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“If we understand the revolutionary transformations caused by new media, we can anticipate and control them; but if we continue in our self-induced subliminal trance, we will be their slaves.” – Marshall McLuhan
During a 1969 interview conducted during the dawn of the new age of electronic media, oft-cited futurist and tech critic Marshall McLuhan made the point that for our species, the market of information we call ‘culture’ is the frame we think within, a common set of ideas and symbols analogous to the air we breathe. Because this set of ideas is so all-pervasive and seemingly without boundaries, leaving us with little to compare and contrast it to, it slips into the background of our awareness.
One of the consequences of this reflexive inability to see the forest for the trees is that it’s precisely those technologies capable of causing social upheaval, of changing the ways people interact with their culture and with each other, that do much of their transformative work out on the liminal edges of awareness. And we tend to prefer it this way, McLuhan suggests — taking refuge in the familiar, numbing our responses to great change like trauma survivors might while technology extends the reach of our nervous system to new and unaccustomed horizons. All the while, we try bravely to take it in stride while the world is changed around us.