The Internet

"The information SuperHighway showed the average person what some nerd thinks about Star Trek." - Homer J. Simpson73

Whereas print is hot and linear, the internet is cool, mullti-participatory, and non-linear. As much as the internet's form favours commerce, its content favours the users. Or as McLuhan might say, the content is the user.

The internet progressed massively since McLuhan's death in 1980 and it is the coolest medium available. The point is made in Understanding Media that electricity "does not centralize, but decentralizes. It is like the difference between a railway system and the national grid".74 Railway systems would survive despite the closure of a major terminal but the grandest international railway station would be useless without rails linking it to the railway system.

The internet, in its still-proliferating forms, draws in thousands of users daily75 and demands interaction. Far more important than its actual content is the essential fact that all of its content is merely the sum of its users' inputs. Almost anybody with access to a telephone and a computer can send an e-mail, post to a usenet group, or create pages on the World Wide Web (WWW) at minimal expense. The nature of hypertext links defy passivity. The WWW forces the user to make choices and to explore alternatives, leading unavoidably to a customised, non-linear perception of the available material.

If every aspect of Western mechanical culture has been shaped by print technology, the present age is the age of the electronic media, and these forge environments and cultures antithetical to the mechanical consumer society derived from print.

The age of print, which held sway from approximately 1500 to 1900, had its obituary tapped out by the telegraph, the first of the new electric media, and further obsequies were registered by the perception of 'curved space' and non-Euclidean mathematics in the early years of the century, which revived tribal man's discontinuous time-space concepts -- and which even Spengler dimly perceived as the death knell of Western literate values.76

McLuhan contends that the cybernetic culture returns us to the preliterate world-view. "The Gutenberg Galaxy is being eclipsed by the constellation of Marconi."77 Even keyboard skills are becoming redundant because of mice, graphic icons, and the rapid progress of speech-recognition software.

73 The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show, The Simpsons, (Fox Network 4F12/SI-812 Tuesday, August 25, 1997)
74 Understanding Media p. 36
75 'In the USA alone 17,000 new users log on each day according to the latest survey by RelevantKnowledge Inc.' (Editor & Publisher Interactive News Page, Friday, May 8, 1998 Accessed May 10, 1998.
76 Marshall McLuhan interviewed in Playboy Magazine, March 1969
77 Marshall McLuhan interviewed in Playboy Magazine, March 1969