The Great Old Minds Of New Media

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Curious to get some fresh thinking in your New Media diet?

Yes, there are countless brand spanking new business books, Blog posts and answers on Quora to help you better navigate the new media channels. You could do that, or side-step and delve deeper into the history of mass media communications to discover some gems. Just now, I was reading the article, Marshall McLuhan: Media Savant, which was featured in The New York Times Sunday Book Review today as book review for, Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! written by Douglas Coupland.

Check this out:

"Coupland explains that it was Mc­Luhan’s ability to anticipate the homogenizing and dehumanizing effect of mass media when the phenomenon was in its infancy that made him remarkable. Both a prisoner and a product of academic life, McLuhan broke out because he recognized the toxic effects of media long before media became the air we all breathe. And he did it before there was any genuine understanding of how human beings process mediated information. As Coupland writes: ‘One must remember that Marshall arrived at these conclusions not by hanging around, say, NASA or I.B.M., but rather by studying arcane 16th-century Reformation pamphleteers, the writings of James Joyce, and Renaissance perspective drawings. He was a master of pattern recognition, the man who bangs a drum so large that it’s only beaten once every hundred years.’ Put less charitably, McLuhan was the clock that was spectacularly right once a century. What made him singular was not his precision — anybody who takes ‘Finnegans Wake‘ as an ur-text will probably have a low signal-to-noise ratio. In between the puns, the aphorisms, the digressive language that seemed to chase itself and riddle the reader, McLuhan came up with a theory of media generation and consumption so plastic and fungible that it describes the current age without breaking a sweat."

And there you have it.

You’ve heard the phrase, "every new is old again." While this may be true and while history does repeat itself, it’s amazing to step back (instead of staying in the present or looking too far into the future) to get an idea about how Marketing, Communications and Advertising can change. It wasn’t just McLuhan either. Long before the term "Social Media" was in our vernacular, a book called, The Cluetrain Manifesto was written (and it’s one I am constantly referring to). You can pick that book up right now, open it up to any random page and something will jump out at you that says, "why don’t brands do this! why don’t I do this?" People like Don Tapscott (you can listen to a conversation he and I had a few months back right here: SPOS #225 – The World Of Macrowikinomics With Don Tapscott) have been beating these drums for over twenty years.

A Sunday is always a great day to reflect.

Your next great idea may not come from being a head of the game, but rather for having a strong grasp on some of the great minds who had an uncanny ability to feel how the world would move. Today gave me pause. While it’s easy to look at the latest and greatest, it’s also critical to spend some time doing some critical thinking with those who have walked before us. A fun Blog to help get you in the mood is called, From Marshall And Me. It’s written by Michael Hinton, and five days a week, he presents one of McLuhan’s observations and Blogs about its relevance today.

What are some of the great minds of the past that inspire your New Media thinking?


  1. It seems as though the sound principles and paradigms alter little. Whether we are talking about media, marketing, etc.. I’m not referring to the technological aspects, but rather the components that are embedded in the mind. For example, how we rationalize what is worth purchasing?
    I’m constantly searching for original ideas. Thank you for the recommendations. These ideas, as you’ve pointed out, emerge from various places and time.

  2. While the media may have new forms, the emotions and desires that marketers are tapping into are surely archaic. I must cite the brand new book by Jonathan Salem Baskin: “Histories of Social Media” which gives a 2000-year perspective on how social media has always existed, but in different forms.

  3. I have heard the phrase as “Everything old is new again.” David Ogilvy comes to mind. While he’s not terribly dated, his mantra and steps to better advertising seem to pop up on all the advertising/branding blogs at one time or another. His stuff is pretty timeless.

  4. Marshall McLuhan had a deep understanding of relationship patterns between people, content (message) and the Media (delivery).
    Communities and networks have always been social and this is why his work is still valuable today despite great technological change in the past 30 years.
    Two age old patterns related to storytelling may interest you;
    1. Numbers and stories were once inter-changable in that specific numbers elicited specific stories, much like Excel reports today.
    2. Unique combinations of people, content and space or place cause stress for the Media as they insist on ‘command and control’ delivery process like SEO rather than allowing people to create their own stories like Social Media sites–Twitter, LinkedIn, etc…
    Nick Trendov @SpeedSynch

  5. Human relations have always been there, social media is just the modern, electronic, sometimes impersonal way to develop them. It’s natural that so called “men of the past” can and do have an even deeper knowledge of them than the average modern man, and we can get them as inspiration for our present work without being afraid to be anachronistic. Once again we see that social media isn’t really something new.

  6. … and different disciplines too. I was recently watching a documentary on architecture and it spurred all kinds of ideas for clients and Blog posts… inspiration is everywhere… and we can’t forget that some of it will come from the past!

  7. Am sure of it. Just did over the holidays a great show with Jonathan myself 🙂 on the MinterDialogue show! Happy New Year Mitch. Will be listening out for the SPOS o course.

  8. Mitch this is an awesome post. Too often my adopted industry Advertising/Marketing places an inflated value on the Media vs what they are selling. But while logic says people won’t buy a load of shit even if the marketing is great….they do. So Marshal was onto something.
    There is a group in Venice Beach that spends 1 night a month reading 2 pages of Finnegan’s Wake and tries to decode it. I went to 2 meetings before I had to move and after 14 years they were on page 283-84. It was quite fun. I wished I had found them years earlier since I lived close enough to attend. Either way Joyce was a genius. If it is decodable and many feel it is that is Genius. If it is pure gibberish and many think it is, that also is pure Genius since people still talk about it and try to decode it! lol
    Wouldn’t we all be so lucky to have such a grasp of anything to still be in the conversation after we pass on, never mind be able to act on it today. Cheers.

  9. Here are some names from the past that influence my thinking about social media: Howard Gossage, Edward Bernays, Rosser Reeves, Andy Warhol, Frank Zappa.

  10. Right.. It’s just a new way of interacting through one another. Some despise social media and prefer hanging out with friends personally but the it’s just this new modern way is inevitable.

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