The $64,000.00 Question in the Information Age

In continuing my quest to Understand Media, I’ve again returned to the ultimate source, Marshall McLuhan’s book written over sixty years ago. After reading McLuhan, here’s my personal take on how he predicted our dilemma in the 21st Century work force:

We started with the Typewriter and ended up with the computer keyboard. These two instruments have altered the mental habits of writers and artists. Many times I’ve heard writers, especially older ones, talk of the need to simply write things down in a notebook or journal, unfettered by the addition of the computer and all its subsequent baggage. In writing on the keyboard, the typing creates a performance for the composer. The meaning is simply typing. Capote had it right. It’s not writing, it’s typing. Hence the slogan: the medium is the message. We can understand this clearly when we see the emphasis placed on Project Management and Team Leaders. The work is divided into segments, fragmented and doled out in short bursts that create more work and the illusion of productivity.

The next translation of the transformation of the work place comes when we see energy transformed into a new form. One example was turning trees into lumber, or clay into bricks. Now, in the office, the number of office workers goes up as the actual production goes down. One startling conclusion from McLuhan was that the internal relations, those in offices who gather just SELECT information has become the principal source of wealth in this Information Age. From about 1960 through 1992, this has slowly emerged and is now the norm. So in today’s world, if  you do know how to market information, or to fix broken computer connections, or to program and create software, or graphics and can manipulate data, you are desirable. These select tasks all lead to the Information Age jobs in the world we live in today. All predicted by McLuhan many years ago.

In the Mechanical Age of the Industrial Revolution, work meant processing materials on the assembly line. The work was fragmented by parts and design, and it was given to those managers to delegate authority within the hierarchy at the plant or factory where you worked. In this new Computer Age, programming means the effect of information plus knowledge. It basically cuts out the middle man. Many jobs are delegated to online graphic designers and marketing firms. The website is built by someone who may live in another country. Or, in other terms, the composer, or business person, may compose the compartmentalized piece that is given directly to the individual to play (or to work). Where does that leave us?

The fragmented age means an individual could achieve success with just the illusion of imparting valuable information. For example, there is the book that was a best-seller: “The Art of the Deal”. The historian Boorstin was scandalized by the fact that celebrity in the Information Age meant fame could be achieved not by a person’s actual achievements. They could become celebrities and do nothing but simply become known for being well known! 

This is where we find ourselves in today’s world. Celebrity has actually flooded into the worlds of  entertainment and television plus politics and foreign policy. The two worlds have converged and given us Donald J Trump. That is one explanation of why we are now dealing with the after-effects and fallout of our fragmented societies that have been cobbled together in the Information Age through internet connections and television celebrity.

Where do we go from here? That is the $64,000.00 question!

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