Now, McLuhan is the Message, by Mick Doherty
The Good, The Bad, and the Archived: McLuhan@WWW.everywhere
The McLuhan name seems to be everywhere in webspace. There are at least three full-blown "McLuhan Studies Centers," and academic department named for him, several meta-lists of "McLuhan Links," at least two electronic listserves of note, and a number of "fun" sites which invoke "the Marshall plan," as it were.
The site which is most frequently referred to and linked to in the meta-lists is the Project McLuhan site maintained by the Quadnet media service, and Vyne Communications, Inc. Frankly, it surprises me each time I see the site linked to.
According to the site, "Project McLuhan ...is the result of over a decade of work and preparation to update and revitalize the work of the late Dr. Marshall McLuhan; to develop insights and projections involving the interface between culture and technology for the 1990's--and beyond." The irony of the stress on "update and revitalize" is forefronted in the fact that the site has not apparently been updated since February of 1995.
The site promises much, but does not really deliver; it includes very little beyond a few photos and a node describing the "Marshall Arts Contest 1995." I would be happy to write off this as merely another good-intentioned and long-forgotten site, were it not for the fact that the McLuhan Project is also host to the nominally-active "McLuhan-List," to which I have subscribed for the last two years. Though the listowners do not permit any discussion and rarely re-post any announcements sent for their approval, the list does post and archive monthly "email publications." These generally consist of random cuttings from various newsgroups which may relate in some way to McLuhan scholarship, and an occasional long meandering interview with Theall or another McLuhan scholar. The listowners warn quite explicitly on the Web site, "All mail sent to us will be scrutinized and possibly answered in one of our email publications. We cannot guarantee personal responses, however."
Project McLuhan may be contacted at email@example.com ... subscriptions to the McLuhan-List can be ordered by sending the message "subscribe McLuhan-List" to MAJORDOMO@astral.magic.ca with a blank message body. Information to contact the Project via papermail, including information on the organizational newsletter, is available on the Web site.
The McLuhan Probes, edited by Michael LeBlanc of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, is the official Web site of The Herbert Marshall McLuhan Foundation. While this site also notes that its last update was in 1996, that reads to me as a simple oversight in forgetting to change the date. The site is fresh and navigable. <
The primary feature of "The McLuhan Probes" site is click-and-download access to an electronic magazine of the same name. The publication is in PDF format, and requires Acrobat Reader to be used. There are 14 issues online.
There is also information about "The McLuhan Listserver," which LeBlanc says was "established ... to act as an extension of McLuhan's ideas, probes and suggestions." I have recently subscribed to this list and find the tone enjoyable and conversational, and the traffic anything but overwhelming. According to the Web site, "Although unmoderated, [The McLuhan Listserver] will not be unobserved. It is our hope that it will become a vital resource for understanding media and for constructive collaboration. "
Resources for this list are provided by St. Francis Xavier University of Nova Scotia. To subscribe, send an email to: Listserver@listproc.stfx.ca with no subject line and Subscribe McLuhan-L FirstName LastName in the body of the message.
Invoking the McLuhan family name, The Marshall McLuhan Center on Global Communications was established in 1981 by Mary McLuhan, Marshall's daughter, less than a year after his death on New Year's Eve of 1980.
The philosophy of the Center, according to Ms. McLuhan, is as follows:
One of the most important responsibilities of the Marshall McLuhan Center on Global Communications is to promote the use of communications technologies in the teaching-learning environment. As the world of communications undergo revolutionary change, our children need the insight and guidance of excellent teachers to help them to be prepared for the 21st Century challenges of the "information age." The presentation of the Marshall McLuhan Distinguished Teachers Awards offers occasion to acknowledge the precedent-setting work of dedicated teachers throughout the world and to encourage others towards similar achievements.
While the teaching awards are more established, the Web site for the Center is brand new, re-designed and put in place in September of 1996. It features an online magazine, the "Marshall McLuhan Quarterly Probe" due to be launched during the spring of this year, which will publish texts "related to Human Communications, Marshall McLuhan, emerging technologies used in the teaching learning environment K-12, the Global Village and related materials are invited."
The site also includes all the standard topoi of a Web site: a biography, famous quotes, extended list of links, a print/paper bibliography, and even the full text of the infamous McLuhan Playboy interview. Admittedly, "The Marshall McLuhan Center on Global Communications" plays host to plenty of "This page is being revised, and is under construction, we regret the inconvenience, please forgive us" type-links, but the structure of the site as it exists is positively elegant, both graphically and for ease of usability. So while there may not be any groundbreaking material here, it is a site with enormous potential.
The University of Toronto has established The McLuhan Program, which in a way is both the ultimate irony and ultimate justification of McLuhan's work.
Considering the fact that McLuhan was often scorned by his academic contemporaries as "unscholarly," the development of a program of study named for him is both startling and interesting. The program self-describes in this way:
We are a distinct teaching and research unit within the Faculty of Information Studies at the University of Toronto. Associates of the Program study, explore, and comment on the impacts of technology on culture from our base in the historic Coach House and from our videoconference room at The Faculty of Information Studies.
This Web site itself, unlike many which reference McLuhan, does not attempt to overload itself with bells and whistles to electronically mimic l'essai concrete. Rather, it is a simple, accessible design that promises great things, and actively seeks suggestions and contributions from electronic visitors: "If there is something in particular that you would like to see here or some way we may help you please contact CoacHouse@fis.utoronto.ca."
This is a fairly new site, and includes a simple interactive form to fill out to pursue further information about the program, about the site, and/or about McLuhan himself. It even includes a brief but revealing self-reflexive metatextual history of the site itself. It appears to be updated frequently and is worth watching.