Marshall McLuhan – a Modern Elder.

March 11, 2023

Marshall McLuhan – a Modern Elder.

May 29, 2023

Marshall McLuhan, the communications guru is famous. Except that he’s not. It all depends on your age – and that’s a big deal. Here’s why.

If you are a Baby Boomer, you were mesmerized by his insights such as “The medium is the message” and “Television is cool. Radio is hot.” He was the mapmaker for the communications revolution, showing how TV literally shut off our brains. But, if you are a Millennial, you might not even know who he is. And that’s a shame.

When I first met Marshall McLuhan, he was “old”, over the age of 60. I was a cocky 25-year-old, fulfilling a dream, studying for my M.A. at the University of Toronto with my “old” hero who was ageless to me. But for some, his time was already passing.

This was the man who revolutionized our understanding of how TV affected our brain, who studied media and advertising the same way an Art professor studied art. He pointed to a future where we would become more “tribal” and less collective, living in a Global Village where “A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.” He might as well have been describing 2023.

That’s why I stayed in touch with this cantankerous genius after I completed my Master’s. He saw the future and I wanted to capitalize on his insights.

By 1978, McLuhan was not in the news much. He had been relegated to being studied by dry academics. The media and advertising business didn’t ask his opinion any more. But I had started a very successful consulting company and I thought it was time to bring him “back”, re-packaging his insights for ad agencies and businesses.

When we met at his home to discuss the idea, he was 67, well past the “sell by” date for all those companies filled with young executives who were intoxicated by their own youth and “fresh” ideas. He asked me, “Do you think I’m too old for them?” This shocked me. I answered “You’ll never be too old. You just need to be marketed better.” He smiled.

I had a plan for the future, remembering that he once said, “We drive into the future using only our rearview mirror.” This time, we’d look through the windshield.

We cut a deal, this “old man” and me. The future was about to be reinvented. Then he had a bad stroke, could barely speak, and died about a year later. I was crushed.

But I never forgot that a genius of our times thought he might be “too old” for a world blinded by youth. These days, I’m reminded again about the cost of trusting youth with our future when I see multibillion dollar cryptocurrency and medical scams run by under 40s who don’t have any elder oversight.

Marshall even foresaw this, “Everybody experiences far more than he understands. Yet it is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behavior.”

- John Parikhal

John’s passion is helping people and businesses grow. He is recognized as an accomplished, award-winning global marketer/researcher, creative strategist and tactician, and innovator of hyper-customized insight solutions that have helped companies identify the trends of tomorrow and profitably act on them today. https://www.parikhal.com

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