Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Things Come in Fours

Some unabashed shameless self-promotion ensues.

If you happen to be in New York City on the weekend starting November 14 (which coincidentally is my birthday!) I will be presenting a paper at the Institute of General Semantics Symposium: "Creating the Future: Conscious Time-binding for a Better Tomorrow" which begins with the 56th Annual Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture Friday Night.

A link to the IGS site can be found here. For a detailed listing of the weekend's proceedings look here. In addition, my friend Lance Strate, who was recently appointed IGS Executive Director, has a number of posts concerning Korzybski and General Semantics at his blog "Lance Strate's Blog Time Passing" which can be found here.

My talk, "Things Come in Fours," which will be given on Sunday, November 16th at 9:10AM, is about my encounter with Marshall McLuhan in 1977. We were both speakers at a conference at Fairleigh Dickinson University, with students such as myself delivering papers concerning their dissertation research and Dr. McLuhan then commenting.

My doctoral dissertation is titled "Myth As Advertising: An Analysis Of Prime Time American Television Advertising Using A Structural Methodology Based On The Theories Of Claude Levi-Strauss" copies of which are still available from Proquest here.

When it was my turn, I gave an elaborate presentation on French Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss' use of the "triad" to analyze the structure of human cultures. Levi-Strauss' most famous example is the "culinary triad" which differentiates between that which is natural from that which is cultural by describing how foodstuffs move from their original "raw" condition to the condition of "cooked" or "rotten" depending on whether they go through a cultural or a natural process.

After I completed my talk, Dr. McLuhan observed that I had missed the point in focusing on the triad, because, he noted, "things come in fours."

At that time McLuhan was working on his "Laws of the Media" which state that the impact of any technology or medium of communication on a culture can be determined by examining four characteristics:
  • What does it enhance?

  • What does it obsolesce?

  • What does it retrieve that was previously lost?

  • What does it reverse into if pushed to an extreme?
For example, the impact of blogging can be understood by the following effects:
Blogging enhances “many to many” communication. As a medium, blogging allows me to get my message out to many without the need of access to television, radio, print or film production facilities. Blogging also allows me to receive messages from many sources.

Blogging obsolesces one to one or many to one communications. Telephone chats and television binges are replaced by blogging connections.

Blogging retrieves the habits of 18th letter correspondents or diarists. Though this varies widely, at the minimum blogging requires that we capture and express our thoughts via the keyboard. Some bloggers go much further than that. In the blogosphere, we all become nacent Montaignes.

When pushed to an extreme, blogging reverses into total narcissism. I write only to myself, for myself. I put myself into the blogosphere, and seeing my own image, become entranced.
So while I was thinking in terms of Levi-Straussian "threes", McLuhan was thinking in terms of Laws of the Media "fours." My talk on November 16th will address this distinction and compare McLuhan's Laws to Levi-Strauss' own four part analysis of the structure of mythology.

Oh yes, and some other guys like Paul Levinson, Martin Levinson (no relation), Alan Flagg, Douglas Ruskoff, Terry Moran, Janet Sternberg, Andrew Postman, Thom Gencarelli, Stephanie Bennett etc. etc. will be there too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?

To our extra-terrestrial visitors: Had we but world enough, and time, this coyness, alien, were no crime.

Today, October 14, 2008, is the full moon, and, according to many notes circulating the World Wide Web, the day when we will finally make first contact with extra-terrestrials. According to an "Australian channeler" whose claims are available here on YouTube, the "Federation of Light" will come in peace to elevate all of mankind and start a new era of human prosperity and interstellar travel.

Wow. So much to mock, so little time. Let me begin by presenting my bona fides regarding UFOs and extraterrestrial phenomena in general.

Childhood's End
I can state without equivocation that I have been fascinated with science fiction depictions of space travel and visits to and from other worlds since I was a child. I read books such as Space Cat, The Mushroom Planet and Rusty's Space Ship early and often. As a teen I subscribed to Sky and Telescope with the intention of pursuing a career as an astronomer, only to be thwarted by my parents' refusal to buy me a telescope. At age sixteen, I was one of the total audience of three to view the first episode of Star Trek ("The Salt Vampire") and I proudly accept the term "Trekker" along with my other titles.

The Day The Earth Stood Still
I lost my virginity at age 19. This has nothing to do with extra-terrestrials, I just wanted to use that title. (It was, however, out of this world).

Stranger In A Strange Land
I discovered Media Ecology shortly after the day the earth stood still and have been wandering within its boundaries ever since. This, along with my day job, has left me little time to adequately research the documented UFO phenomena, the Roswell incident or other such X-Files fodder. So it is entirely possible that I've missed some key piece of evidence that would convince me that we have actually been visited by intergalactic travelers and I owe "The Federation of Light" an apology.

To Serve Man
Naw. In my universe, any ET visitors with sufficient intelligence to overcome the obvious impediments to faster-than-light travel would think of better ways to make their presence known than to draw designs in cornfields or to contact Earthly representatives whose known affinity toward such pseudo-sciences as parapsychology, paranormal activity or paragliding would render their credibility suspect.

Close Encounters of the Third Coin
So here is my challenge to all you UFO worshippers. Send me a dollar. Send me ten dollars. Send me 100 dollars. The more dollars I receive, the more inclined I will be to believe that you're willing to put your money where your mouth is (I know this is the point in these types of diatribes where the author demands some actual physical evidence of extra-terrestrial visitation or even personal contact with an actual ET, but honestly, I'd rather have the money).

In the meantime, I'll console myself with viewings of the newly CGI-enhanced original Star Trek series and the notion that no matter how far you wander, there's no place like home.