Has Technology Changed Us?: BBC Animations Answer the Question with the Help of Marshall McLuhan

In Jan­u­ary, we fea­tured series of short ani­ma­tions from BBC Radio 4 address­ing the ques­tion “How Did Every­thing Begin?” In Feb­ru­ary, we fea­tured its fol­low-up on an equal­ly eter­nal ques­tion, “What Makes Us Human?” Both came script­ed by Phi­los­o­phy Bites co-cre­ator Nigel War­bur­ton and nar­rat­ed by X‑Files co-star Gillian Ander­son (in full British mode). Now that March has come, so has the next install­ment of these brief, crisp, curios­i­ty-fueled pro­duc­tions: “Has Tech­nol­o­gy Changed Us?”

In a word: yes. But then, every­thing we do has always changed us, thanks to the prop­er­ty of the brain we now call “plas­tic­i­ty.” This we learn from the video, “Rewiring the Brain” (right below), which, bal­anc­ing its heart­en­ing neu­ro­sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence with the prover­bial old dog’s abil­i­ty to learn new tricks, also tells of the “atten­tion dis­or­ders, screen addic­tions, and poor social skills” that may have already begun plagu­ing the younger gen­er­a­tion.

Mar­shall McLuhan, of course, could have fore­seen all this. Hence his appear­ance in “The Medi­um is the Mes­sage” (top), a title tak­en from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Eng­lish pro­fes­sor turned com­mu­ni­ca­tion-the­o­ry guru’s famous dic­tum.

The video actu­al­ly spells out McLuhan’s own expla­na­tion of that much-quot­ed line: “What has been com­mu­ni­cat­ed has been less impor­tant than the par­tic­u­lar medi­um through which peo­ple com­mu­ni­cate.” Whether you buy that notion or not, the whole range of procla­ma­tions McLuhan had on the sub­ject will cer­tain­ly get you think­ing — in his own words, “You don’t like these ideas? I got oth­ers.”

The oth­er two videos in this series, despite their short length, get into oth­er intrigu­ing relat­ed con­cepts: “The Fourth Rev­o­lu­tion” that comes as a result of life in a “mass age of infor­ma­tion and data,” and the work­ings of “The Antikythera Mech­a­nism,” the first com­put­er ever built. Our per­son­al tech­nol­o­gy has cer­tain­ly come a long way, but we should­n’t fall into com­pla­cen­cy about it, lest, as Ander­son says in this series, it all wrecks our atten­tion spans and “edu­ca­tion will all have to be deliv­ered in two-minute ani­ma­tions.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Did Every­thing Begin?: Ani­ma­tions on the Ori­gins of the Uni­verse Nar­rat­ed by X‑Files Star Gillian Ander­son

What Makes Us Human?: Chom­sky, Locke & Marx Intro­duced by New Ani­mat­ed Videos from the BBC

McLuhan Said “The Medi­um Is The Mes­sage”; Two Pieces Of Media Decode the Famous Phrase

Mar­shall McLuhan: The World is a Glob­al Vil­lage

A His­to­ry of Ideas: Ani­mat­ed Videos Explain The­o­ries of Simone de Beau­voir, Edmund Burke & Oth­er Philoso­phers

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es (130 in Total)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture as well as the video series The City in Cin­e­ma and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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