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Mapping Media Ecology

Introduction to the Field

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Dennis D. Cali

Until now, the academic foundations of media ecology have been passed down primarily in the form of edited volumes, often by students of Neil Postman, or are limited to a focus on Marshall McLuhan and/or Postman or some other individual important to the field. Those volumes are invaluable in pointing to key ideas in the field; they provide an important and informed account of the fundamentals of media ecology as set forth at the field’s inception. Yet there is more to the story.

Offering an accessible introduction, and written from the perspective of a «second generation» scholar, this single-authored work provides a unified, systematic framework for the study of media ecology. It identifies the key themes, processes, and figures in media ecology that have coalesced over the last few decades and presents an elegant schema with which to engage future exploration of the role of media in shaping culture and consciousness.

Dennis D. Cali offers a survey of a field as consequential as it is fascinating. Designed to be used primarily in media and communication courses, the book’s goal is to hone insight into the role of media in society and to extend the understanding of the themes, processes, and interactions of media ecology to an ever-broader intellectual community.

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Chapter 4. Marshall McLuhan—Canada’s and the Field’s Intellectual Comet

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MARSHALL MCLUHAN—CANADA’S AND THE FIELD’S INTELLECTUAL COMET

In 1911, crude experiments with photocells by Russian Boris Rosing led ultimately to the invention of television. In that same year, a Canadian was born who would later shake the foundations of how people would come to view the role of television—and a vast array of many other media—in shaping consciousness and culture. Like water that seeps between rocks and then freezes and over time expands and then dislodges boulders from their mountain top perches, Herbert Marshall McLuhan (July 21, 1911–December 31, 1980), perhaps more than any other figure in the pantheon of media ecologists, set forth a critical media paradigm that has revolutionized media studies.

An enigmatic figure, his legend towers in the field. He has been heralded a “high priest of culture,” a “seer of Cyberspace,” a “prophet and analyst of knowledge,” “the oracle of the electronic age,” “the electronic prophet,” “patron saint of Wired magazine,” “the father of communications and media studies,” and “Canada’s intellectual comet.” Twenty-two books bear his name as author, coauthor, or editor. In particular, his Understanding Media: Extensions of Man (1964) enjoyed “spectacular sales” (marshallmcluhan.com). In addition, hundreds of essays and speeches are credited to him. Among his other achievements, he presented countless addresses, initiated the Communication and Culture Seminars and the Centre for Culture and Technology ← 65 | 66 → at the University of Toronto (now the McLuhan Program in Culture and...

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