Despite some of his ideas, I think McLuhan has uncovered something more important than he gets credit for. I know for myself, that in my lifetime alone the paradigm shift from simplistic electronics to the new huge systems and networks of computers everywhere has definitely made the world feel like a “global village.” My own attitudes have become much more humanitarian and less focused on the inevitable differences between me and other people of all types. I think McLuhan is right in saying that how we shape our tools determines how they shape us. In San Francisco I worked at a network computer company. The technology of the “hour” vastly affected how information was transferred at stores and restaurants everywhere. It also became very apparent that cellular phones, beepers, pagers, etc. were widely advocated to “make it” in the new workplace. In a lot of ways they have become inseparable.
I found McLuhan's discussion of The Electronic Age: Rise of Global Village to be intriguing as I watch the habits of a teenager I baby-sit numerous weekends of the year. Meredith is a product of the "all-at-once" world that McLuhan describes as resonating with everything else as in a total electrical field. She is only allowed to talk on the phone until ten o'clock, but as she describes to me, she then quickly runs downstairs to her computer in the basement and gets online. The amazing thing is, all her friends will either enter the same chat room or interchange messages as if she never got off the phone. She will continue to communicate in this way until whenever she pleases. This has made her family system different from the rules I had just a few years ago in high school. When it was time to hang up, then that was it! Meredith is instantaneously connected with numerous friends, and finds this just important as talking on the phone with them, and has thus gone "back to the future." Whether this behavior is best described as part of the new era that McLuhan did not foresee, it definitely "converges" multimedia systems and creates the world that Meredith desires, exactly when she wants to communicate.
It almost goes without saying that electronic media have significantly decreased the attention span of the American public. This has become exceedingly obvious to me while I study films in my Digital Editing class. While I thought that Hitchcock's directing is brilliant, the pacing of his films seems so slow compared to the rhythm of current pictures. I am forced to really concentrate to keep my mind from wandering. I'm not sure what creates an attention span, but whatever it is, the speed of access to information that is available is putting the patience of the attention span into unneeded oblivion. Like an unused muscle that eventually atrophies, the attention span is no longer needed, and as such, it is ceasing to exist. In the movie Moulin Rouge, the "Roxanne" musical portion, lasting roughly six minutes, contained over 300 cuts! The media is destroying our ability to focus on a given item for any amount of time.
After pondering this theory and reflecting on the effects of the global village on my own life, I beg to differ that I become closer to people through electronic media, such as the Internet and email. Take for instance an experience I went through my freshman year concerning the popular communication medium of instant messaging (IM). I was obsessed with IM. Having the ability to talk with a number of friends back home instantaneously was a great way to keep my phone bill down. Also, using IM to talk to new freshman that I met at Wheaton was perfect for "getting to know" someone through a more informal and less awkward manner than "real" conversations. Unfortunately, IM consumed my life. I was content with a short, fragmented, superficial "conversation" with my friends back home, which in turn caused us to lose touch rather than keep in touch. I found that the only friends I kept from high school were the ones I called on the phone or wrote snail mail letters to. In the same way, I didn't develop close, deep friendships with people at Wheaton over IM; it took spending time face-to-face to really cultivate true relationships at school.