The Extensions of Man

Marshall McLuhan’s book Understanding Media was subtitled “The Extensions of Man,” arguing that our media (and media technology) allow us to extend ourselves beyond our physical bodies (data storage in the form of books, films, digital information, etc. substituting for natural powers of memory and recall, for example).

Well, as this piece by Leah McLaren in the Globe & Mail points out, people especially of my generation are extending themselves with gusto. It actually frightens me how much I identify with this article.

I particularly love this passage:

For those of us who spend our waking, working hours in front of computer screens, the memory stick is not just a disc substitute, it’s a synthetic externalization of our deepest ambitions and desires. A replicant psyche furnished exclusively with half-finished masterpieces and carefully selected mementos, the memory stick – unlike our first brain – is mercifully devoid of surprises. Or as one struggling screenwriter friend of mine puts it jokingly: “For years, I searched for a matchbook-sized vessel to hold the ashes of my hopes and dreams, and now I’ve finally found it.”

That’s the kind of self-loathing I like to see in writers 🙂

– S.

PS: Her observation about “the smug feeling you get when you purchase a very serious book, as if just owning all that information is making you smarter,” is also bitingly true. I bought recently and have always wanted to read T.E. Lawrence’s (aka Lawrence of Arabia) Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Though I’ve not yet read it I do feel better just having it on my shelf 🙂

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