McLuhan says: "We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future."17 And although this was the essence of Karl Popper's objection to historicism,18 McLuhan's epigrammatic economy remains impressive.
Most people still cling to a rear-view-mirror view of their world. By this McLuhan means that because of the invisibility of any environment during the period of its innovation, we are only consciously aware of the environment that has preceded it. He asserts that it is because we are benumbed by any new technology that we tend to make the old environment more visible by turning it into an art form and attaching ourselves to the objects and atmosphere that characterised it.
This numbing effect is effectively an anaesthetic against the painful extension of man which new media inflict. Whether we accept McLuhan's attempt to explain this with Freudian psychology, illustrated by the myth of Narcissus,19 it seems likely that the saturation of human attention by rapid and complex technological developments has existence as the phenomenon reported widely as information overload or data smog.
McLuhan's reading of the Narcissus myth is that humans respond to their own technological extensions as if they were existentially other. In this way, we amputate ourselves from these extensions even if we fall in love with them.