McLuhan on Snowden…in 1972

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An interview of Marshall McLuhan in 1972 recently surfaced and is published in full by Maclean’s. Many of McLuhan’s insights are more relevant than ever, particularly his comments on surveillance and espionage with electric media.

The new human occupation of the electronic age has become surveillance. CIA-style espionage is now the total human activity. Whether you call it audience rating, consumer surveys and so on—all men are now engaged as hunters of espionage. So women are completely free to take over the dominant role in our society. Women’s liberation represents demands for absolute mobility, not just physical and political freedom to change roles, jobs and attitudes—but total mobility.


The biggest job in the world will be espionage. Around the world, people are spending more and more of their time watching the other guy. Espionage at the speed of light will become the biggest business in the world. But the CIA and the FBI are really old hat using old hardware by comparison to what’s coming, in which everybody earns pocket money by watching his own mom and dad or his brothers and sisters.


The possibilities of espionage are unlimited. On the other hand, the needs of espionage become also intense. When anybody can rip off a few million by pressing a couple of buttons on a computer, the need for being watched gets bigger and bigger.

[Question: How about hijacking an economy through computers?] Yes, you can take over anybody’s currency. You could borrow the currency of a whole country for three seconds and make a trillion bucks. The time factor becomes all important.


Some other noteworthy points made in the interview:

On politicians:

They’re still talking, but fewer people are bothering to listen. The successor to politics will be propaganda, not in the sense of a message or ideology, but the impact of the whole technology of the times. So politics will eventually be replaced by imagery. The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favour of his image, because the image will be so much more powerful than he could ever be.

On power:

I spent a whole year investigating the satisfactions of big power, and came up with just about no answers at all. It’s very difficult to find the satisfactions of power in a world in which everybody is powerless.


But the satisfactions of great power suggest an inflated ego, somebody who has a massive glut or need for power and I don’t think there are any such people any more. Power is not something that can exist in isolation. It needs a huge environment of services to make it meaningful. So it’s increasingly a figure without a ground; an isolated image.

On social isolation:

Americans go outside to be alone. They don’t know this and when they are confronted with people in situations where they want to be alone, they’re very unhappy. You see the American distrusts public transit because he has to be social with other people. However, we have so many Europeans in our own cities now that this will soften the blow.

Read the full interview here.

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  1. Check this out too,
    and my site is actually my show on YT, it’s Prismatically filtered via McLuhan aphorisms, Like and Subscribe. Thanks.

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