August 1997

Root Page of Article: Now, McLuhan is the Message, by Mick Doherty

Understanding McLuhan: The CD-ROM

Voyager Interactive Media has put together what might be the best McLuhan resource ever gathered to one place. Understanding McLuhan,  a CD-ROM for Macintosh/Windows ($39.95 at local bookstores; add $5.00 shipping to order by mail) is a collection of text, video clips, and other "McLuhanacy" which could stand alone as the text for a graduate seminar on the subject of 1960's communication theory.

The CD is divided neatly into several easily-navigable sections, including:

  • Probes: A favorite McLuhan term to describe his own thought processes; this section includes a potpourri of quotes, media sermons, and commentaries which allow you to "experience multimedia presentations of eight of McLuhan's main theories";

  • McLuhan On/On McLuhan: Precisely what they sound like, a series of categorized comments by McLuhan on everything from advertising to sex, and a separate section of counter-commentary by Neil Postman, Lewis Lapham and others; these two features of the CD-ROM apparently were the heart of the book reviewed below;

  • Figure and Ground:A biographical section which claims to trace "the development of McLuhan's ideas and major influences." Fairly standard photo-album-and-diary type content, but useful to the communications historian;

  • McLuhan Live: Absolutely the highlight of the package; this section is a two-hour lecture taped in 1978, two years before McLuhan's death, wherein he expounds on his media theories. A priceless addition to the hypothetical graduate seminar mentioned above;

  • Text in Context: The creators of the CD claim this section is "if pure McLuhan is what you crave ... dig into the complete texts of McLuhan's most-read books, Understanding Media  and The Gutenberg Galaxy."  While there is some irony to the action of taking the papertextual books of a man who claimed "the medium is the message" and transposing them to electronic form, this section is in fact a marvelous resource for quick searches and cross-checking statements, while the search tool itself is easy to access and utilize;

  • McLuhan Mosaic: Probably the most complete McLuhan bibliography ever assembled, this section includes not only books by about about McLuham, but also magazine articles, TV and radio programs, and other media. Ironically, perhaps, there are no Web sites included in this listing, mildly discrediting the internal claim of its "thoroughness." The omission is defensible, perhaps, on the grounds of the instability and ephemerality of many Web sites--until one reads the McLuhanesque epigram on the CD dustjacket: "in the electric world, change is the only stable factor."

Further information on Understanding McLuhan,  is available at the Voyager Web site; additionally, Southam (Voyager's partner publishing company) has put together an impressive sample site for demonstrating the contents of the CD. It is fortunate that this site has a reader-friendly text-only option, however, since it is perhaps the slowest-loading site in the history of the WWW. There is a downloadable shockwave version that requires 5MB of RAM and a great deal of patience.

A final note on the usability of this resource: while the navigability of the site is easy to grasp and the "Tools" function provides a clear interface to what the reader's options are, the CD itself crashed three different Macintosh computers, of varying OS versions, and the audio clips were choppy in this platform. None of these problems arose in the IBM interface. ^

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