McLuhan is claiming that Gutenberg technology was the reason of human psyche fragmentation, primitivism and social conformism. I am trying to find links between Gutenberg technology and the phenomenon of fragmentation and see none. Could anyone explain how these two are connected? What seems to me is that McLuhan mixes up specifically western people development, their cultural evolution with how Gutenberg technology affects people and these two seem completely disconnected for me. My experience tells me the opposite: well-read people tend to be more complex vs people who don’t read books (all other parameters being as equal as possible). For me his reaction seems more like emotional counter reaction against educated peoples’ views who saw degradation of human being with the coming new TV, radio technologies (which seems more correct way of viewing the effect of these technologies) and nothing more than that. I get such an impression because I don’t get the links between the two phenomena. Could anyone elaborate on that?

Another his idea: Gutenberg technology and specifically phonetic alphabet leads to point of view (and linear thinking) vs mosaic integrative view that is brought in by electric technology. What it seems to me is that he is considering here as a Gutenberg human a poorly educated individual whereas enough educated ones tend to have the opposite mosaic world view and without any resort whatsoever to TV technology. The latter actually throws back to narrow-minded ‘point of view’ approach that is clearly demonstrated by today’s inability of regular people to build the bridges between, say, conservatism ideas and democratic ones leading to conflicts and tensions. At the very least these two: human fragmentation, negative things about the western people that McLuhan saw and Gutenberg technology effects seem to me either a rather disconnected phenomena or related in very intricate ways far from as simplistic as he describes it.

He is giving very definite answers and strong claims, so either he has foundations for that (that I am very interested to uncover) or has unfounded claims.

  • These sorts of culturological sweeps are always fast and loose. History does not easily lend itself to pattern recognition, so if one wants to make out some they have to use a broad brush, oversimplification is the rule of the game. It was this way with Vico, Marx and Spengler, and more recently with Gumilyov, Huntington and Diamond. The "Gutenberg technology", "mosaic image", etc., are not well-defined scientific concepts about which true/false questions can be, strictly speaking, answered, same as with "exploitation", "passionaries" or "clash of civilizations"
    – Conifold
    Feb 20 '20 at 2:27

McLuhan was a philosopher of media, so everything he says should be related to that.

"human psyche fragmentation, primitivism, and social conformism"

Lets unpack his use of these terms.

"Primitivism has become the vulgar cliche of much modern art and speculation." - from The Gutenberg Galaxy

"If the criminal appears as a nonconformist who is unable to meet the demand of technology that we behave in uniform and continuous patterns, literate man is quite inclined to see others who cannot conform as somewhat." - from Understanding Media

"Literacy, the visual technology, dissolved the tribal magic by means of its stress on fragmentation and specialization and created the individual." - from The Agenbite of Outwit, in A McLuhan Sourcebook

If I hear someone linking the printing press and fragmentation, I think of the idea widespread cheap printing undermined having dominant metanarratives, local manifestations of religion/s and a localised literature and cultural corpus that created a sense of shared identity. That transition happened though, because of centuries of religious wars, fueled by pamphleteers, and founded in un-critiqued assumptions a local identity was the best and should dominate the world.

But McLuhan says fragmentation of the psyche. It's a cliche, but I would say he is probably thinking of the rise of trends that became postmodernism.

He seems to dissapprove of 'primitivism', as an art movement, and presumably as rejection of modernity.

On conformity, he seems to think the modern world's increased need for it has led to a criminalising of non-conformity.

Historian Niall Ferguson draws convincing parallels between the century or so after the printing press, and the modern era of internet 'fake news'. I would take some shreds of dignity for McLuhan's views from that angle.

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