Mark Poster (Information) – Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan’s axiom that “the medium is the message” points in the direction of the mode of information but does not go far enough. By focusing on the “sensorium” of the receiving subject he preserves the subject as a perceiving, not an interpreting being. He continues the tradition of Lockean epistemology by treating humans as sensing animals, except he stresses the changes, introduced particularly by television, in the configuration of sensations confronting these animals. What the mode of information puts into question, however, is not simply the sensory apparatus but the very shape of subjectivity: its relation to the world of objects, its perspective on that world, its location in that world. We are confronted not so much by a change from a “hot” to a “cool” communications medium, or by a reshuffling of the sensoria, as McLuhan thought, but by a generalized destabilization of the subject. In the mode of information the subject is no longer located in a point in absolute time/space, enjoying a physical, fixed vantage point from which rationally to calculate its options. Instead it is multiplied by databases, dispersed by computer messaging and conferencing, decontextualized and reidentified by TV ads, dissolved and materialized continuously in the electronic transmission of symbols. In the perspective of Deleuze and Guattari, we are being changed from “arborial” beings, rooted in time and space, to “rhizomic” nomads who daily wander at will (whose will remains a question) across the globe, and even beyond it through communications satellites, without necessarily moving our bodies at all.