The Agenbite of Outwit – McLuhan

McLuhan, M. (1997). Media research: technology, art, communication: Routledge.

As Narcissus fell in love with an outering (projection, extension) of himself, man seems invariably to fall in love with the newest gadget or gimmick that is merely an extension of his own body” (121).

McLuhan does not mean that we are prone to fall in love with our own image, but rather that we fall in love with extensions of ourselves. All of the communication media that we have created are extensions of ourselves, ways to communicate in as close to a natural manner as possible while adding certain conveniences, such as communicating at a distance.

While each communication method offers varying modes of participation, we tend to use the method that is most convenient and most fitting for a given purpose. For example, to communicate with an individual who may be at a greater distance, we select the phone for a certain level of immediacy and social presence, while we might opt to use email to supply a longer more thought-out message or one that includes information that the recipient might need to recall. Alternatively, one might choose to send a written letter through the postal mail, as it now has the presumed characteristic of being more thoughtful and personal than does an email message.

I can acknowledge a certain level of being hooked on this communication method myself, partially because it is new, partially because it is an extension of the participants’ ability to reach out and communicate with others in a certain manner, and partially because I see in this method that that manner in which we are communicating can potentially provide certain benefits and advantages to both the conversation and the participants for a particular purpose. In the example of the asynchronous online class where I have used the OVC, in informal conversations and formal surveys, students also have reached out and touted the OVC for the benefits that they perceive, such as the ability to see the instructor and fellow students, making them feel closer to those in this class than they feel to those in other distance classes that do not employ such communication techniques. Some students also noted that they sometimes watch the videos repeatedly, to better comprehend a point that someone made.

“The tribalizing power of the new electronic media, the way in which they return us to the unified fields of the old oral cultures, to tribal cohesion and pre-individualist patterns of thought, is little understood” (124).

Clearly, the students gained some sense of community through using the OVC. They felt closer to the instructor and to the other students, they sensed that they were part of a larger conversation within the classroom, and they noted finding more success and satisfaction in working with others in groups (this final point I acknowledge as not provably related given my own data). At this point in my research, while I was able to gain much perspective from the students, I have not yet established what, if anything, is really different about this communication method that might allow for or create a different condition for the students. This is to say, I do suggest certain benefits and a presumed level of social presence with this method, but I am still looking into what levels and style of discussion occur within the OVC.

“Television and radio are immense extensions of ourselves which enable us to participate in one another’s lives, much as a language does. But the modes of participation are already built into the technology; these new languages have their own grammars” (123).

Perhaps it is because the OVC is newer and not used by a large number of individuals, but it does not yet have its own grammar or standard communication style. However, through further and wider use, certain common applications and styles will likely emerge. For example, in the way that I used it in the asynchronous online classroom (AOC), the students were very new to the communication and did not quite know what to expect. Therefore, there were initially a variety of video lengths, speaking styles, message structures, etc. By midway through a semester, all of these points found a more-or-less common medium, presumably based on an unspoken perceived norm. I, as the instructor, did not set forth and rules on length or style, beyond suggesting that the videos were likely to be less formal than a written discussion board topic due to the nature of the communication method. Nonetheless, students, through witnessing each other’s videos and posting more of their own, established a common style.

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