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.

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