Today, a kind of quote from McLuhan which gives rise to the kind of article Alan Jacobs just wrote at The New Atlantis. Some of McLuhan’s pronouncements are so confidently oracular and yet so nonsensical that you sort of scratch your head and say, “I guess he’s just smarter than I am.” Every medium retrieves a much older function? Really?
The laws of the media, which are like the [law of the] Medes and the Persians, are quite simply this: that every medium exaggerates some function—spectacles exaggerate or enlarge or enhance the visual function. They obsolesce another function. They retrieve a much older function. And they flip into the opposite form. The simplest form I know to illustrate this principle which works for all media, whether it’s a teaspoon, corsets, or a motor car—the simplest form is money. Money increases transactions; it obsolesces barter; it retrieves potlatch (or conspicuous waste); and it flips into credit card, which is not money at all.