Pat Rocchi Honors a Communication Genius

McLuhan at Work

When I was earning my Ph.D. at Ohio University, communication guru Marshall McLuhan spoke to a campus auditorium jammed with students. McLuhan had garnered a reputation as a true communication guru. So I was delighted to see one of my fellow communication colleagues–Pat Rocchi–feature McLuhan in his blog. With Pat’s permission, I am sharing his tribute to McLuhan with you.

December 31, 2011 marks 30 years since media guru Marshall McLuhan died, a victim of a final stroke after suffering from a series of them. How kind thei ntervening years have been to him. At the time of his death, he was viewed in his native Canada as somewhat of an embarrassment, but today he is an oracle, having essentially foreseen Facebook Amazon, Twitter, the iPhone and other modern media. In the words of a New York Times article published this past summer to mark McLuhan’s centenary, “Instead of being viewed as an academic fraud, McLuhan is now widely celebrated as the man who prophesied both the Internet and its impact on society.” Indeed, Professor B. W. Powe of Toronto’s York University, and one of the organizers of a week-long series of memorial events in that city, said this: “We read the 21st-century media through his eyes.”

Quite a turnaround for one man, though not unusual. As with most social visionaries, McLuhan challenged tightly held beliefs, and most people are afraid to let go of such ideas. His vocabulary was also new and alien. He introduced us to his definitions of “hot” and “cold” media: Hot media, such as print and the cinema, are sharp in definition, filled with data, exclusively visual and verbal. He also asserted that these media were psychologically damaging and low in audience participation. Other hot media, according to McLuhan, were photography, competitive spectator sports and radio. Moreover, he said that hot media make people think logically and independently rather than naturally and communally. McLuhan preferred “cool” media, noting that while they are low in information, they also challenge their users by forcing them to fill in the “missing” information. He saw the telephone, modern painting and, most significantly, television as cool media because they are oral-auditory, tactile and visceral. McLuhan believed that these media would be a unifying force, putting modern “back into the tribal or oral pattern with its seamless web of kinship and interdependence.” These behaviors would, in turn, create his “global village,” a term that he coined

As with many prophets, McLuhan’s revolutionary ideas were not regarded kindly in his own time. A Time magazine review of his book Understanding Media — regarded today as the seminal work on the effect of media in the modern world and which contained many of the concepts described above — called the book “pseudo science.” Yet years later, when Time published their obituary of McLuhan, the magazine stated that “his writing was clumsy, his thoughts badly organized, and even he complained that he had trouble understanding his ideas. But…when he died last week in Toronto at the age of 69, Marshall McLuhan was recognized as one of the most influential thinkers of the ’60s. Some of his insights into the nature of television and the electronic age became conventional wisdom.”

One of McLuhan’s prime principles was that “we shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” Can we doubt that statement today, given how we interact through Web 2.0? We make “friends” through Facebook, we reveal our innermost thoughts through our blogs, we make spectacles of ourselves through YouTube, and we have learned to communicate succinctly in just 140 characters through our Twitter accounts.

Once again, we are currently reminded of the power of the media in our politics. And I do not mean our primary Presidential politics. No, the “global village” that McLuhan foresaw also has global politics. Time scoffed yet again when McLuhan stated in Understanding Media that “Had TV occurred on a large scale during Hitler’s reign, he would have vanished quickly.” No, the Old Professor was on target, as we have seen Twitter and Facebook cut through censorship and propaganda to produce an Arab Spring or rally for the rights of the disenfranchised. And here in this country, presidential front runners fall back almost immediately as they wilt under the glare of the media spotlight. That durability under scrutiny seems to determine winners more than any other obstacle. Some partisans may complain that Barrack Obama did not face any real scrutiny during his primary campaign, but come on; I was viewing fresh footage of his pastor, the incendiary Rev. Jeremiah Wright, every morning, whether through the network news or the Internet. And will Mitt Romney, seemingly made of asbestos and impervious to the heat of battle, win his party’s nomination because no medium will be able to lay a finger on him long enough to count him out as they have so many others? We’ll see.

When McLuhan made his pronouncements more than 40 years ago, some listened while many others dismissed them as nonsense. He stated that media are “not neutral; instead they have an effect on people.” Today, as we study the effects of television on what we buy, who we elect and how we learn, and as we study how video games and the Internet are affecting the linearity of our thinking, his theories are easily echoed. Yet because they are so commonsense and commonplace, we forget their origins. However, we learned similar lessons from Einstein, whose ideas were so advanced that they were also ineffable because no suitable language existed to express them. (How does one explain E=MC squared?)

The global village did not exist when Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase. But somehow he emerged from his intellectual rabbit hole to glimpse it, and then he wrote many books and essays to prepare us for it. Let’s stay aware of the power we possess through our media, which have indeed become our extensions and have united us (and conformed us) in ways that only he seemed to imagine.

Pat Rocchi and I will welcome your response. Go to the end of the blog entry in the section below and click NO COMMENTS if none have been made, or if comments have been made click 1 comment, 2 comments, or whatever the comments button says. The comments section will appear.

Pat Rocchi is an acclaimed speaker, business consultant, speech writer, and author. Check his Web site, and contact him for information about his services:


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Why We Like, Even Love, the Social Media

Pat Rocchi in Action Speaking
Pat Rocchi in Action Speaking

Pat Rocchi, author of The Six P’s of Change shared his thoughts about the fastest-growing communication trend–the social media. With his permission, I’m pleased to share his insightful, entertaining ideas with you:

Everybody Tweets, or so it seems. Facebook has gone well beyond its collegiate roots, and now its largest-growing demographic comprises people above age 54 (much to the chagrin of people like my 23-year-old son, who thinks we Boomers have ruined FB). Business people worth their salt are on LinkedIn, where the average annual income is north of $93,000.

“What’s wrong?” some ask. “Don’t people just talk anymore?” Sure they do. They talk all the time, more than ever. And they’re doing it with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn!

I will tell that I am thrilled about these so-called “social media.” On one hand — the less important side of the matter — I am enjoying it as a professional communicator. All these outlets continue to help me sell copies of my book. I can inform my friends, family and colleagues of little developments, such as interviews or developments in its distribution. I can also keep many people up-to-date on every one of my consulting activities. And I now have a global reach, just as you do, whether or not you choose to use it.

But even this mercenary side of me, the part of me that likes to eat and keep a roof over my head, is not as thrilled about these media as the sentimental side of me is. That’s why they’re described as SOCIAL! My life has changed since I joined Facebook about two months ago. (Hey, no one ever accused me of being an early adopter.) I have come in contact with friends from literally 40 years ago. Thanks to Facebook, I had breakfast with my partners in crime, Vicki and Barbara, from college, concerts and other indiscretions of my youth. When got together, we saw photos of each other’s children for the first time, learned how we disconnected, and then learned how to stay reconnected.

I am in contact with my first love, the brilliant blond who broke my heart but taught me how to love, preparing me for the 30+ year old marriage I am in now. I can stay in contact with my long-lost family in Italy, sharing my life with them in ways our parents could only dream of. Even the son of my best friend from childhood is connected to me.

And why, I asked myself, is this important? Why do we have the need to do this? I turn to my friend and advisor, Frank Sergi, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and heart-warming mensch for some insight. He offered these thoughts.

“I remember reading years ago about a Jewish belief that said one is not dead until everyone who remembers that person is gone as well. Thus the grave site overgrown with weeds is that of a truly dead person. The person with flowers on their grave is still alive. It makes us feel very much alive when we realize that we have not been forgotten. If you are part of someone’s memory, you have been incorporated by that person because you have left an impression upon them. In essence you are now a small part of them, and therefore less alone and less invisible in this world.

“I think this is a significant part of the Facebook phenomenon. People need to feel that they are part of other’s consciousness.”

But what about this need to reconnect rather than simply being known, I asked Frank. “I believe has to do with nostalgia,” he responded. “A reliving of one’s past that is simultaneously recalled by the parties involved can be pleasurable even when it may be an embarrassing memory. Ultimately, we are social beings needing social contact and connections. We are such a transient society that we long for connections to our past. The Internet allows us to do that now, in a limited way of course.”

And of course, this fact has long been true, even when we weren’t so transient. It has remained so with every technological advance. Yes, people liked to visit in person at one time. But that was when we all lived closer to each other. When the telephone came into existence, did that mean that they cared less? Of course not; it was simply one more tool for connection. That was eventually supplanted by email, and now we have the social media. Thank goodness for all of these opportunities to widen our circle.

Okay, gotta run. I need to fulfill a primal need and distribute this virtual valentine to people I care about. And believe me, if you are receiving this, it’s because I care about you, too.

Again, thanks to Pat Rocchi for his reflections about the Social Media. Be sure to visit his Web site and order his book, The Six P’s of Change. The link to his site:

We welcome your comments. Just go to the end of the blog entry and click NO COMMENTS if none have been made, or if comments have been made click 1 comment, 2 comments, or whatever the comments button says. The comments section will appear.