Who's Massaging my Medium? [Trenchant Edges]

Exiled From Facebook Again, lol

Welcome back to the Newsletter I’m extra happy I’ve gotten back into where we talk about fringe ideas and try to sort out the good or useful from the bilge.

Today we’re talking

Kvetching about Facebook

Skip this if you’re as tired of facebook bullshit as I am.

The TLDR here is I posted the following: “There needs to be a succinct phrase for the delusion that if we just kill all the bad people, the good people will live together in harmony forever. “

The algorithm, being unable to read, assumed this was advocating for such things and gave me a day restriction. I appealed and was like, “Dude, read the fucking sentence.” And they did.

And then I found out I’ve been restricted from posting for a month.

I’ve contested this as well, but assume it won’t change. Fun, right?

Nothing new to learn here. We all already knew that facebook was no place for serious thinking and it was my fault for even trying to make it more than a dopamine pump to catch people’s attention long enough to trick advertisers into spending money to find them.

Enough of that for now. At the risk of referencing the most famous piece of imperialist propaganda in Western History, I’ve got to say Ceterum autem censeo Facebook esse delendam.

Back to McLuhan

Because I’m pressed for time we’re going to do two quick pages from McLuhan this morning. While McLuhan’s most famous statement is, “The medium is the message”, his most famous work is The Medium is the Massage, a delightful little book with graphic design by Quentin Fiore consisting of a bunch of McLuhan’s Probes building towards an inventory of effects.

Which is McLuhan speak for, “Write some short, provocative guesses on how broadcast media is changing how we think and feel.”

“Until writing was invented, man lived in acoustic space: boundless, directionless, horizonless, in the dark of the mind, in the world of emotion, by primordial intuition, by terror. Speech is a social chart of this bog.

The Goose quill put an end to talk. It abolished mystery; it gave architecture and towns; it brought roads and armies, bureaucracy. It was the basic metaphor with which the cycle of civilization began, the step from the dark into the light of the mind. The hand that filled the parchment page built a city.

Whence did the wond’rous mystic art arise,

Of painting SPEECH, and speaking to the eyes?

That we by tracing magic lines are taught,

How to embody, and colour THOUGHT?”

The other side of the page reads, “Printing, a ditto device” repeated in a column from top to bottom.

Take a look at the page:

I’m so glad the focus blurs out how filthy my back porch floor is, lmao.

“The Environment as a processor of information is propaganda. Propaganda ends where dialogue begins. You must talk to the media, not to the programmer. To talk to the programmer is like complaining to a hot dog vendor at a ballpark how badly your favorite team is playing.”

At the bottom of the page is, “See dick. See Dick protest. Protest, Dick! Protest!”

And on the opposite page, “The west shall shake the easy awake… while ye have the night for morn…” -James Joyce

Civilized as in Cyborg

What McLuhan seems to be getting around here is the fact that the development of symbols, from art 20k-40k (Look at this one, seriously) years ago to the Cuneiform writing of ancient Sumeria 4-6.5k years ago was the first sign in a major qualitative change in human nature.

Sometime within this range we went beyond our usual boundaries and discovered how to organize ourselves in massively disruptive ways.

From megafauna hunting to building cities, we started pushing against our genetic boundaries. Terence Mckenna’s novelty theory would pinpoint this era as roughly when we moved from mainly passing on information via genetics like all known animals, to mainly passing on information by symbols, culture, and large scale constructions.

My understanding of this transition is spotty, but there’s a ton of allegedly pseudo-archeology from the likes of Graham Hancock and others here. To say nothing of the likes of the Ancient Aliens crew.

The broad arc, though, is kinda clear. At some point in the last 50,000 years we became modern humans.

And in the last 5k years that process has shifted most of us from living in primarily natural conditions to spaces created by and for us at previously unimaginable scales.

McLuhan believes this change was mediated (probably in a complex interchange of gradual improvements), by the development of symbolic language.

Once we could do accounting, we could do bureaucracy. Which escalates from there.

I don’t think this was a system of progressive improvement, indeed, in the cradle of civilization (Other than China, India, and MezoAmerica, that is) you’ll still find nomadic Bedouin tribes who have continued to refuse the offer of sedentary “civilized” life.

But fighting city states is hard unless you’ve got one on your side, so it kinda slowly developed in that direction until city states capable of holding territory at real scale formed and we got empires.

And we all broadly know what’s happened since then: Empires rise and fall, sometimes a new innovation will blow up the system (sometimes it’s a disease innovating), and eventually storing knowledge got cheap enough that we’ve really hit exponential growth in generating and collecting it.

Here we are, high as Nickleback, on media with more complex effects than anything we could have guessed 30 years ago.

There’s a song I love called “Here Comes the Arm” by the Protomen about an engineer who’s built a terrible machine without realizing its negative effects. He can’t shut it off and knows fighting it will kill him.

Kinda how I feel about this global capitalism thing.

The song ends with the phrase, “I still have work to do.”

How I feel about a lot of things.

Bonus Comic

As I was writing this my headmeat kept coming back to a comic book I read back in 2010 called The Invisibles by Grant Morrison. There’s a scene in it where an old homeless wizard teaches a young homeless initiate the secret truth of cities:

Perhaps not the most historically accurate pages, but vividly evocative of the transformation. The idea of humanity as a Faustian species making deals we don’t understand the consequences to with powers beyond our ken feels very much on point.

The rationalist project of the European Enlightenment was always predicated on the assumption that what could be understood could be controlled.

I don’t always believe that claim.

Murphy’s law of unintended consequences is another thing we named into becoming a law. Hubris. Foolish.

Alright, I need to get back to work.

Talk to you tomorrow.

-SF