a frontier or a wall, on the other side of which exists
another kind of society. Mere existence side by side of any two
forms of organization generates a great deal of tension. Such,
indeed, has been the principle of symbolist artistic structures in the
past century. Toynbee observes that the challenge of a civilization
set side by side with a tribal society has over and over demonstrated
that the simpler society finds its integral economy and institutions
"disintegrated by a rain of psychic energy generated by the
civilization" of the more complex culture. When two societies exist
side by side, the psychic challenge of the more complex one acts as
an explosive release of energy in the simpler one. For prolific
evidence of this kind of problem it is not necessary to look beyond
the life of the teenager lived daily in the midst of a complex urban
center As the barbarian was driven to furious restlessness by the
civilized contact, collapsing into mass migration, so the teenager,
compelled to share the life of a city that cannot accept him as an
adult, collapses into "rebellion without a cause." Earlier the
adolescent had been

provided with a rain check. He was prepared to wait it out. But since
TV the drive to participation has ended adolescence, and every
American home has its Berlin wall.
Toynbee is very generous in providing examples of widely varied
challenge and collapse, and is especially apt in pointing to the
frequent and futile resort to futurism and archaism as strategies of
encountering radical change. But to point back to the day of the
horse or to look forward to the coming of antigravitational vehicles is
not an adequate response to the challenge of the motorcar. Yet
these two uniform ways of backward and forward looking are
habitual ways of avoiding the discontinuities of present experience
with their demand for sensitive inspection and appraisal. Only the
dedicated artist seems to have the power for encountering the
present actuality.
Toynbee urges again and again the cultural strategy of the imitation
of the example of great men. This, of course, is to locate cultural
safety in the power of the will, rather than in the power of adequate
perception of situations. Anybody could quip that this is the British
trust in character as opposed to intellect. In view of the endless
power of men to hypnotize themselves into unawareness in the
presence of challenge, it may be argued that willpower is as useful
as intelligence for survival. Today we need also the will to be
exceedingly informed and aware.
Arnold Toynbee gives an example of Renaissance technology being
effectively encountered and creatively controlled when he shows
how the revival of the decentralized medieval parliament saved
English society from the monopoly of centralism that seized the
continent. Lewis Mumford in The City in History tells the strange tale
of how the New England town was able to carry out the pattern of
the medieval ideal city because it was able to dispense with walls
and to mix town and country. When the technology of a time is
powerfully thrusting in one direction, wisdom may well call for a
countervailing thrust. The implosion of electric energy in our century
cannot be met by explosion or

expansion, but it can be met by decentralism and the flexibility of
multiple small centers. For example, the rush of students into our
universities is not explosion but implosion. And the needful strategy
to encounter this force is not to enlarge the university but to create
numerous groups of autonomous colleges in place of our centralized
university plant that grew up on the lines of European government
and nineteenth-century industry.
In the same way the excessive tactile effects of the TV image cannot
be met by mere program changes. Imaginative strategy based on
adequate diagnosis would prescribe a corresponding depth or
structural approach to the existing literary and visual world. If we
persist in a conventional approach to these developments our
traditional culture will be swept aside as scholasticism was in the
sixteenth century. Had the Schoolmen with their complex oral
culture understood the Gutenberg technology, they could have
created a new synthesis of written and oral education, instead of
bowing out of the picture and allowing the merely visual page to take
over the educational enterprise. The oral Schoolmen did not meet
the new visual challenge of print, and the resulting expansion or
explosion of Gutenberg technology was in many respects an
impoverishment of the culture, as historians like Mumford are now
beginning to explain. Arnold Toynbee, in A Study of History, in
considering "the nature of growths of civilizations," not only
abandons the concept of enlargement as a criterion of real growth of
society, but states: More often geographical expansion is a
concomitant of real decline and coincides with a 'time of troubles' or
a universal state--both of them stages of decline and disintegration."
Toynbee expounds the principle that times of trouble or rapid
change produce militarism, and it is militarism that produces empire
and expansion. The old Greek myth which taught that the alphabet
produced militarism ("King Cadmus sowed the dragon s teeth, and
they sprang up armed men") really goes much deeper than
Toynbee's story. In fact, "militarism" is just

vague description, not analysis of causality at all. Militarism is a kind
of visual organization of social energies that is both specialist and
explosive, so that it is merely repetitive to say, as Toynbee does that
it both creates large empires and causes social breakdown. But
militarism is a form of industrialism or the concentration of large
amounts of homogenized energies into a few kinds of production.
The Roman soldier was a man with a spade. He was an expert
workman and builder who processed and packaged the resources of
many societies and sent them home. Before machinery, the only
massive work forces available for processing material were soldiers
or slaves. As the Greek myth of Cadmus points out, the phonetic
alphabet was the greatest processer of men for homogenized
military life that was known to antiquity. The age of Greek society
that Herodotus acknowledges to have been "overwhelmed by more
troubles than in the twenty preceding generations" was the time that
to our literary retrospect appears as one of the greatest of human
centuries. It was Macaulay who remarked that it was not pleasant to
live in times about which it was exciting to read. The succeeding age
of Alexander saw Hellenism expand into Asia and prepare the
course of the later Roman expansion. These, however, were the
very centuries in which Greek civilization obviously fell apart.
Toynbee points to the strange falsification of history by archeology,
insofar as the survival of many material objects of the past does not
indicate the quality of ordinary life and experience at my particular
time. Continuous technical improvement in the means of warfare
occurs over the entire period of Hellenic and Roman decline.
Toynbee checks out his hypothesis by testing it with the
developments in Greek agriculture. When the enterprise of Solon
weaned the Greeks from mixed farming to a program of specialized
products for export, there were happy consequences and a glorious
manifestation of energy in Greek life. When the next phase of the
same specialist stress involved much reliance on slave labor, there
was spectacular increase of

production. But the armies of technologically specialized slave
working the land blighted the social existence of the independent
yeomen and small farmers, and led to the strange world of the
Roman towns and cities crowded with rootless parasites
To a much greater degree than Roman slavery, the specialism of
mechanized industry and market organization has faced Western
man with the challenge of manufacture by mono-fracture, or the
tackling of all things and operations one-bit-at-a-time. This is the
challenge that has permeated all aspects of our" lives and enabled
us to expand so triumphantly in all directions and in all spheres.

Part II



Flower of Evil?

A few seconds from a popular disk-jockey show were typed out as
That's Patty Baby and that's the girl with the dancing feet and
that's Freddy Cannon there on the David Mickie Show in the
night time ooohbah scubadoo how are you booboo. Next we'll
be Swinging on a Star and sssshhhwwoooo and sliding on a
Waaaaaaa how about that. . . one of the goodest guys with
you .... this is lovable kissable D.M. in the p.m. at 22 minutes
past nine o'clock there, aahhrightie, we're gonna have a Hitline,
all you have to do is call WAlnut 5-1151, WAInut 5-1151, tell
them what number it is on the Hitline.

Dave Mickie alternately soars, groans, swings, sings, solos, intones,
and scampers, always reacting to his own actions. He

moves entirely in the spoken rather than the written area of
experience. It is in this way that audience participation is created.
The spoken word involves all of the senses dramatically, though
highly literate people tend to speak as connectedly and casually as
possible. The sensuous involvement natural to cultures in which
literacy is not the ruling form of experience is sometimes indicated in
travel guides, as in this item from a guide to Greece:
You will notice that many Creek men seem to spend a lot of time
counting the beads of what appear to be amber rosaries. But these
have no religious significance. They are komboloia or "worry beads,"
a legacy from the Turks, and Creeks click them on land, on the sea,
in the air to ward off that insupportable silence which threatens to
reign whenever conversation lags. Shepherds do it, cops do it,
stevedores and merchants in their shops do it. And if you wonder
why so few Creek women wear beads, you'll know it's because their
husbands have preempted them for the simple pleasure of clicking.
More aesthetic than thumb-twiddling, less expensive than smoking,
this Queeg-like obsession indicates a tactile sensuousness
characteristic of a race which has produced the western world's
greatest sculpture
Where the heavy visual stress of literacy is lacking in a culture, there
occurs another form of sensuous involvement and cultural
apprecauon that our Greek guide explains whimsically: not be surprised at the frequency with which you are
patted, petted and prodded in Greece. You may end up feeling
like the family dog... in an affectionate family. This propensity
to pat seems to us a tactile extension of the avid Greek
curiosity noted before. It's as though your hosts are trying to
find out what you are made of.

The widely separate characters of the spoken and written words are
easy to study today when there is ever closer touch with nonliterate
societies. One native, the only literate member of his group, told of
acting as reader for the others when they received letters. He said
he felt impelled to put his fingers to his ears while reading aloud, so
as not to violate the privacy of their letters. This is interesting
testimony to the values of privacy fostered by the visual stress of
phonetic writing. Such separation of the senses, and of the individual
from the group, can scarcely occur without the influence of phonetic
writing. The spoken word does not afford the extension and
amplification of the visual power needed for habits of individualism
and privacy.
It helps to appreciate the nature of the spoken word to contrast it
with the written form. Although phonetic writing separates and
extends the visual power of words, it is comparatively crude and
slow. There are not many ways of writing "tonight," but Stanislavsky
used to ask his young actors to pronounce and stress it fifty different
ways while the audience wrote down the different shades of feeling
and meaning expressed. Many a page of prose and many a
narrative has been devoted to expressing what was, in effect, a sob,
a moan, a laugh, or a piercing scream. The written word spells out in
sequence what is quick and implicit in the spoken word.
Again, in speech we tend to react to each situation that occurs,
reacting in tone and gesture even to our own act of speaking. But
writing tends to be a kind of separate or specialist action in which
there is little opportunity or call for reaction. The literate man or
society develops the tremendous power of acting in any matter with
considerable detachment from the feelings or emotional involvement
that a nonliterate man or society would experience.
Henri Bergson, the French philosopher, lived and wrote in a tradition
of thought in which it was and is considered that language is a
human technology that has impaired and diminished

the values of the collective unconscious. It is the extension of man in
speech that enables the intellect to detach itself from the vastly
wider reality. Without language. Bergson suggests, human
intelligence would have remained totally involved in the objects of its
attention. Language does for intelligence what the wheel does for
the feet and the body. It enables them to move from thing to thing
with greater ease and speed and ever less involvement. Language
extends and amplifies man but it also divides his faculties. His
collective consciousness or intuitive awareness is diminished by this
technical extension of consciousness that is speech.
Bergson argues in Creative Evolution that even consciousness is an
extension of man that dims the bliss of union in the collective
unconscious. Speech acts to separate man iron man, and mankind
from the cosmic unconscious. As an extension or uttering (outering)
of all our senses at once, language has always been held to be
man's richest art form, that which distinguishes him from the animal
If the human ear can be compared to a radio receiver that is able to
decode electromagnetic waves and recode them as sound, die
human voice may be compared to the radio transmitter in being able
to translate sound into electromagnetic waves. The power of the
voice to shape air and space into verbal patterns may well have
been preceded by a less specialized expression of cries, grunts,
gestures, and commands, of song and dance. The patterns of the
senses that are extended in the various languages of men are as
varied as styles of dress and art. Each mother tongue teaches its
users a way of seeing and feeling the world, and of acting in the
world, that is quite unique.
Our new electric technology that extends our senses and nerves in a
global embrace has large implications for the future of language.
Electric technology does not need words any more than the digital
computer needs numbers. Electricity points the
way to an extension of the process of consciousness itself, on a

world scale, and without any verbalization whatever. Such a state
of co llective awareness may have been the preverbal condition of
men, Language as the technology of human extension, whose of
division and separation we know so well, may have been the "Tower
of Babel" by which men sought to scale the hi hest heavens. Today
computers hold out the promise of a means of instant translation of
any code or language into any other code or language. The
computer, in short, promises by technology a Pentecostal condition
of universal understanding and unity. The next logical step would
seem to be, not to translate, but to by-pass languages in favor of a
general cosmic consciousness which might be very like the
collective unconscious dreamt of by Bergson. The condition of
"weightlessness," that biologists say promises a physical immortality,
may be paralleled by the condition of speechlessness that could
confer a perpetuity of collective harmony and peace.

An Eye for an Ear

Prince Modupe wrote of his encounter with the written word in his
West African days:
The ore crowded space in Father Perry's house was his
bookshelves. I gradually came to understand that the marks on
the pages were trapped words. Anyone could learn to decipher
the symbols and turn the trapped words loose again into speech.
The ink of the print trapped the thoughts; they could no rnore get
away than a daomboo could get out of a pit. When the full
realization of what this meant flooded over me, I experienced the
same thrill and amazement as when I had my first glimpse of the
bright lights of Konakry. I shivered with the intensity of my desire
to learn to do this wondrous thing myself.

In striking contrast to the native's eagerness, there are

the current anxieties of civilized man concerning the written word. To
some Westerners the written or printed word has become a very
touchy subject. It is true that there is more material written and
printed and read today than ever before, but there is also a new
electric technology that threatens this ancient technology of literacy
built on the phonetic alphabet. Because of its action in extending our
central nervous system, electric technology seems to favor the
inclusive and participational spoken word over the specialist written
word. Our Western values, built on the written
word have already been considerably affected by the electric media
of telephone, radio, and TV Perhaps that is the reason why many
highly literate people in our time find it difficult to examine this
question without getting into a moral panic. There is the further
circumstance that, during his more than two thousand years of
literacy, Western man has done little to study or to understand the
effects of the phonetic alphabet in creating many of his basic
patterns of culture. To begin now to examine the question may,
therefore, seem too late.
Suppose that, instead of displaying the Stars and Stripes, we were
to write the words "American flag" across a piece of cloth and to
display that. While the symbols would convey the same meaning,
the effect would be quite different. To translate the rich visual mosaic
of the Stars and Stripes into written form would be to deprive it of
most of its qualities of corporate image and of experience, yet the
abstract literal bond would remain much the same. Perhaps this
illustration will serve to suggest the change the tribal man
experiences when he becomes literate.
Nearly all the emotional and corporate family feeling is eliminated
from his relationship with his social group. He is emotionally free to
separate from the tribute and to become a civilized individual, a man
of visual organization who has uniform attitudes, habits, and rights
with all other civilized individuals.
The Greek myth about the alphabet was that Cadmus, reputedly the
king who introduced the phonetic letters into

Greece, sowed the dragon's teeth, and they sprang up arm men.
Like any other myth, this one capsulates a prolonged process into a
flashing insight. The alphabet meant power and authority and control
of military structures at a distance. When combined with papyrus,
the alphabet spelled the end of the stationary temple bureaucracies
and the priestly monopolies of knowledge and power. Unlike
pre-alphabetic writing, which with its innumerable signs was difficult
to master, the alphabet could be learned in a few hours. The
acquisition of so extensive a knowledge and so complex a skill as
pre-alphabetic writing represented, when applied to such unwieldy
materials as brick and stone, insured for the scribal caste a
monopoly of priestly power. The easier alphabet and the light, cheap,
transportable papyrus together effected the transfer of power from
the priestly to the military class. All this is implied in the myth about
Cadmus and the dragon's teeth, including the fall of the city states,
the rise of empires and military bureaucracies.
In terms of the extensions of man, the theme of the dragon's teeth in
the Cadmus myth is of the utmost importance. Elias Canetti in
Crowds and Power reminds us that the teeth are an obvious agent of
power in man, and especially in many animals. Languages are filled
with testimony to the grasping, devouring power and precision of
teeth. That the power of letters as agents of aggressive order and
precision should be expressed as extensions of the dragon's teeth is
natural and fitting. Teeth are emphatically visual in their lineal order.
Letters are not only like teeth visually, but their power to put teeth
into the business of empire-building is manifest in our Western
The phonetic alphabet is a unique technology. There have been
many kinds of writing, pictographic and syllabic, but there is only one
phonetic alphabet in which semantically meaningless letters are
used to correspond to semantically meaningly sounds. This stark
divison and parallelism between a visual and an auditory world was
both crude and ruthless, culturally

speaking. The phonetically written word sacrifices worlds of meaning
and perception that were secured by forms like the hieroglyph and
the Chinese ideogram. These culturally richer forms of writing,
however, offered men no means of sudden transfer from the
magically discontinuous and traditional world of the tribal word into
the cool and uniform visual medium. Many centuries of ideogrammic
use have not threatened the seamless web of family and tribal
subtleties of Chinese society. On the other hand, a single generation
of alphabetic literacy suffices in Africa today, as in Gaul two
thousand years ago, to release the individual initially, at least, from
the tribal web. This fact has nothing to do with the content of the
alphabetized words; it is the result of the sudden breach between
the auditory and the visual experience of man. Only the phonetic
alphabet makes such a sharp division in experience, giving to its
user an eye for an ear, and freeing him from the tribal trance of
resonating word magic and the web of kinship.
It can be argued, then, that the phonetic alphabet, alone, is the
technology that has been the means of creating "civilized man" -the
separate individuals equal before a written code of law.
Separateness of the individual, continuity of space and of time, and
uniformity of codes are the prime marks of literate and civilized
societies. Tribal cultures like those of the Indian and the Chinese
may be greatly superior to the Western cultures, in the range and
delicacy of their perceptions and expression. However, we are not
here concerned with the question of values, but with the
configurations of societies. Tribal cultures cannot entertain the
possibility of the individual or of the separate citizen. Their ideas of
spaces and times are neither continuous nor uniform, but
compassional and compressional in their intensity. It is in its power
to extend patterns of visual uniformity and continuity that the
"message" of the alphabet is felt by cultures.
As an intensification and extension of the visual function, the
phonetic alphabet diminishes the role of the other senses of

sound and touch and taste in any literate culture. The fact that this
does not happen in cultures such as the Chinese, which use
nonphonetic scripts, enables them to retain a rich store of inclusive
perception in depth of experience that tends to become eroded in
civilized cultures of the phonetic alphabet. For the ideogram is an
inclusive gestalt, not an analytic dissociation of senses and functions
like phonetic writing.
The achievements of the Western world, it is obvious, are testimony
to the tremendous values of literacy. But many people are also
disposed to object that we have purchased our structure of specialist
technology and values at too high a price. Certainly the lineal
structuring of rational life by phonetic literacy has involved us in an
interlocking set of consistencies that axe striking enough to justify a
much more extensive inquiry than that of the present chapter.
Perhaps there are better approaches along quite different lines; for
example, consciousness is regarded as the mark of a rational being,
yet there is nothing lineal or sequential about the total field of
awareness that exists in any moment of consciousness.
Consciousness is not a verbal process. Yet during all our centuries
of phonetic literacy we have favored the chain of inference as the
mark of logic and reason. Chinese writing, in contrast, invests each
ideogram with a total intuition of being and reason that allows only a
small role to visual sequence as a mark of mental effort and
organization. In Western literate society it is still plausible and
acceptable to say that something "follows" from something, as if
there were some cause at work that makes such a sequence. It was
David Hume who, in the eighteenth century, demonstrated that there
is no causality indicated in any sequence, natural or logical. The
sequential is merely additive, not causative. Hume's argument, said
Immanuel Kant, awoke me from my dogmatic slumber." Neither
Hume nor Kant, however, detected the hidden cause of our Western
bias toward sequence as "logic" in the all-pervasive technology of
the alphabet. Today in the electric age we feel as free to invent

nonlineal logics as we do to make non-Euclidean geometries. Even
the assembly line, as the method of analytic sequence for
mechanizing every kind of making and production, is nowadays
yielding to new forms.
Only alphabetic cultures have ever mastered connected lineal
sequences as pervasive forms of psychic and social organization.
The breaking up of every kind of experience into uniform units in
order to produce faster action and change of form (applied
knowledge) has been the secret of Western power over man and
nature alike. That is the reason why our Western industrial programs
have quite involuntarily been so militant, and our military programs
have been so industrial. Both are shaped by the alphabet in their
technique of transformation and control by making all situations
uniform and continuous. This procedure, manifest even in the
Graeco-Roman phase, became more intense with the uniformity and
repeatability of the Gutenberg development.
Civilization is built on literacy because literacy is a uniform
processing of a culture by a visual sense extended in space and
time by the alphabet. In tribal cultures, experience is arranged by a
dominant auditory sense-life that represses visual values. The
auditory sense, unlike the cool and neutral eye, is hyper-esthetic and
delicate and all-inclusive. Oral cultures act and react at the same
time. Phonetic culture endows men with the means of repressing
their feelings and emotions when engaged in action. To act without
reacting, without involvement, is the peculiar advantage of Western
literate man.
The story of The Ugly American describes the endless succession of
blunders achieved by visual and civilized Americans when
confronted with the tribal and auditory cultures of the East. As a
civilized UNESCO experiment, running water--with its lineal
organization of pipes--as installed recently in some Indian villages.
Soon the villagers requested that the pipes be removed, for it
seemed to them that the whole social life of the village had been
impoverished when it was no longer necessary for all to

visit the communal well. To us the pipe is a convenience. We do not
think of it as culture or as a product of literacy, any more than we
think of literacy as changing our habits, our emotions, or our
perceptions. To nonliterate people, it is perfectly obvious that the
most commonplace conveniences represent total changes in
The Russians, less permeated with the patterns of literate culture
than Americans, have much less difficulty in perceiving and
accommodating the Asiatic attitudes. For the West, literacy has long
been pipes and taps and streets and assembly lines and inventories.
Perhaps most potent of all as an expression of literacy is our system
of uniform pricing that penetrates distant markets and speeds the
turn-over of commodities. Even our ideas of cause and effect in the
literate West have long been in the form of things in sequence and
succession, an idea that strikes any tribal or auditory culture as quite
ridiculous, and one that has lost its prime place in our own new
physics and biology.
All the alphabets in use in the Western world, from that of Russia to
that of the Basques, from that of Portugal to that of Peru, are
derivatives of the Graeco-Roman letters. Their unique separation of
sight and sound from semantic and verbal content made them a
most radical technology for the translation and homogenization of
cultures. All other forms of writing had served merely one culture,
and had served to separate that culture from others. The phonetic
letters alone could be used to translate, albeit crudely, the sounds of
any language into one-and-the-same visual code. Today, the effort
of the Chinese to use our phonetic letters to translate their language
has run into special problems in the wide tonal variations and
meanings of similar sounds This has led to the practice of
fragmenting Chinese monosyllables into polysyllables in order to
eliminate tonal ambiguity The Western phonetic alphabet is now at
work transforming the central auditory features of the Chinese
language and culture m order that China can also develop the lineal

visual patterns that give central unity and aggregate uniform power
to Western work and organization. As we move out of the Gutenberg
era of our own culture, we can more readily discern its primary
features of homogeneity, uniformity, and continuity. These were the
characteristics that gave the Greeks and Romans their easy
ascendancy over the nonliterate barbarians. The barbarian or tribal
man, then as now, was hampered by cultural pluralism, uniqueness,
and discontinuity.
To sum up, pictographic and hieroglyphic writing as used in
Babylonian, Mayan, and Chinese cultures represents an extension
of the visual sense for storing and expediting access to human
experience. All of these forms give pictorial expression to oral
meanings. As such, they approximate the animated cartoon and are
extremely unwieldy, requiring many signs for the infinity of data and
operations of social action. In contrast, the phonetic alphabet, by a
few letters only, was able to encompass all languages. Such an
achievement, however, involved the separation of both signs and
sounds from their semantic and dramatic meanings. No other
system of writing had accomplished this feat.
The same separation of sight and sound and meaning that is
peculiar to the phonetic alphabet also extends to its social and
psychological effects. Literate man undergoes much separation of
his imaginative, emotional, and sense life, as Rousseau (and later
the Romantic poets and philosophers) proclaimed long ago. Today
the mere mention of D. H. Lawrence will serve to recall the
twentieth-century efforts made to by-pass literate man in order to
recover human "wholeness." If Western literate man undergoes
much dissociation of inner sensibility from his use of the alphabet,
he also wins his personal freedom to dissociate himself from clan
and family. This freedom to shape an individual career manifested
itself in the ancient world in military life. Careers were open to talents
in Republican Rome, as much as in Napoleonic France, and for the
same reasons. The new

literacy had created an homogeneous and malleable milieu in which
the mobility of armed groups and of ambitious individuals, equally,
was as novel as it was practical.


It was not until the advent of the telegraph that messages could
travel faster than a messenger. Before this, roads and the written
word were closely interrelated. It is only since the telegraph that
information has detached itself from such solid commodities as
stone and papyrus, much as money had earlier detached itself from
hides, bullion, and metals, and has ended as paper. The term
"communication" has had an extensive use in connection with roads
and bridges, sea routes, rivers, and canals, even before it became
transformed into "information movement" in the electric age.
Perhaps there is no more suitable way of defining the character of
the electric age than by first studying the rise of the idea of
transportation as communication, and then the transition of the idea
from transport to information by means of electricity. The word
"metaphor" is from the Greek meld plus pherein, to carry across or
transport. In this book we are concerned with all forms of transport of
goods and information, both as metaphor and exchange. Each form
of transport not only carries, but translates and transforms, the
sender, the receiver,

and the message. The use of any kind of medium or extension of
man alters the patterns of interdependence among people, as it
alters the ratios among our senses.
It is a persistent theme of this book that all technologies are
extensions of our physical and nervous systems to increase power
and speed. Again, unless there were such increases of power and
speed, new extensions of ourselves would not occur or would be
discarded. For an increase of power or speed in any kind of grouping
of any components whatever is itself a disruption that causes a
change of organization. The alteration of social groupings, and the
formation of new communities, occur with the increased speed of
information movement by means of paper messages and road
transport. Such speed-up means much more control at much greater
distances. Historically, it meant the formation of the Roman Empire
and the disruption of the previous city-states of the Greek world.
Before the use of papyrus and alphabet created the incentives for
building fast, hard-surface roads, the walled town and the city-state
were natural forms that could endure.
Village and city-state essentially are forms that include all human
needs and functions. With greater speed and, therefore, greater
military control at a distance, the city-state collapsed. Once inclusive
and self-contained, its needs and functions were extended in the
specialist activities of an empire. Speed-up tends to separate
functions, both commercial and political, and acceleration beyond a
point in any system becomes disruption and breakdown. So when
Arnold Toynbee turns, in A Study of History, to a massive
documentation of "the breakdowns of civilizations," he begins by
saying: "One of the most conspicuous marks of disintegration, as we
have already noticed, is ... when a disintegrating civilisation
purchases a reprieve by submitting to forcible political unification in a
universal state." Disintegration and reprieve, alike, are the
consequence of ever faster movement of information by couriers on
excellent roads.

Speed-up creates what some economists refer to as a
center-margin structure. When this becomes too extensive for the
generating and control center, pieces begin to detach themselves
and to set up new center-margin systems of their own. The most
familiar example is the story of the American colonies of Great
Britain. When the thirteen colonies began to develop a considerable
social and economic life of their own, they felt the need to become
centers themselves, with their own margins. This is the time when
the original center may make a more rigorous effort of centralized
control of the margins, as, indeed, Great Britain did. The slowness of
sea travel proved altogether inadequate to the maintenance of so
extensive an empire on a mere center-margin basis. Land powers
can more easily attain a unified center-margin pattern than sea
powers. It is the relative slowness of sea travel that inspires sea
powers to foster multiple centers by a kind of seeding process. Sea
powers thus tend to create centers without margins, and land
empires favor the center-margin structure. Electric speeds create
centers everywhere. Margins cease to exist on this planet.
Lack of homogeneity in speed of information movement creates
diversity of patterns in organization. It is quite predictable, then, that
any new mean of moving information will alter any power structure
whatever. So long as the new means is everywhere available at the
same time, there is a possibility that the structure may be changed
without breakdown. Where there are great discrepancies in speeds
of movement, as between air and road travel or between telephone
and typewriter, serious conflicts occur within organizations. The
metropolis of our time has become a test case for such
discrepancies. If homogeneity of speeds were total, there would be
no rebellion and no breakdown. With print, political unity via
homogeneity became feasible for the first time. In ancient Rome,
however, there was only the light paper manuscript to pierce the
opacity, or to reduce the discontinuity, of the tribal villages; and
when the

paper supplies failed, the roads were vacated, as they were in our
own age during gas-rationing. Thus the old city-state returned and
feudalism replaced republicanism.
It seems obvious enough that technical means of speed-up should
wipe out the independence of villages and city-states. Whenever
speed-up has occurred, the new centralist power always takes
action to homogenize as many marginal areas as possible. The
process that Rome effected by the phonetic alpha bet geared to its
paper routes has been occurring in Russia for the last century. Again,
from the current example of Africa we can observe how very much
visual processing of the human psyche by alphabetic means will be
needed before any appreciable degree of homogenized social
organization is possible. Much of this visual processing was done in
the ancient world by nonliterate technologies, as in Assyria. The
phonetic alphabet has no rival, however, as a translator of man out
of the closed tribal echo-chamber into the neutral visual world of
lineal organization.
The situation of Africa today is complicated by the new electronic
technology. Western man is himself being
de-Westernized by his own new speed-up, as much as the Africans
are being detribalized by our old print and industrial technology. If
we understood our own media old and new these confusions and
disruptions could be programmed and synchronized, The very
success we enjoy in specializing and separating functions in order to
have speed-up, however, is at the same time the cause of
inattention and unawareness of the situation. It has ever been thus
in the Western world at least. Self-consciousness of the causes and
limits of one's own culture seem to threaten the ego structure and is,
therefore, avoided. Nietzsche said understanding stops action, and
men of action seem to have an intuition of the fact in their shunning
the dangers of comprehension.
The point of the matter of speed-up by wheel, road, and paper is the
extension of power in an ever more homogeneous and

uniform space. Thus the real potential of the Roman technology was
not realized until printing had given road and wheel a much greater
speed than that of the Roman vortex. Yet the speed-up of the
electronic age is as disrupting for literate, lineal, and Western man
as the Roman paper routes were for tribal villagers. Our speed-up
today is not a slow explosion outward from center to margins but an
instant implosion and an interfusion of space and functions. Our
specialist and fragmented civilization of center-margin structure is
suddenly experiencing an instantaneous reassembling of all its
mechanized bits into an organic whole. This is the new world of the
global village. The village, as Mumford explains in The City in
History, had achieved a social and institutional extension of all
human faculties. Speed-up and city aggregates only served to
separate these from one another in more specialist forms. The
electronic age cannot sustain the very low gear of a center-margin
structure such as we associate with the past two thousand years of
the Western world. Nor is this a question of values. If we understood
our older media, such as roads and the written word, and if we
valued their human effects sufficiently, we could reduce or even
eliminate the electronic factor from our lives. Is there an instance of
any culture that understood the technology that sustained its
structure and was prepared to keep it that way? If so, that would be
an instance of values or reasoned preference. The values or
preferences that arise from the mere automatic operation of this or
that technology in our social lives are not capable of being
In the chapter on the wheel it will be shown that transport without
wheels had played a big role before the wheel, some of which was
by sledge, over both snow and bogs. Much of it was by pack
animal-- woman being the first pack animal. Most wheel-less
transport in the past, however, was by river and by sea, a fact that is
today as richly expressed as ever in the location and form of the
great cities of the world. Some writers have observed that man's
oldest beast of burden was woman, because

the male had to be free to run interference for the woman, as
ball-carrier, as it were. But that phase belonged to the prewheel
stage of transport, when there was only the tractless waste of man
the hunter and food-gatherer. Today, when the greatest volume of
transport consists in the moving of information, the wheel and the
road are undergoing recession and obsolescence; but in the first
instance, given the pressure for, and from, wheels, there had to be
roads to accommodate them. Settlements had created the impulse
for exchange and for the increasing movement of raw material and
produce from countryside to processing centers, where there was
division of labor and specialist craft skills. Improvement of wheel and
road more and more brought the town to the country in a reciprocal
spongelike action of give-and-take. It is a process we have seen in
this century with the motorcar. Great improvements in roads brought
the city more and more to the country. The road became a substitute
for the country by the time people began to talk about "taking a spin
in the country." With super-highways the road became a wall
between man and the country. Then came the stage of the highway
as city, a city stretching continuously across the continent, dissolving
all earlier cities into the sprawling aggregates that desolate their
populations today.
With air transport comes a further disruption of the old town-country
complex that had occurred with wheel and road. With the plane the
cities began to have the same slender relation to human needs that
museums do. They became corridors of showcases echoing the
departing forms of industrial assembly lines. The road is, then, used
less and less for travel, and more and more for recreation. The
traveler now turns to the airways, and thereby ceases to experience
the act of traveling. As people used to say that an ocean liner might
as well be a hotel in a big city, the jet traveler, whether he is over
Tokyo or New York, might just as well be in a cocktail lounge so far
as travel experience is concerned. He will begin to travel only after
he lands.

Meantime, the countryside, as oriented and fashioned by plane, by
highway, and by electric information-gathering, tends to become
once more the nomadic trackless area that preceded the wheel. The
beatniks gather on the sands to meditate haiku.
The principal factors in media impact on existing social forms are
acceleration and disruption. Today the acceleration tends to be total,
and thus ends space as the main factor in social arrangements.
Toynbee sees the acceleration factor as translating the physical into
moral problems, pointing to the antique road crowded with dog carts,
wagons, and rickshaws as full of minor nuisance, but also minor
dangers. Further, as the forces impelling traffic mount in power,
there is no more problem of hauling and carrying, but the physical
problem is translated into a psychological one as the annihilation of
space permits easy annihilation of travelers as well. This principle
applies to all media study. All means of interchange and of human in
terassociation tend to improve by acceleration. Speed, in turn,
accentuates problems of form and structure. The older
arrangements had not been made with a view to such speeds, and
people begin to sense a draining-away of life values as they try to
make the old physical forms adjust to the new and speedier
movement. These problems, however, are not new. Julius Caesar's
first act upon assuming power was to restrict the night movement
of wheeled vehicles in the city of Rome in order to permit sleep.
Improved transport in the Renaissance turned the medieval walled
towns into slums.
Prior to the considerable diffusion of power through alphabet and
papyrus, even the attempts of kings to extend their rule in spatial
terms were opposed at home by the priestly bureaucracies. Then
complex and unwieldy media of stone inscription made wide ranging
empires appear very dangerous to such static monopolies. The
struggles between those who exercised power over the hearts of
men and those who sought to control the physical resources of
nations were not of one time and place.

In the Old Testament, just this kind of struggle is reported in the
Book of Samuel (I, viii) when the children of Israel besought Samuel
to give them a king. Samuel explained to them the nature of kingly,
as opposed to priestly, rule:
This will be the manner of the King that shall reign over you: he
will take your sons, and appoint them unto him for his chariots;
and they shall run before his chariots: and he will appoint them
unto him for captains of thousands, and captains of fifties; and
he will set some to plough his ground, and to reap his harvest,
and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his
chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries,
and to be cooks and to be bakers. And he will take your fields,
and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them,
and give them to his servants.

Paradoxically, the effect of the wheel and of paper in organizing new
power structures was not to decentralize but to centralize. A
speed-up in communications always enables a central authority to
extend its operations to more distant margins. The introduction of
alphabet and papyrus meant that many more people had to be
trained as scribes and administrators. However, the resulting
extension of homogenization and of uniform training did not come
into play in the ancient or medieval world to any great degree. It was
not really until the mechanization o( writing in the Renaissance that
intensely unified and centralized power was possible. Since this
process is still occurring, it should be easy for us to see that it was in
the armies of Egypt and Rome that a kind of democratization by
uniform technological education occurred. Careers were then open
to talents for those with literate training. In the chapter on the written
word we saw how phonetic writing translated tribal man into a visual
world and invited him to undertake the visual organization of space.

priestly groups in the temples had been more concerned with the
records of the past and with the control of the inner space of the
unseen than with outward military conquest. Hence, there was a
clash between the priestly monopolizers of knowledge and those
who wished to apply it abroad as new conquest and power. (This
same clash now recurs between the university and the business
world.) It was this kind of rivalry that inspired Ptolemy II to establish
the great library at Alexandria as a center of imperial power. The
huge staff of civil servants and scribes assigned to many specialist
tasks was an antithetic and countervailing force to the Egyptian
priesthood. The library could serve the political organization of
empire in a way that did not interest the priesthood at all. A
not-dissimilar rivalry is developing today between the atomic
scientists and those who are mainly concerned with power.
If we realize that the city as center was in the first instance an
aggregate of threatened villagers, it is then easier for us to grasp
how such harassed companies of refugees might fan out into an
empire. The city-state as a form was not a response to peaceful
commercial development, but a huddling for security amidst anarchy
and dissolution. Thus the Greek city-state was a tribal form of
inclusive and integral community, quite unlike the specialist cities
that grew up as extensions of Roman military expansion. The Greek
city-states eventually disintegrated by the usual action of specialist
trading and the separation of functions that Mumford portrays in The
City in History. The Roman cities began that way--as specialist
operations of the central power. The Greek cities ended that way.
If a city undertakes rural trade, it sets up at once a center-margin
relation with the rural area in question. That relation involves taking
staples and raw produce from the country in exchange for specialist
products of the craftsman. If, on the other hand, the same city
attempts to engage in overseas trade, it is more natural to "seed"
another city center, as the Greeks did,

rather than to deal with the overseas area as a specialized margin or
raw material supply.
A brief review of the structural changes in the organization of space
as they resulted from wheel, road, and papyrus could go as follows:
There was first the village, which lacked all of these group
extensions of the private physical body. The village, however, was
already a form of community different from that of food-gathering
hunters and fishers, for villagers may be sedentary and may begin a
division of labor and functions. Their being congregated is, itself, a
form of acceleration of human activities which provides momentum
for further separation and specialization of action. Such are the
conditions for the extension of feet-as-wheel to speed production
and exchange. These are, also, the conditions that intensify
communal conflicts and ruptures that send men huddling into ever
larger aggregates, in order to resist the accelerated activities of
other communities. The villages are swept up into the city-state by
way of resistance and for the purpose of security and protection.
The village had institutionalized all human functions in forms of low
intensity. In this mild form everyone could play many roles.
Participation was high, and organization was low. This is the formula
for stability in any type of organization. Nevertheless, the
enlargement of village forms in the city-state called for greater
intensity and the inevitable separation of functions to cope with this
intensity and competition. The villagers had all participated in the
seasonal rituals that in the city became the specialized Greek drama.
Mumford feels that "The village measure prevailed in the
development of the Greek cities, down to the fourth century . . ."
(The City in History). It is this extension and translation of the human
organs into the village model without loss of corporal unity that
Mumford uses as a criterion of excellence for city forms in any time
or locale. This biological approach to the man-made environment
is sought today once more in the electric age. How strange that the
idea of the

"human scale" should have seemed quite without appeal during the
mechanical centuries.
The natural tendency of the enlarged community of the city is to
increase the intensity and accelerate functions of every sort whether
of speech, or crafts, or currency and exchange. This in turn, implies
an inevitable extension of these actions by subdivision or, what is
the same thing, new invention. So that even though the city was
formed as a kind of protective hide or shield for man, this protective
layer was purchased at the cost of maximized struggle within the
walls. War games such as those described by Herodotus began as
ritual blood baths between the citizenry. Rostrum, law courts, and
marketplace all acquired the intense image of divisive competition
that is nowadays called "the rat race." Nevertheless, it was amidst
such irritations that man produced his greatest inventions as
counter-irritants. These inventions were extensions of himself by
means of concentrated toil, by which he hoped to neutralize distress.
The Greek word ponos, or "toil," was a term used by Hippocrates,
the father of medicine, to describe the fight of the body in disease.
Today this idea is called homeostasis, or equilibrium as a strategy of
the staying power of any body. All organizations, but especially bio-
logical 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. The city, as a form of the body politic, responds to new
pressures and irritations by resourceful new extensionsٛ always in
the effort to exert staying power, constancy, equilibrium, and
The city, having been formed for protection, unexpectedly generated
fierce intensities and new hybrid energies from accelerated interplay
of functions and knowledge. It burst forth into aggression. The alarm
of the village, followed by the resistance of" the city, expanded into
the exhaustion and inertia of empire. These three stages of the
disease and irritation syndrome

were felt, by those living through them, as normal physical
expressions of counter-irritant recovery from disease.
The third stage of struggle for equilibrium among the forces within
the city took the form of empire, or a universal state, that generated
the extension of human senses in wheel, road, and alphabet. We
can sympathize with those who first saw in these tools a providential
means of bringing order to distant areas of turbulence and anarchy.
These tools would have seemed a glorious form of "foreign aid,"
extending the blessings of the center to the barbarian margins. At
this moment, for example, we are quite in the dark about the political
implications of Telstar. By outering these satellites as extensions of
our nervous system, there is an automatic response in all the organs
of the body politic of mankind. Such new intensity of proximity
imposed by Telstar calls for radical rearrangement of all organs in
order to maintain staying power and equilibrium. The teaching and
learning process for every child will be affected sooner rather than
later. The time factor in every decision of business and finance will
acquire new patterns. Among the peoples of the world strange new
vortices of power will appear unexpectedly.
The full-blown city coincides with the development of writing --
especially of phonetic writing, the specialist form of writing that
makes a division between sight and sound. It was with this
instrument that Rome was able to reduce the tribal areas to some
visual order. The effects of phonetic literacy do not depend upon
persuasion or cajolery for their acceptance. This technology for
translating the resonating tribal world into Euclidean lineality and
visuality is automatic. Roman roads and Roman streets were
uniform and repeatable wherever they occurred. There was no
adaptation to the contours of local hill or custom. With the decline of
papyrus supplies, the wheeled traffic stopped on these roads, too.
Deprivation of papyrus, resulting from the Roman loss of Egypt,
meant the decline of bureaucracy and of army organization as well.
Thus the medieval world grew

up without uniform roads or cities or bureaucracies, and it fought the
wheel, as later city forms fought the railways; and as we, today, fight
the automobile. For new speed and power are never compatible with
existing spatial and social arrangements. Writing about the new
straight avenues of the seventeenth-century cities, Mumford points
to a factor that was also present in the Roman city with its wheeled
traffic; namely, the need for broad straight avenues to speed military
movements, and to express the pomp and circumstance of power. In
the Roman world the army was the work force of a mechanized
wealth-creating process. By means of soldiers as uniform and
replaceable parts, the Roman military machine made and delivered
the goods, very much in the manner of industry during the early
phases of the industrial revolution. Trade followed the legions. More
than that, the legions were the industrial machine, itself; and
numerous new cities were like new factories manned by uniformly
trained army personnel. With the spread of literacy after printing, the
bond between the uniformed soldier and the wealth-making factory
hand became less visible. It was obvious enough in Napoleon's
armies. Napoleon, with his citizen-armies, was the industrial
revolution itself, as it reached areas long protected from it.
The Roman army as a mobile, industrial wealth-making force
created in addition a vast consumer public in the Roman towns.
Division of labor always creates a separation between producer and
consumer, even as it tends to separate the place oi work and the
living space. Before Roman literate bureaucracy, nothing
comparable to the Roman consumer specialists had been seen in
the world. This fact was institutionalized in the individual known as
"parasite," and in the social institution of the gladiatorial games.
(Panem et circmse.) The private sponge and the collective sponge,
both reaching out for their rations of sensation, achieved a horrible
distinctness and clarity that matched the raw power of the predatory
army machine.

With the cutting-off of the supplies of papyrus by the Mohammedans,
the Mediterranean, long a Roman lake, became a Muslim lake, and
the Roman center collapsed. What had been the margins of this
center-margin structure became independent centers on a new
feudal, structural base. The Roman center collapsed by the fifth
century A.D. as wheel, road, and paper dwindled into a ghostly
paradigm of former power.
Papyrus never returned. Byzantium, like the medieval centers, relied
heavily on parchment, but this was too expensive and scarce a
material to speed commerce or even education. It was paper from
China, gradually making its way through the Near East to Europe,
that accelerated education and commerce steadily from the eleventh
century, and provided the basis for "the Renaissance of the twelfth
century," popularizing prints and, finally, making printing possible by
the fifteenth century.
With the moving of information in printed form, the wheel and the
road came into play again after having been in abeyance for a
thousand years. In England, pressure from the press brought
about hard-surface roads in the eighteenth century, with all the
population and industrial rearrangement that entailed. Print, or
mechanized writing, introduced a separation and extension of
human functions unimaginable even in Roman times. It was only
natural, therefore, that greatly increased wheel speeds, both on road
and in factory, should be related to the alphabet that had once done
a similar job of speed-up and specialization in the ancient world.
Speed, at least in its lower reaches of the mechanical order, always
operates to separate, to extend, and to amplify functions of the body.
Even specialist learning in higher education proceeds by ignoring
interrelationships; for such complex awareness slows down the
achieving of expertness.
The post roads of England were, for the most part, paid for by the
newspapers. The rapid increase of traffic brought in the railway, that
accommodated a more specialized form of wheel than

the road. The story of modern America that began with the discovery
of the white man by the Indians, as a wag has truly said, quickly
passed from exploration by canoe to development by railway. For
three centuries Europe invested in America for its fish and its furs.
The fishing schooner and the canoe preceded the road and the
postal route as marks of our North American spatial organization.
The European investors in the fur trade naturally did not want the
trapping lines overrun by Tom Sawyers and Huck Finns. They fought
land surveyors and settlers, like Washington and Jefferson, who
simply would not think in terms of mink. Thus the War of
Independence was deeply involved in media and staple rivalries.
Any new medium, by its acceleration, disrupts the lives and
investments of whole communities. It was the railway that raised the
art of war to unheard-of intensity, making the American Civil War the
first major conflict fought by rail, and causing it to be studied and
admired by all European general staffs, who had not yet had an
opportunity to use railways for a general blood-letting.
War is never anything less than accelerated technological change. It
begins when some notable disequilibrium among existing structures
has been brought about by inequality of rates of growth. The very
late industrialization and unification of Germany had left her out of
the race for staples and colonies for many years. As the Napoleonic
wars were technologically a sort of catching-up of France with
England, the First World War was itself a major phase of the final
industrialization of Germany and America. As Rome had not shown
before, and Russia has shown today, militarism is itself the main
route of technological education and acceleration for lagging areas.
Almost unanimous enthusiasm for improved routes of land
transportation followed the War of 1812. Furthermore, the British
blockade of the Atlantic coast had compelled an unprecedented
amount of land carriage, thus emphasizing the unsatisfactory
character of the highways. War is certainly a form

of emphasis that delivers many a telling touch to lagging social
attention. However, in the very Hot Peace since the Second War, it
is the highways of the mind that have been found inadequate. Many
have felt dissatisfaction with our educational methods since Sputnik,
in exactly the same spirit that many complained about the highways
during the War of 1812.
Now that man has extended his central nervous system by electric
technology, the field of battle has shifted to mental
image-making-and-breaking, both in war and in business. Until the
electric age, higher education had been a privilege and a luxury for
the leisured classes; today it has become a necessity for production
and survival. Now, when information itself is the main traffic, the
need for advanced knowledge presses on the spirits of the most
routine-ridden minds. So sudden an upsurge of academic training
into the marketplace has in it the quality of classical peripety or
reversal, and the result has been a wild guffaw from the gallery and
the campus. The hilarity, however, will die down as the Executive
Suites are taken over by the Ph.D.s.
For an insight into the ways in which the acceleration of wheel and
road and paper rescramble population and settlement patterns, let
us glance at some instances provided by Oscar Handlin in his study
Boston's Immigrants. In I 790, he tells us, Boston was a compact unit
with all workers and traders living in sight of each other, so that there
was no tendency to section residential areas on a class basis: "But
as the town grew, as the outlying districts became more accessible,
the people spread out and at the same time were localized in
distinctive areas." That one sentence capsulates the theme of this
chapter. The sentence can be generalized to include the art of
writing: "As knowledge was spread out visually and as it became
more accessible in alphabetic form, it was localized and divided into
specialties." Up to the point just short of electrification, increase of
speed produces division of function, and of social classes, and of

At electric speed, however, all that is reversed. Implosion and
contraction then replace mechanical explosion and expansion. If the
Handlin formula is extended to power, it becomes: "As power grew,
and as outlying areas became accessible to power, it was localized
in distinctive delegated jobs and functions." This formula is a
principle of acceleration at all levels of human organization. It
concerns especially those extensions of our physical bodies that
appear in wheel and road and paper messages. Now that we have
extended not just our physical organs but the nervous system, itself,
in electric technology, the principle of specialism and division as a
factor of speed no longer applies. When information moves at the
speed of signals in the central nervous system, man is confronted
with the obsolescence of all earlier forms of acceleration, such as
road and rail. What emerges is a total field of inclusive awareness.
The old patterns of psychic and social adjustment become
Until the 1820s, Handlin tells us, Bostonians walked to and fro, or
used private conveyances. Horse-drawn buses were introduced in
1826, and these speeded up and extended business a great deal.
Meantime the speed-up of industry in England had extended
business into the rural areas, dislodging many from the land and
increasing the rate of immigration. Sea transport of immigrants
became lucrative and encouraged a great speed-up of ocean
transport. Then the Cunard Line was subsidized by the British
government in order to ensure swift contact with the colonies. The
railways soon linked into this Cunard service, to convey mail and
immigrants inland.
Although America developed a massive service of inland canals and
river steamboats, they were not geared to the speeding wheels of
the new industrial production. The railroad was needed to cope with
mechanized production, as much as to span the great distances of
the continent. The steam railroad as an accelerator proved to be one
of the most revolutionary of all extensions of our physical bodies,
creating a new political

centralism and a new kind of urban shape and size. It is to the
railroad that the American city owes its abstract grid layout the
nonorganic separation of production, consumption and residence. It
is the motorcar that scrambled the abstract shape of the industrial
town, mixing up its separated functions to a degree that has
frustrated and baffled both planner and citizen It remained for the
airplane to complete the confusion by amplifying the mobility of the
citizen to the point where urban space as such was irrelevant.
Metropolitan space is equally irrelevant for the telephone, the
telegraph, the radio, and television. What the town planners call "the
human scale" in discussing ideal urban spaces is equally unrelated
to these electric forms. Our electric-extensions of ourselves simply
by-pass space and time and create problems of human involvement
and organization for which there is no precedent. We may yet yearn
for the simple days of the automobile and the superhighway.


Profile of the Crowd

Hitler made a special horror of the Versailles Treaty because it had
deflated the German army. After 1870 the heel-clicking members of
the German army had become the new symbol of tribal unity and
power. In England and America the same sense of numerical
grandeur from sheer numbers was associated with the mounting
output of industry, and the statistics of wealth and production: "tanks
a million." The power of sheer numbers, in wealth or in crowds, to
set up a dynamic drive toward growth and aggrandizement is
mysterious. Elias Canetti in Crowds and Power illustrates the
profound tie between monetary inflation and crowd behavior. He is
baffled by our failure to study inflation as a crowd phenomenon,
since its effects on our modern world are pervasive. The drive
toward unlimited growth inherent in any kind of crowd, heap, or
horde would seem to link economic and Population inflation.

In the theater, at a ball, at a ball game, in church, every individual
enjoys all those others present. The pleasure of being among the
masses is the sense of the joy in the multiplication of numbers,
which has long been suspect among the literate members of
Western society.
In such society, the separation of the individual from the group in
space (privacy), and in thought ("point of view"), and in work
(specialism), has had the cultural and technological support of
literacy, and its attendant galaxy of fragmented industrial and
political institutions. But the power of the printed word to create the
homogenized social man grew steadily until our time, creating the
paradox of the "mass mind" and the mass militarism of citizen
armies. Pushed to the mechanized extreme, letters have often
seemed to produce effects opposite to civilization, just as numbering
in earlier times seemed to break tribal unity, as the Old Testament
declares ("And Satan rose up against Israel, and moved David to
number Israel"). Phonetic letters and number were the first means of
fragmenting and detribalizing man.
Throughout Western history we have traditionally and rightly
regarded letters as the source of civilization, and looked to our
literatures as the hallmark of civilized attainment. Yet all along, there
has been with us a shadow of number, the language of science. In
isolation, number is as mysterious as writing. Seen as an extension
of our physical bodies, it becomes quite intelligible. Just as writing is
an extension and separation of our most neutral and objective sense,
the sense of sight, number is an extension and separation of our
most intimate and interrelating activity, our sense of touch.
This faculty of touch, called the "haptic" sense by the Greeks, was
popularized as such by the Bauhaus program of sensuous
education, through the work of Paul Klee, Walter Gropius, and many
others in the Germany of the 1920s. The sense of touch, as offering
a kind of nervous system or organic unity in the work

of art, has obsessed the minds of the artists since the time of
Cezanne. For more than a century now artists have tried to meet the
challenge of the electric age by investing the tactile sense with the
role of a nervous system for unifying all the others. Paradoxically,
this has been achieved by "abstract art," which offers a central
nervous system for a work of art, rather than the conventional husk
of the old pictorial image. More and more it has occurred to people
that the sense of touch is necessary to integral existence. The
weightless occupant of the space capsule has to fight to retain the
integrating sense of touch. Our mechanical technologies for
extending and separating the functions of our physical beings have
brought us near to a state of disintegration by putting us out of touch
with ourselves. It may very well be that in our conscious inner lives
the interplay among our senses is what constitutes the sense of
touch. Perhaps touch is not just skin contact with things, but the very
life of things in the mind? The Greeks had the notion of a consensus
or a faculty of "common sense" that translated each sense into each
other sense, and conferred consciousness on man. Today, when we
have extended all parts of our bodies and senses by technology, we
are haunted by the need for an outer consensus of technology and
experience that would raise our communal lives to the level of a
world-wide consensus. When we have achieved a world-wide
fragmentation, it is not unnatural to think about a world-wide
integration. Such a universality of conscious being for mankind was
dreamt of by Dante, who believed that men would remain mere
broken fragments until they should be united in an inclusive
consciousness. What we have today, instead of a social
consciousness electrically ordered, however, is a private
subconsciousness or individual "point of view" rigorously imposed by
older mechanical technology. This is a perfectly natural result of
"culture lag" or conflict, in a world suspended between two

The ancient world associated number magically with the properties
of physical things, and with the necessary causes of things, much as
science has tended until recent times to reduce all objects to
numerical quantities. In any and all of its manifestations, however,
number seems to have both auditory and repetitive resonance, and
a tactile dimension as well.
It is the quality of number that explains its power to create the effect
of an icon or an inclusive compressed image. Such is its use in
newspaper and magazine reporting, as: "Cyclist John Jameson, 12,
Collides with Bus," or "William Samson, 51, New Vice-President in
Charge of Brooms." By rule of thumb the journalists have discovered
the iconic power of number.
Since Henri Bergson and the Bauhaus group of artists, to say
nothing of Jung and Freud, the nonliterate and even antiliterate
values of tribal man have in general received enthusiastic study and
promotion. For many European artists and intellectuals, jazz
became one of the rallying points in their quest for the integral
Romantic Image. The uncritical enthusiasm of the European
intellectual for tribal culture appears in the exclamation of the
architect Le Corbusier on first seeing Manhattan: "It is hot-jazz in
stone." It appears again in the artist Moholy-Nagy's account of his
visit to a San Francisco night club in 1940. A Negro band was
playing with zest and laughter. Suddenly a player intoned, "One
million and three," and was answered: "One million and seven and a
half." Then another sang, "Eleven," and another, "Twenty-one."
Then amidst "happy laughter and shrill singing the numbers took
over the place."
Moholy-Nagy notes how, to Europeans, America seems to be the
land of abstractions, where numbers have taken on an existence of
their own in phrases like "57 Varieties," "the 5 and 10," or "7 Up" and
"behind the 8-ball." It figures. Perhaps this is a kind of echo of an
industrial culture that depends heavily on prices, charts, and figures.
Take 36-24-36. Numbers cannot become more sensuously tactile
than when mumbled as the

magic formula for the female figure while the haptic hand sweeps
the air.
Baudelaire had the true intuition of number as a tactile hand or
nervous system for interrelating separate units, when he said that
"number is within the individual. Intoxication is a number." That
explains why "the pleasure of being in a crowd is a mysterious
expression of delight in the multiplication of number " Number, that is
to say, is not only auditory and resonant, like the spoken word, but
originates in the sense of touch, of which it is an extension. The
statistical aggregation or crowding of numbers yields the current
cave-drawings or finger-paintings of the statisticians' charts. In every
sense, the amassing of numbers statistically gives man a new influx
of primitive intuition and magically subconscious awareness,
whether of public taste or feeling: "You feel better satisfied when you
use well-known brands."
Like money and clocks and all other forms of measurement,
numbers acquired a separate life and intensity with the growth of
literacy. Nonliterate societies had small use for numbers, and today
the nonliterate digital computer substitutes "yes" and "no" for
numbers. The computer is strong on contours, weak on digits. In
effect, then, the electric age brings number back into unity with
visual and auditory experience, for good or ill.
Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West originated in large part
from his concern with the new mathematics. Non-Euclidean
geometries, on one hand, and the rise of Functions in number theory,
on the other, seemed to Spengler to spell the end of Western man.
He had not grasped the fact that the invention of luiclidean space is.
itself, a direct result of the action of the phonetic- alphabet on the
human senses. Nor had he realized (hat number is an extension of
the physical body of man, an extension of our sense of touch. The
"infinity of functional processes," into which Spengler gloomily saw
traditional number and geometry dissolving, is, also, the extension of
our central nervous system in electrical technologies. We need not

grateful to apocalyptic writers like Spengler, who see our tech-
nologies as cosmic visitors from outer space. The Spenglers are
tribally entranced men who crave the swoon back into collective
unconsciousness and all the intoxication of number. In India the idea
of darshon -- of the mystical experience of being in very large
gatherings --stands at the opposite end of the spectrum from the
Western idea of conscious values.
The most primitive tribes of Australia and Africa, like the Eskimos of
today, have not yet reached finger-counting, nor do they have
numbers in series. Instead they have a binary system of
independent numbers for one and two, with composite numbers up
to six. After six, they perceive only "heap." Lacking the sense of
series, they will scarcely notice when two pins have been removed
from a row of seven. They become aware at once, however, if one
pin is missing. Tobias Dantzig, who investigated these matters,
points out (in Number: The Language of Science) that the parity or
kinesthetic sense of these people is stronger than their number
sense. It is certainly an indication of a developing visual stress in a
culture when number appears. A closely integrated tribal culture will
not easily yield to the separatist visual and individualistic pressures
that lead to the division of labor, and then to such accelerated forms
as writing and money. On the other hand, Western man, were he
determined to cling to the fragmented and individualist ways that he
has derived from the printed word in particular, would be well
advised to scrap all his electric technology since the telegraph. The
implosive (cora-pressional) character of the electric technology
plays the disk or film of Western man backward, into the heart of
tribal darkness, or into what Joseph Conrad called "the Africa
within." The instant character of electric information movement does
not enlarge, but involves, the family of man in the cohesive state of
village living.
It seems contradictory that the fragmenting and divisive power of our
analytic Western world should derive from an

accentuation of the visual faculty. This same visual sense is, also,
responsible for the habit of seeing all things as continuous and
connected. Fragmentation by means of visual stress occurs in that
isolation of moment in time, or of aspect in space, that is beyond the
power of touch, or hearing, or smell, or movement. By imposing
unvisualizable relationships that are the result of instant speed,
electric technology dethrones the visual sense and restores us to the
dominion of synesthesia, and the close interinvolvement of the other
Spengler was plunged into a Slough of Despond by what he saw as
the Western retreat from Numerical Magnitude into a Faery Land of
Functions and abstract relations. "The most valuable thing in
classical mathematic," he wrote, "is its proposition that number is the
essence of all things perceptible to the senses. Defining number as
a measure, it contains the whole world-feeling of a soul passionately
devoted to the 'here' and 'now' Measurement in this sense means
the measurement of something near and corporeal."
The ecstatic tribal man emanates from every page of Spengler. It
never occurred to him that the ratio among corporeal things could
never be less than rational. That is to say, rationality or
consciousness is itself a ratio or proportion among the sensuous
components of experience, and is not something added to such
sense experience. Subrational beings have no means of achieving
such a ratio or proportion in their sense lives but are wired for fixed
wave lengths, as it were, having infallibility in their own area of
experience. Consciousness, complex and subde, can be impaired or
ended by a mere stepping-up or dimming-down of any one sense
intensity, which is the procedure in hypnosis. And the intensification
of one sense by a new medium can hypnotize an entire community.
Thus, when he thought he saw modern mathematics and science
abandoning visual relations and constructions for a nonvisual theory
of relations and functions, Spengler pronounced the demise of the

Had Spengler taken the time to discover the origins of both number
and Euclidean space in the psychological effects of the phonetic
alphabet, The Decline of the West might never have been written.
That work is based on the assumption that classical man, Apollonian
man, was not the product of a technological bias in Greek culture
(namely, the early impact of literacy on a tribal society), but rather
the result of a special tremor in the soul stuff that embosomed the
Greek world. This is a striking instance of how easily men of any one
particular culture will panic when some familiar pattern or landmark
gets smudged or shifted because of the indirect pressure of new
media. Spengler, as much as Hitler, had derived from radio a
subconscious mandate to announce the end of all "rational" or visual
values. He was acting like Pip in Dickens' Great Expectations. Pip
was a poor boy who had a hidden benefactor who wanted to raise
Pip to the status of a gentleman. Pip was ready and willing until he
found that his benefactor was an escaped convict. Spengler and
Hitler and many more of the would-be "irrationalists" of our century
are like singing-telegram delivery boys, who are quite innocent of
any understanding of the medium that prompts the song they sing.
So far as Tobias Dantzig is concerned in his Number: The Language
of Science, the progress from the tactile fingering of toes and fingers
to "the homogeneous number concept, which made mathematics
possible" is the result of visual abstraction from the operation of
tactile manipulation. We have both extremes of this process in our
daily speech. The gangster term "to put the finger on" says that
somebody's "number" has come up. At the extreme of the graph
profiles of the statisticians there is the frankly expressed object of
manipulation of population for varieties of power purposes. For
example, in any large stockbroker's office there is a modern
medicine man known as "Mr. Odd Lots." His magical function is to
study the daily purchases and sales of the small buyers on the big
exchanges. Long experience

has revealed that these small buyers are wrong 80 per cent of the
time. A statistical profile of the failure of the little man to be in touch
enables the big operators to be about 80 per cent right Thus from
error comes truth; and from poverty, riches, thanks to numbers. This
is the modern magic of numbers. The more primitive attitude toward
the magical power of numbers appeared in the dread of the English
when William the Conqueror numbered them and their chattels in
what the folk called the Doomsday Book.
To turn again briefly to the question of number in its more limited
manifestation, Dantzig, having made clear that the idea of
homogeneity had to come before primitive numbers could be
advanced to the level of mathematics, points to another literate and
visual factor in the older mathematics. "Correspondence and
succession, the two principles which permeate all mathematics-- nay,
all realms of exact thought -- an woven into the very fabric of our
number system," he observes. So, indeed, are they woven into the
very fabric of Western logic and philosophy. We have already seen
how the phonetic technology fostered visual continuity and individual
point of view, and how these contributed to the rise of uniform
Euclidean space. Dantzig says that it is the idea of correspondence
which gives us cardinal numbers. Both of these spatial ideas
--lineality and point of view--come with writing, especially with
phonetic writing; but neither is necessary in our new mathematics
and physics. Nor is writing necessary to an electric technology. Of
course, writing and conventional arithmetic may long continue to be
of the utmost use to man, for all that. Even Einstein could not face the
new quantum physics with comfort. Too visual a Newtonian for the
new task, he said that quanta could not be handled mathematically.
That is as much as to say that poetry cannot be properly translated
into merely visual form on the printed page.
Dantzig develops his points about number by saying that a literate
population soon departs from the abacus and from finger

enumeration, though arithmetic manuals in the Renaissance
continued to give elaborate rules for calculating on the hands. It
could be true that numbers preceded literacy in some cultures, but
so did visual stress precede writing. For writing is only the principal
manifestation of the extension of our visual sense, as the
photograph and the movie today may well remind us. And long
before literate technology, the binary factors of hands and feet
sufficed to launch man on the path of counting. Indeed, the
mathematical Leibniz saw in the mystic elegance of the binary
system of zero and I the image of Creation. The unity of the
Supreme Being operating in the void by binary function would, he
felt, suffice to make all beings from the void.
Dantzig reminds us also that in the age of manuscript there was a
chaotic variety of signs for numerals, and that they did not assume a
stable form until printing. Although this was one of the least of the
cultural effects of printing, it should serve to recall that one of the big
factors in the Greek adoption of the letters of the phonetic alphabet
was the prestige and currency of the number system of the
Phoenician traders. The Romans got the Phoenician letters from the
Greeks but retained a number system that was much more ancient.
Wayne and Shuster, the comedian team, never fail to get a good
laugh when they line up a group of ancient Roman cops in togas and
have them number themselves from left to right, uttering Roman
numerals. This joke demonstrates how the pressure of numbers
caused men to seek ever more streamlined methods of numeration.
Before the advant of ordinal, successive, or positional numbers,
rulers had to count large bodies of soldiery by displacement
methods. Sometimes they were herded by groups into spaces of
approximately known area. The method of having them march in file
and of dropping pebbles into containers was another method not
unrelated to the abacus and the counting board. Eventually the
method of the counting board gave rise to the great discovery of the
principle of position in the early centuries of our era. By simply
putting 3

and 4 and 2 in position on the board, one after another, it was
possible to step up the speed and potential of calculation fan-
tastically. The discovery of calculation by positional numbers rather
than by merely additive numbers led, also, to the discovery of zero.
Mere positions for 3 and 2 on the board created ambiguities about
whether the number was 32 or 302. The need was to have a sign for
the gaps between numbers. It was not till the thirteenth century that
sifr, the Arab word for "gap" or "empty," was Latinized and added to
our culture as "cipher" (ziphirum) and finally became the Italian zero.
Zero really meant a positional gap. It did not acquire the
indispensable quality of "infinity" until the rise of perspective and
"vanishing point" in Renaissance painting. The new visual space of
Renaissance painting affected number as much as lineal waiting
had done centuries earlier.
A main fact about numbers has now been reached, with the link
between the medieval positional zero and the Renaissance
vanishing point. That both vanishing point and infinity were unknown
in the Greek and Roman cultures can be explained as by-products
of literacy. It was not until printing extended the visual faculty into
very high precision, uniformity, and intensity of special order that the
other senses could be restrained or depressed sufficiently to create
the new awareness of infinity. As one aspect of perspective and
printing, mathematical or numerical infinity serves as an instance of
how our various physical extensions or media act upon one another
through the agency of our own senses. It is in this mode that man
appears as the reproductive organ of the technological world, a fact
that Samuel Butler bizarrely announced in Erewhon.
The effect of any kind of technology engenders a new equilibrium in
us that brings quite new technologies to birth, as we have just seen
in the interplay of number (the tactile and quantitative form), and the
more abstract forms of written or visual culture. Print technology
transformed the medieval zero into the

Renaissance infinity, not only by convergence -- perspective and
vanishing point -- but by bringing into play for the first time in human
history the factor of exact repeatability. Print gave to men the concept
of indefinite repetition so necessary to the mathematical concept of
The same Gutenberg fact of uniform, continuous, and indefinitely
repeatable bits inspired also the related concept of the infinitesimal
calculus, by which it became possible to translate any kind of tricky
space into the straight, the flat, the uniform, and the "rational." This
concept of infinity was not imposed upon us by logic. It was the gift
of Gutenberg. So, also, later on, was the industrial assembly line.
The power to translate knowledge into mechanical production by the
breaking up of any process into fragmented aspects to be placed in
a lineal sequence of movable, yet uniform, parts was the formal
essence of the printing press. This amazing technique of spatial
analysis duplicating itself at once, by a kind of echo, invaded the
world of number and touch.
Here, then, is merely one familiar, if unrecognized, instance of the
power of one medium to translate itself into another medium. Since
all media are extensions of our own bodies and senses, and since
we habitually translate one sense into another in our own experience,
it need not surprise us that our extended senses or technologies
should repeat the process of translation and assimilation of one form
into another. This process may well be inseparable from the
character of touch, and from the abrasively interfaced action of
surfaces, whether in chemistry or crowds or technologies. The
mysterious need of crowds to grow and to reach out, equally
characteristic of large accumulations of wealth, can be understood if
money and numbers are, indeed, technologies that extend the
power of touch and the grasp of the hand. For numbers, whether of
people or of digits, and units of money would seem to possess the
same factual magic for seizing and incorporating

The Greeks ran head-on into the problem of translating their own
new media when they tried to apply rational arithmetic to a problem
in geometry. Up arose the specter of Achilles and the tortoise. These
attempts resulted in the first crisis in the history of our Western
mathematics. Such a crisis concerned the problems of determining
the diagonal of a square and the circumference of a circle: a clear
case of number, the tactile sense, trying to cope with visual and
pictorial space by reduction of the visual space to itself.
For the Renaissance, it was the infinitesimal calculus that enabled
arithmetic to take over mechanics, physics, and geometry. The idea
of an infinite but continuous and uniform process, so basic to the
Gutenberg technology of movable types, gave rise to the calculus.
Banish the infinite process and mathematics, pure and applied, is
reduced to the state known to the pre-Pythagoreans. This is to say,
banish the new medium of print with its fragmented technology of
uniform, lineal repeatability, and modern mathematics disappears.
Apply, however, this infinite uniform process to finding the length of
an arc, and all that need be done is to inscribe in the arc a sequence
of rectilinear contours of an increasing number of sides. When these
contours approach a limit, the length of the arc becomes the limit of
this sequence. The older method of determining volumes by liquid
displacement is thus translated into abstract visual terms by calculus.
The principles regarding the concept of length apply also to notions
of areas, volumes, masses, moments, pressures, forces, stresses
and strains, velocities and accelerations.
The miracle-maker, the sheer function of the infinitely fragmented
and repeatable, became the means of making visually flat, straight,
and uniform all that was nonvisual: the skew, the curved, and the
bumpy. In the same way, the phonetic alphabet had, centuries
before, invaded the discontinuous cultures of the barbarians, and
translated their sinuosities and obtusities into the uniformities of the
visual culture of the Western world. It is


Our Extended Skin

Economists have estimated that an unclad society eats 40 per cent
more than one in Western attire. Clothing as an extension of our skin
helps to store and to channel energy, so that if the Westerner needs
less food, he may also demand more sex. Yet neither clothing nor
sex can be understood as separate isolated factors, and many
sociologists have noted that sex can become a compensation for
crowded living. Privacy, like individualism, is unknown in tribal
societies, a fact that Westerners need to keep in mind when
estimating the attractions of our way of life to nonliterate peoples.
Clothing, as an extension of the skin, can be seen both as a
heat-control mechanism and as a means of denning the self socially.
In these respects, clothing and housing are near twins, though
clothing is both nearer and elder; for housing extends the inner
heat-control mechanisms of our organism, while

clothing is a more direct extension of the outer surface of the body.
Today Europeans have begun to dress for the eye,
American-style, just at the moment when Americans have begun to
abandon their traditional visual style. The media analyst knows why
these opposite styles suddenly transfer their locations. The
European, since the Second War, has begun to stress visual values;
his economy, not coincidentally, now supports a large amount of
uniform consumer goods. Americans, on the other hand, have
begun to rebel against uniform consumer values for the first time. In
cars, in clothes, in paperback books; in beards, babies, and beehive
hairdos, the American has declared for stress on touch, on
participation, involvement, and sculptural values. America, once the
land of an abstractly visual order, is profoundly "in touch" again with
European traditions of food and life and art. What was an
avant-garde program for the 1920 expatriates is now the teenagers'
The Europeans, however, underwent a sort of consumer revolution
at the end of the eighteenth century. When industrialism was a
novelty, it became fashionable among the upper classes to abandon
rich, courtly attire in favor of simpler materials. That was the time
when men first donned the trousers of the common foot soldier (or
pioneer, the original French usage), but it was done at that time as a
kind of brash gesture of social "integration." Up until then, the feudal
system had inclined the upper classes to dress as they spoke, in a
courtly style quite removed from that of ordinary people. Dress and
speech were accorded a degree of splendor and richness of texture
that universal literacy and mass production were eventually to
eliminate completely. The sewing machine, for example, created the
long straight line in clothes, as much as the linotype flattened the
human vocal style.
A recent ad for C-E-I-R Computer Services pictured a plain cotton
dress and the headline: "Why does Mrs. 'K' dress that way?"
--referring to the wife of Nikita Khrushchev. Some of the

copy of this very ingenious ad continued: "It is an icon. To its own
underprivileged population and to the uncommitted of the East and
South, it says: 'We are thrif-ty, simple, hon-est; peaceful, home-y,
go-od.' To the free nations of the West it says: 'We will bury you.' "
This is precisely the message that the new simple clothing of our
forefathers had for the feudal classes at the time of the French
Revolution. Clothing was then a nonverbal manifesto of political
Today in America there is a revolutionary attitude expressed as
much in our attire as in our patios and small cars. For a decade and
more, women's dress and hair styles have abandoned visual for
iconic--or sculptural and tactual--stress. Like toreador pants and
gaiter stockings, the beehive hairdo is also iconic and sensuously
inclusive, rather than abstractly visual. In a word, the American
woman for the first time presents herself as a person to be touched
and handled, not just to be looked at. While the Russians are groping
vaguely toward visual consumer values, North Americans are
frolicking amidst newly discovered tactile, sculptural spaces in cars,
clothes, and housing. For this reason, it is relatively easy for us now
to recognize clothing as an extension of the skin. In the age of the
bikini and of skin-diving, we begin to understand "the castle of our
skin" as a space and world of its own. Gone are the thrills of
strip-tease. Nudity could be naughty excitement only for a visual
culture that had divorced itself from the audile-tactile values of less
abstract societies. As late as 1930, four-letter words made visual on
the printed page seemed portentous. Words that most people used
every hour of the day became as frantic as nudity, when printed.
Most "four-letter words" are heavy with tactile-involving stress. For
this reason they seem earthy and vigorous to visual man. So it is with
nudity. To backward cultures still embedded in the full gamut of
sense-life, not yet abstracted by literacy and industrial visual order,
nudity is merely pathetic. The Kinsey Report on the sex

life of the male expressed bafflement that peasants and backward
peoples did not relish marital or boudoir nudity. Khrushchev did not
enjoy the can-can dance provided for his entertainment in Hollywood.
Naturally not. That sort of mime of sense involvement is
meaningful only to long-literate societies. Backward peoples
approach nudity, if at all, with the attitude we have come to expect
from our painters and sculptors -- the attitude made up of all the
senses at once. To a person using the whole sensorium, nudity is the
richest possible expression of structural form. But to the highly visual
and lopsided sensibility of industrial societies, the sudden
confrontation with tactile flesh is heady music, indeed.
There is a movement toward a new equilibrium today, as we
become aware of the preference for coarse, heavy textures and
sculptural shapes in dress. There is, also, the ritualistic exposure of
the body indoors and out-of-doors. Psychologists have long taught
us that much of our hearing takes place through the skin itself. After
centuries of being fully clad and of being contained in uniform visual
space, the electric age ushers us into a world in which we live and
breathe and listen with the entire epidermis. Of course, there is
much zest of novelty in this cult, and the eventual equilibrium among
the senses will slough off a good deal of the new ritual, both in
clothing and in housing. Meantime, in both new attire and new
dwellings, our unified sensibility cavorts amidst a wide range of
awareness of materials and colors which makes ours one of the
greatest ages of music, poetry, painting, and architecture

New Look and New Outlook

If clothing is an extension of our private skins to store and channel
our own heat and energy, housing is a collective means of achieving
the same end for the family or the group. Housing as shelter is an
extension of our bodily heat-control mechanisms --a collective skin
or garment. Cities are an even further extension of bodily organs to
accommodate the needs of large groups. Many readers are familiar
with the way in which lames Joyce organized Ulysses by assigning
the various city forms "I walls, streets, civic buildings, and media to
the various bodily organs. Such a parallel between the city and the
human body enabled Joyce to establish a further parallel between
ancient Ithaca and modern Dublin, creating a sense of human unity in
depth, transcending history.
Baudelaire originally intended to call his Flairs du Mai, Lei mines,
having in mind the city as corporate extensions of our

physical organs. Our letting-go of ourselves, self-alienations, as it
were, in order to amplify or increase the power of various functions,
Baudelaire considered to be flowers of growths of evil. The city as
amplification of human lusts and sensual striving had for him an
entire organic and psychic unity.
Literate man, civilized man, tends to restrict and enclose space and
to separate functions, whereas tribal man had
freely extended the form of his body to include the universe. Acting
as an organ of the cosmos, tribal man accepted his bodily functions
as modes of participation in the divine energies. The human body in
Indian religious thought was ritually related to the cosmic image, and
this in turn was assimilated into the form of house. Housing was an
image of both the body and the universe for tribal and nonliterate
societies. The building of the house with its hearth as fire-altar was
ritually associated with the act of creation. This same ritual was even
more deeply embedded in the building of the ancient cities, their
shape and process having been deliberately modeled as an act of
divine praise. The city and the home in the tribal world (as in China
and India today) can be accepted as iconic embodiments of the
word, the divine mythos, the universal aspiration. Even in our
present electric age, many people yearn for this inclusive strategy of
acquiring significance for their own private and isolated beings.
Literate man, once having accepted an analytic technology of
fragmentation, is not nearly so accessible to cosmic patterns as
tribal man. He prefers separateness and compartmented spaces,
rather than the open cosmos. He becomes less inclined to accept
his body as a model of the universe, or to see his house -- or any
other of the media of communication, for that matter -- as a ritual
extension of his body. Once men have adopted the visual dynamic
of the phonetic alphabet, they begin to lose the tribal man's
obsession with cosmic order and ritual as recurrent in the physical
organs and their social extension. Indifference to the cosmic,
however, fosters intense concentration on minute

segments and specialist tasks, which is the unique strength of
Western man. For the specialist is one who never makes small
mistakes while moving toward the grand fallacy.
Men live in round houses until they become sedentary and
specialized in their work organization. Anthropologists have often
noted this change from round to square without knowing its cause.
The media analyst can help the anthropologist in this matter,
although the explanation will not be obvious to people of visual
culture. The visual man, likewise, cannot see much difference
between the motion picture and TV, or between a Corvair and a
Volkswagen, for this difference is not between two visual spaces, but
between tactile and visual ones. A tent or a wigwam is not an
enclosed or visual space. Neither is a cave nor a hole in the ground.
These kinds of space -- the tent, the wigwam, the igloo, the cave --
are not "enclosed" in the visual sense because they follow dynamic
lines of force, like a triangle. When enclosed, or translated into visual
space, architecture tends to lose its tactile kinetic pressure. A square
is the enclosure of a visual space; that is, it consists of space
properties abstracted from manifest tensions. A triangle follows lines
of force, this being the most economical way of anchoring a vertical
object. A square moves beyond such kinetic pressures to enclose
visual space relations, while depending upon diagonal anchors. This
separation of the visual from direct tactile and kinetic pressure, and
its translation into new dwelling spaces, occurs only when men have
learned to practice specialization of their senses, and fragmentation
of their work skills. The square room or house speaks the language
of the sedentary specialist, while the round hut or igloo, like the
conical wigwam, tells of the integral nomadic ways of food-gathering
This entire discussion is offered at considerable risk of misap-
prehension because these are, spatially, highly technical matters.
Nevertheless, when such spaces are understood, they offer the key
to a great many enigmas, past and present. They explain the

change from circular-dome architecture to gothic forms, change
occasioned by alteration in the ratio or proportion of the sense lives
in the members of a society. Such a shift occurs with the extension
of the body in new social technology and invention. A new extension
sets up a new equilibrium among all of the senses and faculties
leading, as we say, to a "new outlook" --new attitudes and
preferences in many areas.
In the simplest terms, as already noted, housing is an effort to
extend the body's heat-control mechanism. Clothing tackles the
problem more directly but less fundamentally, and privately rather
than socially. Both clothing and housing store warmth and energy
and make these readily accessible for the execution of many tasks
otherwise impossible. In making heat and energy accessible socially,
to the family or the group, housing fosters new skills and new
learning, performing the basic functions of all other media. Heat
control is the key factor in housing, as well as in clothing. The
Eskimo's dwelling is a good example. The Eskimo can go for days
without food at 50 degrees below zero. The unclad native, deprived
of nourishment, dies in a few hours. It may surprise many to learn
that the primitive shape of the igloo is, nonetheless, traceable to the
primus stove. Eskimos have lived for ages in round stone houses,
and, for the most part, still do. The igloo, made of snow blocks, is a
fairly recent development in the life of this stone-age people. To live
in such structures became possible with the coming of the white
man and his portable stove. The igloo is an ephemeral shelter,
devised for temporary use by trappers. The Eskimo became a
trapper only after he had made contact with the white man; up until
then he had been simply a food-gatherer. Let the igloo serve as an
example of the way in which a new pattern is introduced into an
ancient way of life by the intensification of a single factor --in this
instance, artificial heat. In the same way, the intensification of a
single factor in our complex lives leads naturally to a new balance
among our technologically extended faculties, resulting

in a new look and a new "outlook" with new motivations and
In the twentieth century we are familiar with the changes in housing
and architecture that are the result of electric energy made available
to elevators. The same energy devoted to lighting has altered our
living and working spaces even more radically. Electric light
abolished the divisions of night and day, of inner and outer, and of
the subterranean and the terrestrial. It altered every consideration of
space for work and production as much as the other electric media
had altered the space-time experience of society. All this is
reasonably familiar. Less familiar is the architectural revolution made
possible by improvements in heating centuries ago. With the mining
of coal on a large scale in the Renaissance, inhabitants in the colder
climates discovered great new resources of personal energy. New
means of heating permitted the manufacture of glass and the
enlargement of living quarters and the raising of ceilings. The
Burgher house of the Renaissance became at once bedroom,
kitchen, workshop, and sale outlet.
Once housing is seen as group (or corporate) clothing and heat
control, the new means of heating can be understood as causing
change in spatial form. Lighting, however, is almost as decisive as
heating in causing these changes in architectural and city spaces.
That is the reason why the story of glass is so closely related to the
history of housing. The story of the mirror is a main chapter in the
history oi' dress and manners and the sense of the self.
Recently an imaginative school principal in a slum area provided
each student in the school with a photograph of himself. The
classrooms of the school were abundantly supplied with large
mirrors. The result was an astounding increase in the learning rate.
The slum child has ordinarily very little visual orientation. He does
not see himself as becoming something. He does not envisage
distant goals and objectives. He has deeply involved

in his own world from day to day, and can establish no beachhead in
the highly specialized sense life of visual man. The plight of the slum
child, via the TV image, is increasingly extended to the entire
Clothing and housing, as extensions of skin and heat-control
mechanisms, are media of communication, first of all, in the sense
that they shape and rearrange the patterns of human association
and community. Varied techniques of lighting and heating would
seem only to give new flexibility and scope to what is the basic
principle of these media of clothing and housing; namely, their
extension of our bodily heat-control mechanisms in a way that
enables us to attain some degree of equilibrium in a changing
Modern engineering provides means of housing that range from the
space capsule to walls created by air jets. Some firms now
specialize in providing large buildings with inside walls and floors
that can be moved at will. Such flexibility naturally tends toward the
organic. Human sensitivity seems once more to be attuned to the
universal currents that made of tribal man a cosmic skin-diver.
It is not only the Ulysses of James Joyce that testifies to this trend.
Recent studies of the Gothic churches have stressed the organic
aims of their builders. The saints took the body seriously as the
symbolic vesture of the spirit, and they regarded the Church as a
second body, viewing its every detail with great completeness.
Before James Joyce provided his detailed image of the metropolis
as a second body, Baudelaire had provided a similar "dialogue"
between the parts of the body extended to form the metropolis, in his
Fleurs du Mai.
Electric lighting has brought into the cultural complex of the
extensions of man in housing and city, an organic flexibility unknown
to any other age. If color photography has created "museums
without walls," how much more has electric lighting created space
without walls, and day without night. Whether

the night city, the night highway, or the night ball game, sketching
and writing with light have moved from the domain of the pictorial
photograph to the live, dynamic spaces created by out of-door
Not many ages ago, glass windows were unknown luxuries. With
light control by glass came also a means of controlling the regularity
of domestic routine, and steady application to crafts and trade
without regard to cold or rain. The world was put in a frame. With
electric light not only can we carry out the most precise operations
with no regard for time or place or climate, hut we can photograph
the submicroscopic as easily as we can enter the subterranean
world of the mine and of the cave-painters.
Lighting as an extension of our powers affords the clearest cut
example of how such extensions alter our perceptions. If people are
inclined to doubt whether the wheel or typography or the plane could
change our habits of sense perception, their doubts end with electric
lighting. In this domain, the medium is the message, and when the
light is on there is a world of sense that disappears when the light is
"Painting with light" is jargon from the world of stage-electricity. The
uses of light in the world of motion, whether in (he motorcar or the
movie or the microscope, are as diverse as the uses of electricity in
the world of power. Light is information without "content," much as
the missile is a vehicle without the additions of wheel or highway. As
the missile is a self-contained transportation system that consumes
not only its fuel but its engine, so light is a self-contained
communication system in which the medium is the message.
The recent development of the laser ray has introduced new
possibilities for light. The laser ray is an amplification of light by
intensified radiation. Concentration of radiant energy has made
available some new properties in light. The laser ray -- by thickening
light, as it were --enables it to be modulated to carry

information as do radio waves. But because of its greater intensity, a
single laser beam can carry as much information as all the combined
radio and TV channels in the United States. Such beams are not
within the range of vision, and may well have a military future as a
lethal agents.
From the air at night, the seeming chaos of the urban area manifests
itself as a delicate embroidery on a dark velvet ground. Gyorgy
Kepes has developed these aerial effects of the city at night as a
new art form of "landscape by light through" rather than "light on."
His new electric landscapes have complete congruity with the TV
image, which also exists by light through rather than by light on.
The French painter Andre Girard began painting directly on film
before the photographic movies became popular. In that early phase
it was easy to speculate about "painting with light" and about
introducing movement into the art of painting. Said Girard:
I would not be surprised if, fifty years from now, almost no one
would pay attention to paintings whose subjects remain still in
their always too-narrow frames.
The coming of TV inspired him anew:
Once I saw suddenly, in a control room, the sensitive eye of the
camera presenting to me, one after another, the faces, the
landscapes, the expressions of a big painting of mine in an order
which I had never thought of. I had the feeling of a composer
listening to one of his operas, all scenes mixed up in an order
different from the one he wrote. It was like seeing a build-ing
from a fast elevator that showed you the roof before the
basement, and made quick stops at some floors but not others.
Since that phase, Girard has worked out new techniques of

control for painting with light in association with CBS and NBC
technicians. The relevance of his work for housing is that it enables
us to conceive of totally new possibilities for architectural and artistic
modulation of space. Painting with light is a kind of housing without
walls. The same electric technology, extended to the job of providing
global thermostatic controls, points to the obsolescence of housing
as an extension of the heat control mechanisms of the body. It is
equally conceivable that the electric extension of the process of
collective consciousness, in making consciousness-without-walls,
might render language walls obsolescent. Languages are stuttering
extensions of our live senses, in varying ratios and wavelengths. An
immediate simulation of consciousness would by-pass speech in a
kind of massive extrasensory perception, just as global thermostats
could by-pass those extensions of skin and body that we call houses.
Such an extension of the process of consciousness by electric
simulation may easily occur in the 1960s.

The Poor Man's Credit Card

Central to modern psychoanalytical theory is the
relation between the money complex and the human body. Some
analysts derive money from the infantile impulse to play with faeces.
Ferenczi, in particular, calls money "nothing other than odorless
dehydrated filth that has been made to shine." Ferenczi, in his
concept of money, is elaborating Freud's concept of "Character and
Anal Erotism." Although this idea of linking "filthy lucre" with the anal
has continued in the main lines of psychoanalysis, it does not
correspond sufficiently to the nature and function of money in society
to provide a theme for the present chapter.
Money began in nonliterate cultures as a commodity, such as
whales' teeth on Fiji; or rats on Easter Island, which later were
considered a delicacy, were valued as a luxury, and thus became a
means of mediation or barter. When the Spaniards were besieging
Leyden in 1574, leather money was issued, but as

hardship increased the population boiled and ate the
new currency.
In literate cultures, circumstances may reintroduce commodity
money. The Dutch, after the German occupation of World War II,
were avid for tobacco. Since the supply was small, objects of high
value such as jewels, precision instruments, and even houses were
sold for small quantities of cigarettes. The Reader's Digest recorded
an episode from the early occupation of Europe in 1 945, describing
how an unopened pack of cigarettes served as currency, passing
from hand to hand, translating the skill of one worker into the skill of
another as long as no one broke the seal.
Money always retains something of its commodity and community
character. In the beginning, its function of extending the grasp of
men from their nearest staples and commodities to more distant
ones is very slight. Increased mobility of grasp and trading is small at
first. So it is with the emergence of language in the child. In the first
months grasping is reflexive, and the power to make voluntary
release comes only toward the end of the first year. Speech comes
with the development of the power to let go of objects. It gives the
power of detachment from the environment that is also the power of
great mobility in knowledge of the environment. So it is with the
growth of the idea of money as currency rather than commodity.
Currency is a way of letting go of the immediate staples and
commodities that at first serve as money, in order to extend trading
to the whole social complex. Trading by currency is based on the
principle of grasping and letting go in an oscillating cycle. The one
hand retains the article with which it tempts the other party. The
other hand is extended in demand toward the object which is desired
in exchange. The first hand lets go as soon as the second object is
touched, somewhat in the manner of a trapeze artist exchanging one
bar for another. In fact, Elias Canetti in Crowds and Power argues
that the trader is Involved in one of the most ancient of all pastimes,

namely that of climbing trees and swinging from limb to limb. The
primitive grasping, calculating, and timing of the greater arboreal
apes he sees as a translation into financial terms of one of the oldest
movement patterns. Just as the hand among the branches of the
trees learned a pattern of grasping that was quite removed from the
moving of food to mouth, so the trader and the financier have
developed enthralling abstract activities that are extensions of the
avid climbing and mobility of the greater apes.
Like any other medium, it is a staple, a natural resource. As an
outward and visible form of the urge to change and to exchange, it is
a corporate image, depending on society for its institutional status.
Apart from communal participation, money is meaningless, as
Robinson Crusoe discovered when he found the coins in the
wrecked ship:
I smiled to myself at the sight of this money. "O drug!" said I
aloud, "What art thou good for? Thou art not worth to me --no,
not the taking off the ground: one of those knives is worth all
this heap: I have no manner of use for thee; e'en remain where
thou art and, go to the bottom, as a creature whose life is not
worth saving."
However, upon second thoughts, I took it away; and wrapping
it all in a piece of canvas, I began to think of making another
raft . . .

Primitive commodity money, like the magical words of non-literate
society, can be a storehouse of power, and has often become the
occasion of feverish economic activity. The natives of the South
Seas, when they are so engaged, seek no economic advantage.
Furious application to production may be followed by deliberate
destruction of the products in order to achieve moral prestige. Even
in these "potlatch" cultures, however, the effect of the currencies
was to expedite and to accelerate human

energies in a way that had become universal in the ancient world
with the technology of the phonetic alphabet. Money, like writing,
has the power to specialize and to rechannel human energies and to
separate functions, just as it translates and reduces one kind of work
to another. Even in the electronic age it has lost none of this power.
Potlatch is very widespread, especially where there is ease of
food-gathering or food-production. For example, among the
Northwest coast fishermen, or rice-planters of Borneo, huge
surpluses are produced that have to be destroyed or class differ-
ences would arise that would destroy the traditional social order. In
Borneo the traveler may see tons of rice exposed to rains in rituals,
and great art constructions, involving tremendous efforts, smashed.
At the same time, in these primitive societies, while money may
release frantic energies in order to charge a bit of copper with
magical prestige, it can buy very little. Rich and poor necessarily live
in much the same manner. Today, in the electronic age, the richest
man is reduced to having much the same entertainment, and even
the same food and vehicles as the ordinary man.
The use of a commodity such as money naturally increases its
production. The nonspecialist economy of Virginia in the seven-
teenth century made the elaborate European currencies quite
dispensable. Having little capital, and wishing to put as little of this
capital as possible into the shape of money, the Virginians turned to
commodity money in some instances. When a commodity like
tobacco was legislated into legal tender, it had the effect of
stimulating the production of tobacco, just as the establishment of
metallic currencies advanced the mining of metals.
Money, as a social means of extending and amplifying work and skill
in an easily accessible and portable form, lost much of its magical
power with the coming of representative money, or Paper money.
Just as speech lost its magic with writing, and further with printing,
when printed money supplanted gold the

compelling aura of it disappeared. Samuel Butler in Erewhon (1872)
gave clear indications in his treatment of the mysterious prestige
conferred by precious metals. His ridicule of the money medium took
the form of presenting the old reverent attitude to money in a new
social context. This new kind of abstract, printed money of the high
industrial age, however, simply would not sustain the old attitude:
This is the true philanthropy. He who makes a colossal fortune in
the hosiery trade, and by his energy has succeeded in reducing
the price of woollen goods by the thousandth part of a penny in
the pound --this man is worth ten professional philanthropists. So
strongly are the Erewhonians impressed with this, that if a man
has made a fortune of over/2O,ooo a year they exempt him from
all taxation, considering him a work of art, and too precious to be
meddled with; they say, "How very much he must have done for
society before society could have been prevailed upon to give
him so much money"; so magnificent an organization overawes
them; they regard it as a thing dropped from heaven.
"Money," they say, "is the symbol of duty, it is the sacrament of
having done for mankind that which mankind wanted. Mankind
may not be a very good judge, but there is no better." This used
to shock me at first, when I remembered that it had been said on
high authority that they who have riches shall enter hardly into
the kingdom of heaven; but the influence of Erewhon had made
me begin to see things in a new light, and I could not help
thinking that they who have not riches shall enter more hardly
Earlier in the book, Butler had ridiculed the cash-register morality
and religion of an industrialized world, under the guise of the
"Musical Banks," with clergy in the role of cashiers. In the present
passage, he perceives money as "the sacrament of having

done for mankind that which mankind wanted." Money, he is saying,
is the "outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. "
Money as a social medium or extension of an inner wish and motive
creates social and spiritual values, as happens even in fashions in
women's dress. A current ad underlines this aspect of dress as
currency (that is, as social sacrament or outward and visible sign)
"The important thing in today's world of fashion is to appear to be
wearing a popular fabric." Conformity to this fashion literally gives
currency to a style or fabric, creating a social medium that increases
wealth and expression thereby. Does not this stress how money, or
any medium whatever, is constituted and made efficacious? When
men become uneasy about such social values achieved by
uniformity and repetition, doing for mankind that which mankind
wants, we can take it as a mark of the decline of mechanical
"Money talks" because money is a metaphor, a transfer, and a
bridge. Like words and language, money is a storehouse of
communally achieved work, skill, and experience. Money, however,
is also a specialist technology like writing; and as writing intensifies
the visual aspect of speech and order, and as the clock visually
separates time from space, so money separates work from the other
social functions. Even today money is a language for translating the
work of the farmer into the work of the barber, doctor, engineer, or
plumber. As a vast social metaphor, bridge, or translator, money --
like writing --speeds up exchange and tightens the bonds of
interdependence in any community. It gives great spatial extension
and control to political organizations, just as writing does, or the
calendar. It is action at a distance, both in space and in time. In a
highly literate, fragmented society, "Time is money," and money is
the store of other people's time and effort.
During the Middle Ages the idea of the fisc or "the King's purse" kept
the notion of money in relation to language ("the

King's English") and to communication by travel ("the King's
highway"). Before the advent of printing, it was quite natural for the
means of communication to be regarded as extensions of a single
body. In an increasingly literate society, money and the clock
assumed a high degree of visual or fragmented stress. In practice,
our Western use of money as store and translator of communal work
and skill has depended upon long accustomation to the written word,
and upon the power of the written word to specialize, to delegate,
and to separate functions in an organization.
When we look at the nature and uses of money in nonliterate
societies, we can better understand the ways in which writing helps
to establish currencies. Uniformity of commodities, combined with a
fixed-price system such as we now take for granted, does not
become possible until printing prepares the ground. "Backward"
countries take a long time to reach economic "takeoff' because they
do not undergo the extensive processing of print with its
psychological conditioning in the ways of uniformity and repeatability.
In general, the West is little aware of the way in which the world of
prices and numbering is supported by the pervasive visual culture of
Nonliterate societies are quite lacking in the psychic resources to
create and sustain the enormous structures of statistical information
that we call markets and prices. Far easier is the organization of
production than is the training of whole populations in the habits of
translating their wishes and desires statistically, as it were, by
means of market mechanisms of supply and demand, and the visual
technology of prices. It was only in the eighteenth century that the
West began to accept this form of extension of its inner life in the
new statistical pattern of marketing. So bizarre did this new
mechanism appear to thinkers of that time that they called it a
"Hedonistic calculus." Prices then seemed to be comparable, in
terms of feelings and desires, to the vast world of space that had
yielded its inequities earlier to the

translating power of the differential calculus. In a word, the
fragmentation of the inner life by prices seemed as mysterious in the
eighteenth century, as the minute fragmentation of space by means
of calculus had seemed a century earlier.
The extreme abstraction and detachment represented by our pricing
system is quite unthinkable and unusable amidst populations for
whom the exciting drama of price haggling occurs with every
Today, as the new vortices of power are shaped by the instant
electric interdependence of all men on this planet, the visual factor in
social organization and in personal experience recedes, and money
begins to be less and less a means of storing or exchanging work
and skill. Automation, which is electronic, does not represent
physical work so much as programmed knowledge. As work is
replaced by the sheer movement of information, money as a store of
work merges with the informational forms of credit and credit card.
From coin to paper currency, and from currency to credit card there
is a steady progression toward commercial exchange as the
movement of information itself. This trend toward an inclusive
information is the kind of image represented by the credit card, and
approaches once more the character of tribal money. For tribal
society, not knowing the specialisms of job or of work, does not
specialize money either. Its money can be eaten, drunk, or worn like
the new space ships that are now designed to be edible.
"Work," however, does not exist in a nonliterate world. The primitive
hunter or fisherman did no work, any more than does the poet,
painter, or thinker of today. Where the whole man is involved there is
no work. Work begins with the division of labor and the
specialization of functions and tasks in sedentary, agricultural
communities. In the computer age we are once more totally involved
in our roles. In the electric age the "job of work ' yields to dedication
and commitment, as in the tribe.
In nonliterate societies money relates itself to the other organs

of society quite simply. The role of money is enormously increased
after money begins to foster specialism and separation of social
functions. Money becomes, in fact, the principal means of
interrelating the ever more specialist activities of literate society. The
fragmenting power of the visual sense, as literacy separates it from
the other senses, is a fact more easily identified now in the electronic
age. Nowadays, with computers and electric programming, the
means of storing and moving information become less and less
visual and mechanical, while increasingly integral and organic. The
total field created by the instantaneous electric forms cannot be
visualized any more than the velocities of electronic particles can be
visualized. The instantaneous creates an interplay among time and
space and human occupations, for which the older forms of currency
exchange become increasingly inadequate. A modern physicist who
attempted to employ visual models of perception in organizing
atomic data would not be able to get anywhere near the nature of his
problems. Both time (as measured visually and segmentally) and
space (as uniform, pictorial, and enclosed) disappear in the
electronic age of instant information. In the age of instant information
man ends his job of fragmented specializing and assumes the role of
information gathering. Today information gathering resumes the
inclusive concept of "culture," exactly as the primitive food-gatherer
worked in complete equilibrium with his entire
environment. Our quarry now, in this new nomadic and "work-less
world, is knowledge and insight into the creative processes of life
and society.
Men left the closed world of the tribe for the "open society,"
exchanging an ear for an eye by means of the technology of writing.
The alphabet in particular enabled them to break out of the charmed
circle and resonating magic of the tribal world. A similar process of
economic change from the closed to the open society, from
mercantilism and the economic protection of national trade to the
open market ideal of the free-traders, was

accomplished in more recent times by means of the printed word,
and by moving from metallic to paper currencies. Today, electric
technology puts the very concept of money in jeopardy, as the new
dynamics of human interdependence shift from fragmenting media
such as printing to inclusive or mass media like the telegraph.
Since all media are extensions of ourselves, or translations of some
part of us into various materials, any study of one medium helps us
to understand all the others. Money is no exception. The primitive or
nonliterate use of money is especially enlightening, since it
manifests an easy acceptance of staple products as media of
communication. The nonliterate man can accept any staple as
money, partly because the staples of a community are as much
media of communication as they are commodities. Cotton, wheat,
cattle, tobacco, timber, fish, fur, and many other products have acted
as major shaping forces of community life in many cultures. When
one of these staples becomes dominant as a social bond, it serves,
also, as a store of value, and as a translator or exchanger of skills
and tasks.
The classic curse of Midas, his power of translating all he touched
into gold, is in some degree the character of any medium, including
language. This myth draws attention to a magic aspect of all
extensions of human sense and body; that is, to all technology
whatever. All technology has the Midas touch. When a community
develops some extension of itself, it tends to allow all other functions
to be altered to accommodate that form.
Language, like currency, acts as a store of perception and as a
transmitter of the perceptions and experience of one person or of
one generation to another. As both a translator and storehouse of
experience, language is, in addition, a reducer and a distorter of
experience. The very great advantage of accelerating the learning
process, and of making possible the transmission of knowledge and
insight across time and space, easily overrides

the disadvantages of linguistic codifications of experience. In
modern mathematics and science there are increasingly mere and
more nonverbal ways of codifying experience.
Money, like language a store of work and experience, acts also as
translator and transmitter. Especially since the written word has
advanced the separation of social functions, money is able to move
away from its role as store of work. This role is obvious when a
staple or commodity like cattle or fur is used as money. As money
separates itself from the commodity form and becomes a specialist
agent of exchange (or translator of values), it moves with greater
speed and in ever greater volume.
Even in recent times, the dramatic arrival of paper currency, or
"representative money," as a substitute for commodity money
caused confusions. Much in the same way, the Gutenberg
technology created a vast new republic of letters, and stirred great
confusion about the boundaries between the realms of literature and
life. Representative money, based on print technology, created new
speedy dimensions of credit that were quite inconsistent with the
inert mass of bullion and of commodity money. Yet all efforts were
bent to make the speedy new money behave like the slow bullion
coach. J. M. Keynes stated this policy in A Treatise on Money:
Thus the long age of Commodity Money has at last passed
finally away before the age of Representative Money. Cold has
ceased to be a coin, a hoard, a tangible claim to wealth, of which
the value cannot slip away so long as the hand of the individual
clutches the material stuff. It has become a much more abstract
thing--just a standard of value; and it only keeps this nominal
status by being handed round from time to time in quite small
quantities amongst a group of Central Banks, on the occasions
when one of them has been inflating or deflating its managed
representative money in a different degree from what is
appropriate to the behavior of its neighbours.

Paper, or representative money, has specialized itself away from the
ancient role of money as a store of work into the equally ancient and
basic function of money as transmitter and expediter of any kind of
work into any other kind. Just as the alphabet was a drastic visual
abstraction from the rich hieroglyphic culture of the Egyptians, so it
also reduced and translated that culture into the great visual vortex
of the Graeco-Roman world. The alphabet is a one-way process of
reduction of nonlit-erate cultures into the specialist visual fragments
of our Western world. Money is an adjunct of that specialist
alphabetic technology, raising even the Gutenberg form of
mechanical repeatability to new intensity. As the alphabet
neutralized the divergencies of primitive cultures by translation of
their complexities into simple visual terms, so
representative money reduced moral values in the nineteenth
century. As paper expedited the power of the alphabet to reduce the
oral barbarians to Roman uniformity of civilization, so paper money
enabled Western industry to blanket the globe.
Shortly before the advent of paper money, the greatly increased
volume of information movement in European newsletters and
newspapers created the image and concept of National Credit. Such
a corporate image of credit depended, then as now, on the fast and
comprehensive information movement that we have taken for
granted for two centuries and more. At that stage of the emergence
of public credit, money assumed the further role of translating, not
just local, but national stores of work from one culture to another.
One of the inevitable results of acceleration of information
movement and of the translating power of money is the opportunity
of enrichment for those who can anticipate this transformation by a
few hours or years, as the case may be. We are particularly familiar
today with examples of enrichment by means of advance
information in stocks and bonds and real estate. In the past, when
wealth was not so obviously related to

information, an entire social class could monopolize the wealth
resulting from a casual shift in technology. Keynes' report of just
such an instance, in his study of "Shakespeare and the Profit
Inflations," explains that since new wealth and bullion fall first to the
governing classes, they experience a sudden buoyancy and
euphoria, a glad release from the habitual stress and anxieties that
fosters a prosperity, which in turn inspires the starving artist
in his garret to invent new triumphant rhythms and exultant forms of
painting and poetry. As long as profits leap well ahead of wages, the
governing class cavorts in a style that inspires the greatest
conceptions in the bosom of the impecunious artist.
When, however, profits and wages keep in reasonable touch, this
abounding joy of the governing class is correspondingly diminished,
and art then cannot benefit from prosperity. Keynes discovered the
dynamics of money as a medium. The real task of a study of this one
medium is identical with that of the study of all media; namely, as
Keynes wrote, "to treat the problem dynamically, analyzing the
different elements involved, in such a manner as to exhibit the
causal process by which the price level is determined, and the
method of transition from one position of equilibrium to another."
In a word, money is not a closed system, and does not have its
meaning alone. As a translator and amplifier, money has
exceptional powers of substituting one kind of thing for another.
Information analysts have come to the conclusion that the degree
to which one resource can be substituted for another increases
when information increases. As we know more, we rely less on any
one food or fuel or raw material. Clothes and furniture can now be
made from many different materials. Money, which had been for
many centuries the principal transmitter and exchanger of
information, is now having its function increasingly transferred to
science and automation.
Today, even natural resources have an informational aspect. They
exist by virtue of the culture and skill of some community.

The reverse, however, is true also. All media –or extension of man --
are natural resources that exist by virtue of the shared knowledge
and skill of a community. It was awareness of this aspect of money
that hit Robinson Crusoe very hard when he visited the wreck,
resulting in the meditation quoted at the beginning of this chapter.
When there are goods but no money, some sort of barter --or direct
exchange of one product for another --has to occur. When, however,
in nonliterate societies goods are used in direct exchange, then it is
easiest to note their tendency to include the function of money. Some
work has been done to some material, if only in bringing it from a
distance. The object, then, stores work and information or technical
knowledge to the extent that something has been done to it. When
the one object is exchanged for another, it is already assuming the
function of money, as translator or reducer of multiple things to some
common denominator. The common denominator (or translator) is,
however, also a time-saver and expediter. As such, money is time,
and it would be hard to separate labor-saving from time-saving in this
There is a mystery about the Phoenicians, who, although they were
avid maritime traders, adopted coinage later man the landed
Lydians. The reason assigned for this delay may not explain the
Phoenician problem, but it draws sharp attention to a basic fact
about money as a medium; namely, that those who traded by
caravan required a light and portable medium of payment. This need
was less for those who, like the Phoenicians, traded by sea.
Portability, as a means of expediting and extending the effective
distance of action, was also notably illustrated by papyrus. The
alphabet was one thing when applied to clay or stone, and quite
another when set down on light papyrus. The resulting leap in speed
and space created the Roman Empire.
In the industrial age the increasingly exact measurement of work
revealed time-saving as a major aspect of labor-saving. The

media of money and writing and clock began to converge into an
organic whole again that has brought us as close to the total
involvement of man in his work, as of native in a primitive society, or
of artist in his studio.
Money in one of its features provides a natural transition to number
because the money hoard or collection has much in common with
the crowd. Moreover, the psychological patterns of the crowd and
those associated with accumulations of wealth are very close. Elias
Canetti stresses that the dynamic which is basic to crowds is the
urge to rapid and unlimited growth. The same power dynamic is
characteristic of large concentrations of wealth or treasure. In fact,
the modern unit of treasure in popular use is the million. It is a unit
acceptable to any type of currency. Always associated with the
million is the idea that it can be reached by a rapid speculative
scramble. In the same way, Canetti explains how the ambition to see
numbers mounting up was typical of Hitler's speeches.
Not only do crowds of people and piles of money strive toward
increase, but they also breed uneasiness about the possibility of
disintegration and deflation. This two-way movement of expansion
and deflation seems to be the cause of the restlessness of crowds
and the uneasiness that goes with wealth. Canetti spends a good
deal of analysis on the psychic effects of the German inflation after
the First World War. The depreciation of the citizen went along with
that of the German mark. There was a loss of face and of worth in
which the personal and monetary units became confused.

The Scent of Time

Writing on Communication in Africa, Leonard Doob observes: "The
turban, the sword and nowadays the alarm clock are worn or carried
to signify high rank." Presumably it will be rather long before the
African will watch the clock in order to be punctual. Just as a great
revolution in mathematics came when positional, tandem numbers
were discovered (302 instead of 32, and so on), so great cultural
changes occurred in the West when it was found possible to fix time
as something that happens between two points. From this
application of visual, abstract, and uniform units came our Western
feeling for time as duration. From our division of time into uniform,
visualizable units comes our sense of duration and our impatience
when we cannot endure the delay between events. Such a sense of
impatience, of time as duration, is unknown among non literate
cultures. Just as work began with the division of labor, duration
begins with the

division of time, and especially with those subdivisions by which
mechanical clocks impose uniform succession on the time sense.
As a piece of technology, the clock is a machine that produces
uniform seconds, minutes, and hours on an assembly-line pattern.
Processed in this uniform way, time is separated from the rhythms of
human experience. The mechanical clock, in short, helps to create
the image of a numerically quantified and mechanically powered
universe. It was in the world of the medieval monasteries, with their
need for a rule and for synchronized order to guide communal life,
that the clock got started on its modern developments. Time
measured not by the uniqueness of private experience but by
abstract uniform units gradually pervades all sense life, much as
does the technology of writing and printing. Not only work, but also
eating and sleeping, came to accommodate themselves to the clock
rather than to organic needs. As the pattern of arbitrary and uniform
measurement of time extended itself across society, even clothing
began to undergo annual alteration in a way convenient for industry.
At that point, of course, mechanical measurement of time as a
principle of applied knowledge joined forces with printing and
assembly line as means of uniform fragmentation of processes.
The most integral and involving time sense imaginable is that
expressed in the Chinese and Japanese cultures. Until the coming
of the missionaries in the seventeenth century, and the introduction
of the mechanical clocks, the Chinese and Japanese had for
thousands of years measured time by graduations of incense. Not
only the hours and days, but the seasons and zodiacal signs were
simultaneously indicated by a succession of carefully ordered scents.
The sense of smell, long considered the root of memory and the
unifying basis of individuality, has come to the fore again in the
experiments of Wilder Penfield. During brain surgery, electric
probing of brain tissue revived many memories of the patients.
These evocations were dominated and unified by

unique scents and odors that structured these past experiences. The
sense of smell is not only the most subtle and delicate of the human
senses; it is, also, the most iconic in that it involves the entire human
sensorium more fully than any other sense. It is not surprising,
therefore, that highly literate societies take steps to reduce or
eliminate odors from the environment. B.O., the unique signature and
declaration of human individuality, is a bad word in literate societies.
It is far too involving for our habits of detachment and specialist
attention. Societies that measured time scents would tend to be so
cohesive and so profoundly unified as to resist every kind of change.
Lewis Mumford has suggested that the clock preceded the printing
press in order of influence on the mechanization of society. But
Mumford takes no account of the phonetic alphabet as the
technology that had made possible the visual and uniform
fragmentation of time. Mumford, in fact, is unaware of the alphabet
as the source of Western mechanism, just as he is unaware of
mechanization as the translation of society from audile-tactile modes
into visual values. Our new electric technology is organic and
nonmechanical in tendency because it extends, not our eyes, but
our central nervous systems as a planetary vesture. In the
space-time world of electric technology, the older mechanical time
begins to feel unacceptable, if only because it is uniform.
Modern linguistics studies are structural rather than literary, and owe
much to the new possibilities of computers for translation. As soon
as an entire language is examined as a unified system, strange
pockets appear. Looking at the usage scale of English, Martin Joos
has wittily designated "five clocks of style," or five different zones
and independent cultural climates. Only one of these zones is the
area of responsibility. This is the zone of homogeneity and uniformity
that ink-browed Gutenberg rules as his domain. It is the style-zone
of Standard English pervaded by Central Standard Time, and within

zone the dwellers, as it were, may show varying degrees of
Edward T. Hall in The Silent Language discusses how "Time Talks:
American Accents," contrasting our time-sense with that of the Hopi
Indians. Time for them is not a uniform succession or duration, but a
pluralism of many kinds of things co-existing. "It is what happens
when the corn matures or a sheep grows up. ... It is the natural
process that takes place while living substance acts out its life
drama." Therefore, as many kinds of time exist for them as there are
kinds of life. This, also, is the kind of time-sense held by the modern
physicist and scientist. They no longer try to contain events in time,
but think of each thing as making its own time and its own space.
Moreover, now that we live electrically in an instantaneous world,
space and time interpenetrate each other totally in a space-time
world. In the same way, the painter, since Cezanne, has recovered
the plastic image by which all of the senses coexist in a unified
pattern. Each object and each set of objects engenders its own
unique space by the relations it has among others visually or
musically. When this awareness recurred in the Western world, it
was denounced as the merging of all things in a flux. We now realize
that this anxiety was a natural literary and visual response to the
new nonvisual technology.
J. Z. Young, in Doubt and Certainty in Science, explains how elec-
tricity is not something that is conveyed by or contained in anything,
but is something that occurs when two or more bodies are in special
positions. Our language derived from phonetic technology cannot
cope with this new view of knowledge. We still talk of electric current
"flowing," or we speak of the "discharge" of electric energy like the
lineal firing of guns. But quite as much as with the esthetic magic of
painterly power, "electricity is the condition we observe when there
are certain spatial relations between things." The painter learns how
to adjust relations among things to release new perception, and the

and physicist learn how other relations release other kinds of power.
Less and less, in the electric age, can we find any good reason for
imposing the same set of relations on every kind of object or group
of objects. Yet in the ancient world the only means of achieving
power was getting a thousand slaves to act as one man. During the
Middle Ages the communal clock extended by the bell permitted
high coordination of the energies of small communities. In the
Renaissance the clock combined with the uniform respectability of
the new typography to extend the power of social organization
almost to a national scale. By the nineteenth century it had provided
a technology of cohesion that was inseparable from industry and
transport, enabling an entire metropolis to act almost as an
automaton. Now in the electric age of decentralized power and
information we begin to chafe under the uniformity of clock-time. In
this age of space-time we seek multiplicity, rather than repeatability,
of rhythms. This is the difference between marching soldiers and
It is a necessary approach in understanding media and technology
to realize that when the spell of the gimmick or an extension of our
bodies is new, there comes narcosis or numbing to the newly
amplified area. The complaints about clocks did not begin until the
electric age had made their mechanical sort of time starkly
incongruous. In our electric century the mechanical time-kept city
looks like an aggregation of somnambulists and zombies, made
familiar in the early part of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land.
On a planet reduced to village size by new media, cities themselves
appear quaint and odd, like archaic forms already overlaid with new
patterns of culture. However, when mechanical clocks had been
given great new force and practicality by mechanical writing, as
printing was at first called, the response to the new time sense was
very ambiguous and even mocking. Shakespeare's sonnets are full
of the twin themes of immortality of

fame conferred by the engine of print, as well as the petty futility of
daily existence as measured by the clock:
When I doe count the clock that tels the time,
And see the brave day sunck in hidious night. . .
Then of thy beauty do I question make
That thou among the wastes of time must goe.
(Sonnet X)

In Macbeth, Shakespeare links the twin technologies of print and
mechanical time in the familiar soliloquy, to manifest the
disintegration of Macbeth's world:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time.

Time, as hacked into uniform successive bits by clock and print
together, became a major theme of the Renaissance neurosis,
inseparable from the new cult of precise measurement in the
sciences. In Sonnet LX, Shakespeare puts mechanical time at the
beginning, and the new engine of immortality (print) at the end:
Like as the waves make towards the pibled shore,
So do our minuites hasten to their end,
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
And yet to times in hope, my verse shall stand
Praising thy worth, dispight his cruell hand.

John Donne's poem on "The Sun Rising" exploits the contrast
between aristocratic and bourgeois time. The one trait that most
damned the bourgeoisie of the nineteenth century was their

punctuality, their pedantic devotion to mechanical-time and
sequential order. As space-time flooded through the gates of
awareness from the new electric technology, all mechanical
observance became distasteful and even ridiculous. Donne had the
same ironic sense of the irrelevance of clock-time, but pretended
that in the kingdom of love even the great cosmic cycles of time
were also petty aspects of the clock:
Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
Saucy, pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys, and sour prentices,
Co tell Court-huntsmen, that the King will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Much of Donne's twentieth-century vogue was due to his challenging
the authority of the new Gutenberg age to invest him with the
stigmata of uniform repeatable typography and with the motives of
precise visual measurement. In like manner, Andrew Marvell's "To
his Coy Mistress" was full of contempt for the new spirit of
measurement and calculation of time and virtue:
Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime We would sit down and
think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day. . . .
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast

But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart,
For lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

Marvell merged the rates of exchange with the rates of praise suited
to the conventional and fashionably fragmented outlook of his
inamorata. For her box-office approach to reality, he substituted
another time-structure, and a different model of perception. It is not
unlike Hamlet's "Look on this picture and on that." Instead of a quiet
bourgeois translation of the medieval love code into the language of
the new middle-class tradesman, why not a Byronic caper to the
farther shores of ideal love?
But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.

Here is the new lineal perspective that had come to painting with
Gutenberg, but that had not entered the verbal universe until Milton's
Paradise Lost. Even written language had resisted for two centuries
the abstract visual order of lineal succession and vanishing point.
The next age after Marvell, however, took to landscape poetry and
the subordination of language to special visual effects.
But Marvell concluded his reverse strategy for the conquest of
bourgeois clock-time with the observation
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
He proposed that his beloved and he should transform

themselves into a cannonball and fire themselves at the sun to make
it run. Time can be defeated, as it were, by reversal of its
characteristics if only it be speeded up enough. Experience of this
fact awaited the electronic age, which found that instant speeds
abolish time and space, and return man to an integral and primitive
Today not only clock-time, but the wheel itself, is obsolescent and is
retracting into animal form under the impulse of greater and greater
speeds. In the poem above, Andrew Marvell's intuition that
clock-time could be defeated by speed was quite sound. At present
the mechanical begins to yield to organic unity under conditions of
electric speeds. Man now can look back at two or three thousand
years of varying degrees of mechanization with full awareness of the
mechanical as an interlude between two great organic periods of
culture. In 1911 the Italian sculptor Boccioni said, "We are primitives
of an unknown culture." Half a century later we know a bit more
about the new culture of the electronic age, and that knowledge has
lifted the mystery surrounding the machine.
As contrasted with the mere tool, the machine is an extension or
outering of a process. The tool extends the fist, the nails, the teeth,
the arm. The wheel extends the feet in rotation or sequential
movement. Printing, the first complete mechanization of a handicraft,
breaks up the movement of the hand into a series of discrete steps
that are as repeatable as the wheel is rotary. From this analytic
sequence came the assembly-line principle, but the assembly line is
now obsolete in the electric age because synchronization is no
longer sequential. By electric tapes, synchronization of any number
of different acts can be simultaneous. Thus the mechanical principle
of analysis in series has come to an end. Even the wheel has now
come to an end in principle, although the mechanical stratum of our
culture carries it still as part of an accumulated momentum, an
archaic configuration.
The modern clock, mechanical in principle, embodied the

wheel. The clock has ceased to have its older meanings and
functions. Plurality-of-times succeeds uniformity-of-time. Today it is
only too easy to have dinner in New York and indigestion in Paris.
Travelers also have the daily experience of being at one hour in a
culture that is still 3000 B.C., and at the next hour in a culture that is
1900 A.D.. Most of North American life is, in its externals, conducted
on nineteenth-century lines. Our inner experience, increasingly at
variance with these mechanical patterns, is electric, inclusive, and
mythic in mode. The mythic or iconic mode of awareness substitutes
the multi-faceted for point-of-view.
Historians agree on the basic role of the clock in monastic life for the
synchronization of human tasks. The acceptance of such
fragmenting of life into minutes and hours was unthinkable, save in
highly literate communities. Readiness to submit the human
organism to the alien mode of mechanical time was as dependent
upon literacy in the first Christian centuries as it is today. For the
clock to dominate, there has to be the prior acceptance of the visual
stress that is inseparable from phonetic literacy. Literacy is itself an
abstract asceticism that prepares the way for endless patterns of
privation in the human community. With universal literacy, time can
take on the character of an enclosed or pictorial space that can be
divided and subdivided. It can be filled-in. "My schedule is filled up."
It can be kept free: "I have a free week next month." And as
Sebastian de Grazia has shown in of Time, Work and Leisure, all the
free time in the world is not leisure, because leisure accepts neither
the division of labor that constitutes "work," nor the divisions of time
that create "full time" and free time." Leisure excludes times as a
container. Once time is mechanically or visually enclosed, divided,
and filled, it is possible to use it more and more efficiently. Time can
be transformed into a labor-saving machine, as Parkinson reveals in
his famous "Parkinson's Law."
The student of the history of the clock will find that a totally

new principle entered with the invention of the mechanical clock.
The earliest mechanical clocks had retained the old principle of the
continuous action of the driving force, such as was used in the water
clock and in the water wheel. It was about 1300 A.D. that the step
was taken of momentarily interrupting rotary movement by a crown
rod and balance wheel. This function was called "escapement" and
was the means of literally translating the continuous force of the
wheel into the visual principle of uniform but segmented succession.
Escapement introduced the reciprocal reversing action of the hands
in rotating a spindle forward and backward. The meeting in the
mechanical clock of this ancient extension of hand movement with
the forward rotary motion of the wheel was, in effect, the translation
of hands into feet, and feet into hands. Perhaps no more difficult
technological extension of interinvolved bodily appendages could be
found. The source of the energy of the clock was thus separated
from the hands, or the source of information, by technological
translation. Escapement as a translation of one kind of wheel space
into uniform and visual space is thus a direct anticipation of the
infinitesimal calculus that translates any kind of space or movement
into a uniform, continuous, and visual space.
Parkinson, sitting on the fence between the mechanical and the
electric uses of work and time, is able to provide us with real
entertainment by simply squinting, now with one eye, now with the
other, at the time and work picture. Cultures like ours, poised at the
point of transformation, engender both tragic and comic awareness
in great abundance. It is the maximal interplay of diverse forms of
perception and experience that makes great the cultures of the fifth
century B.C., the sixteenth century, and the twentieth century. But
few people have enjoyed living in these intense periods when all that
ensures familiarity and security dissolves and is reconfigured in a
few decades.
It was not the clock, but literacy reinforced by the clock, that

created abstract time and led men to eat, not when they were hungry,
but when it was "time to eat." Lewis Mumford makes a telling
observation when he says that the abstract mechanical time-sense
of the Renaissance enabled men to live in the classical past, and to
tear themselves out of their own present. Here again, it was the
printing press that made possible the re-creation of the classic past
by mass production of its literature and texts. The establishment of a
mechanical and abstract time pattern soon extends itself to periodic
alteration of clothing styles, much in the same way that mass
production extends itself to periodic publication of newspapers and
magazines. Today we take for granted that the job of Vogue
magazine is to alter the dress styles as part of the process of its
being printed at all. When a thing is current, it creates currency;
fashion creates wealth by moving textiles and making them ever
more current. This process we have seen at work in the section on
"Money." Clocks are mechanical media that transform tasks and
create new work and wealth by accelerating the pace of human
association. By coordinating and accelerating human meetings and
goings-on, clocks increase the sheer quantity of human exchange.
It is not really incongruous, therefore, when Mumford associates "the
clock and the printing press and the blast furnace" as the giant
innovations of the Renaissance. The clock, as much as the blast
furnace, speeded the melting of materials and the rise of smooth
conformity in the contours of social life. Long before the industrial
revolution of the later eighteenth century, people complained that
society had become a "prose machine" that whisked them through
life at a dizzy pace.
The clock dragged man out of the world of seasonal rhythms and
recurrence, as effectively as the alphabet had released him from the
magical resonance of the spoken word and the tribal trap. This dual
translation of the individual out of the grip of Nature and out of the
clutch of the tribe was not without its own penalties. But the return to
Nature and the return to the tribe are

under electric conditions, fatally simple. We need beware of those
who announce programs for restoring man to the original state and
language of the race. These crusaders have never examined the
role of media and technology in tossing man about from dimension
to dimension. They are like the somnambulistic African chief with the
alarm clock strapped to his back.
Mircea Eliade, professor of comparative religion, is unaware, in The
Sacred and the Profane, that a "sacred" universe in his sense is one
dominated by the spoken word and by auditory media. A "profane"
universe, on the other hand, is one dominated by the visual sense.
The clock and the alphabet, by hacking the universe into visual
segments, ended the music of interrelation. The visual desacralizes
the universe and produces the "nonreligious man of modern
Historically, however, Eliade is useful in recounting how, before the
age of the clock and the time-kept city, there was for tribal man a
cosmic clock and a sacred time of the cosmogony itself. When tribal
man wanted to build a city or a house, or cure an illness, he wound
up the cosmic clock by an elaborate ritual reenactment or recitation
of the original process of creation. Eliade mentions that in Fiji "the
ceremony for installing a new ruler is called 'creation of the world.'"
The same drama is enacted to help the growth of crops. Whereas
modern man feels obligated to be punctual and conservative of time,
tribal man bore the responsibility for keeping the cosmic clock
supplied with energy. But electric or ecological man (man of the total
field) can be expected to surpass the old tribal cosmic concern with
the Africa within.
Primitive man lived in a much more tyrannical cosmic machine than
Western literate man has ever invented. The world of the ear is more
embracing and inclusive than that of the eye can ever be. The ear is
hypersensitive. The eye is cool and detached. The ear turns man
over to universal panic while the eye, extended by literacy and
mechanical time, leaves some gaps and some islands free from the
unremitting acoustic pressure and reverberation.

How to Dig it

The art of making pictorial statements in a precise and repeatable
form is one that we have long taken for granted in the West. But it is
usually forgotten that without prints and blueprints, without maps
and geometry, the world of modern sciences and technologies
would hardly exist.
In the time of Ferdinand and Isabella and other maritime monarchs,
maps were top-secret, like new electronic discoveries today. When
the captains returned from their voyages, every effort was made by
the officers of the crown to obtain both originals and copies of the
maps made during the voyage. The result was a lucrative
black-market trade, and secret maps were widely sold. The sort of
maps in question had nothing in common with those of later design,
being in fact more like diaries of different adventures and
experiences. For the later perception of space as uniform and
continuous was unknown to the medieval

cartographer, whose efforts resembled modern nonobjective art.
The shock of the new Renaissance space is still felt by natives who
encounter it today for the first time. Prince Modupe tells in his
autobiography, I Was a Savage, how he had learned to read maps
at school, and how he had taken back home to his village a map of a
river his father had traveled for years as a trader.
. . .my father thought the whole idea was absurd. He refused to
identify the stream he had crossed at Bomako, where it is no
deeper, he said, than a man is high, with the great widespread
waters of the vast Niger delta. Distances as measured in miles
had no meaning for him. . . . Maps are liars, he told me briefly.
From his tone of voice I could tell that I had offended him in
some way not known to me at the time. The things that hurt
one do not show on a map. The truth of a place is in the joy
and the hurt that come from it. I had best not put my trust in
anything as inadequate as a map, he counseled. ... I under-
stand now, although I did not at the time, that my airy and easy
sweep of map-traced staggering distances belittled the jour-
neys he had measured on tired feet. With my big map-talk, I
had effaced the magnitude of his cargo-laden, heat-weighted
All the words in the world cannot describe an object like a bucket,
although it is possible to tell in a few words how to make a bucket.
This inadequacy of words to convey visual information about objects
was an effectual block to the development of the Greek and Roman
sciences. Pliny the Elder reported the inability of the Greek and Latin
botanists to devise a means of transmitting information about plants
and flowers:
Hence it is that other writers have confined themselves to a
verbal description of the plants; indeed some of them have not
so much as described them even, but have contented

themselves for the most part with a bare recital of their
names . ..
We are confronted here once more with that basic function of media
--to store and to expedite information. Plainly, to store is to expedite,
since what is stored is also more accessible than what has to be
gathered. The fact that visual information about flowers and plants
cannot be stored verbally also points to the fact that science in the
Western world has long been dependent on the visual factor. Nor is
this surprising in a literate culture based on the technology of the
alphabet, one that reduces even spoken language to a visual mode.
As electricity has created multiple non-visual means of storing and
retrieving information, not only culture but science also has shifted its
entire base and character. For the educator, as well as the
philosopher, exact knowledge of what this shift means for learning
and the mental process is not necessary.
Well before Gutenberg's development of printing from movable
types, a great deal of printing on paper by woodcut had been done.
Perhaps the most popular form of this kind of block printing of text
and image had been in the form of the Biblia Pauperum, or Bibles of
the Poor. Printers in this woodcut sense preceded typographic
printers, though by just how long a period it is not easy to establish,
because these cheap and popular prints, despised by the learned,
were not preserved any more than are the comic books of today.
The great law of bibliography comes into play in this matter of the
printing that precedes Gutenberg: "The more there were, the fewer
there are." It applies to many items besides printed matter --to the
postage stamp and to the early forms of radio receiving sets.
Medieval and Renaissance man experienced little of the separation
and speciality among the arts that developed later. The manuscript
and the earlier printed books were read aloud, and poetry was sung
or intoned. Oratory, music, literature, and

drawing were closely related. Above all, the world of the illuminated
manuscript was one in which lettering itself was given plastic stress
to an almost sculptural degree. In a study of the art of Andrea
Mantegna, the illuminator of manuscripts, Millard Meiss mentions
that, amidst the flowery and leafy margins of the page, Mantegna's
letters "rise like monuments, stony, stable and finely cut. . . .
Palpably soled and weighty, they stand boldly before the colored
ground, upon which they often throw a shadow. . ."
The same feeling for the letters of the alphabet as engraved icons
has returned in our own day in the graphic arts and in advertising
display. Perhaps the reader will have encountered the sense of this
coming change in Rimbaud's sonnet on the vowels, or in some of
Braque's paintings. But ordinary newspaper headline style tends to
push letters toward the iconic form, a form that is very near to
auditory resonance, as it is also to tactile and sculptural quality.
Perhaps the supreme quality of the print is one that is lost on us,
since it has so casual and obvious an existence. It is simply that it is
a pictorial statement that can be repeated precisely and indefinitely
--at least as long as the printing surface lasts. Repeatability is the
core of the mechanical principle that has dominated our world,
especially since the Gutenberg technology. The message of the print
and of typography is primarily that of repeatability. With typography,
the principle of movable type introduced the means of mechanizing
any handicraft by the process of segmenting and fragmenting an
integral action. What had begun with the alphabet as a separation of
the multiple gestures and sights and sounds in the spoken word,
reached a new level of intensity, first with the woodcut and then with
typography. The alphabet left the visual component as supreme in
the word, reducing all other sensuous facts of the spoken word to this
form. This helps to explain why the woodcut, and even the
photograph, were so eagerly welcomed in a literate world. These

forms provide a world of inclusive gesture and dramatic posture that
necessarily is omitted in the written word.
The print was eagerly seized upon as a means of imparting
information, as well as an incentive to piety and meditation. In 1472
the Art of War by Volturius was printed at Verona, with many
woodcuts to explain the machinery of war. But the uses of the
woodcut as an aid to contemplation in Books of Hours, Emblems,
and Shepherds' Calendars continued for two hundred years on a
large scale.
It is relevant to consider that the old prints and woodcuts, like the
modern comic strip and comic book, provide very little data about
any particular moment in time, or aspect in space, of an object. The
viewer, or reader, is compelled to participate in completing and
interpreting the few hints provided by the bounding lines. Not unlike
the character of the woodcut and the cartoon is the TV image, with
its very low degree of data about objects, and the resulting high
degree of participation by the viewer in order to complete what is
only hinted at in the mosaic mesh of dots. Since the advent of TV,
the comic book has gone into a decline. It is, perhaps, obvious
enough that if a cool medium involves the viewer a great deal, a hot
medium will not. It may contradict popular ideas to say that
typography as a hot medium involves the reader much less than did
manuscript, or to point out that the comic book and TV as cool media
involve the user, as maker and participant, a great deal.
After the exhaustion of the Graeco-Roman pools of slave labor, the
West had to technologize more intensively than the ancient world
had done. In the same way the American farmer, confronted with
new tasks and opportunities, and at the same time with a great
shortage of human assistance, was goaded into a frenzy of creation
of labor-saving devices. It would seem that the logic of success in
this matter is the ultimate retirement of the work force from the scene
of toil. In a word, automation. If this, however, has been the motive
behind all of our human

technologies, it does not follow that we are prepared to accept the
consequences. It helps to get one's bearings to see the process at
work in remote times when work meant specialist servitude, and
leisure alone meant a life of human dignity and involvement of the
whole man.
The print in its clumsy woodcut-phase reveals a major aspect of
language; namely, that words cannot bear sharp definition in daily
use. When Descartes surveyed the philosophical scene at the
beginning of the seventeenth century, he was appalled at the
confusion of tongues and began to strive toward a reduction of
philosophy to precise mathematical form. This striving for an
irrelevant precision served only to exclude from philosophy most of
the questions of philosophy; and that great kingdom of philosophy
was soon parceled out into the wide range of uncommunicating
sciences and specialities we know today. Intensity of stress on
visual blueprinting and precision is an explosive force that fragments
the world of power and knowledge alike. The increasing precision
and quantity of visual information transformed the print into a
three-dimensional world of perspective and fixed point of view.
Hieronymus Bosch, by means of paintings that interfused medieval
forms in Renaissance space, told what it felt like to live straddled
between the two worlds of the old and the new during this revolution.
Simultaneously, Bosch provided the older kind of plastic, tactile
image but placed it in the intense new visual perspective. He gave at
once the older medieval idea of unique, discontinuous space,
superimposed on the new idea of uniform, connected space. This he
did with earnest nightmare intensity.
Lewis Carroll took the nineteenth century into a dream world that
was as startling as that of Bosch, but built on reverse principles.
Alice in Wonderland offers as norm that continuous time and space
that had created consternation in the Renaissance. Pervading this
uniform Euclidean world of familiar space-and time, Carroll drove a
fantasia of discontinuous space-and-time that

anticipated Kafka, Joyce, and Eliot. Carroll, the mathematical
contemporary of Clerk Maxwell, was quite avant-garde enough to
know about the non-Euclidean geometries coming into vogue in his
time. He gave the confident Victorians a playful foretaste of
Einsteinian time-and-space in Alice in Wonderland. Bosch had pro-
vided his era a foretaste of the new continuous time-and-space of
uniform perspective. Bosch looked ahead to the modern world with
horror, as Shakespeare did in King Lear, and as Pope did in The
Dunciad. But Lewis Carroll greeted the electronic age of space-time
with a cheer.
Nigerians studying at American universities are sometimes asked to
identify spatial relations. Confronted with objects in sunshine, they
are often unable to indicate in which direction shadows will fall, for
this involves casting into three-dimensional perspective. Thus sun,
objects, and observer are experienced separately and regarded as
independent of one another. For medieval man, as for the native,
space was not homogeneous and did not contain objects. Each
thing made its own space, as it still does for the native (and equally
for the modern physicist). Of course this does not mean that native
artists do not relate things. They often contrive the most complicated,
sophisticated configurations. Neither artist nor observer has the
slightest trouble recognizing and interpreting the pattern, but only
when it is a traditional one. If you begin to modify it, or translate it
into another medium (three dimensions, for instance), the native fails
to recognize it.
An anthropological film showed a Melanesian carver cutting out a
decorated drum with such skill, coordination, and ease that the
audience several times broke into applause --it became a song, a
ballet. But when the anthropologist asked the tribe to build crates to
ship these carvings in, they struggled unsuccessfully for three days
to make two planks intersect at a 90-degree angle, then gave up in
frustration. They couldn't crate what they had created.

in the low definition world of the medieval woodcut, each object
created its own space, and the there was no rational connected
space into which it must fit. As the retinal impressiois intensified,
objects cease to cohere in a space of their own making, and, instead,
become "contained" in a uniform,continuous and "rational" space.
Relativity theory in 1905announced the dissolution of uniform
Newtonian space as an illusion or fiction, however useful. Einstein
pronounced the doom of continusou or "rational" space, and the way
was made clear for Picasso and the Marx brothers and MAD.

Mad Vestibule to TV

It was thanks to the print that Dickens became a comic writer. He
began as a provider of copy for a popular cartoonist. To consider the
comics here, after "The Print," is to fix attention upon the persistent
print-like, and even crude woodcut, characteristics of our
twentieth-century comics. It is by no means easy to perceive how
the same qualities of print and woodcut could reappear in the
mosaic mesh of the TV image. TV is so difficult a subject for literary
people that it has to be approached obliquely. From the three million
dots per second on TV, the viewer is able to accept, in an iconic
grasp, only a few dozen seventy or so, from which to shape an
image. The image thus made is as crude as that of the comics. It is
for this reason that the print and the comics provide a useful
approach to understanding the TV image, for they offer very little
visual information or connected detail. Painters and sculptors,
however, can easily understand TV, because they sense

how very much tactile involvement is needed for the appreciation of
plastic art.
The structural qualities of the print and woodcut obtain, also, in the
cartoon, all of which share a participational and do-it-yourself
character that pervades a wide variety of media experiences today.
The print is clue to the comic cartoon, just as the cartoon is clue to
understanding the TV image.
Many a wrinkled teenager recalls his fascination with that pride of
the comics, the "Yellow Kid" of Richard F. Outcault. On first
appearance, it was called "Hogan's Alley" in the New York Sunday
World. It fe