The End of the Work Ethic
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 16 Nov 1972, p. 105-125
McLuhan, Marshall H., Speaker
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Item Type
A couple of jokes and comments about the function of jokes in society. A discussion of the old objective journalism and the new subjective journalism. The topic, "The End of the Work Ethic" and how it relates to the new information environment. Changes in the nature of the job. The concepts of play and recreation. Many references to current media issues, events, and the people involved. The role of "culture heros." A multitude of philosophical thought and speculation, included with examples, anecdotes and literary and historical allusions in describing current cultural and scientific evolutions and revolutions in our society. Back to "objective" vs. "immersion" journalism. Future shock as "culture lag."
Date of Original
16 Nov 1972
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
NOVEMBER 16, 1972
The End of the Work Ethic
AN ADDRESS BY Professor H. Marshall McLuhan,
CHAIRMAN The President, Joseph H. Potts


There is a tendency in the human species, well recognized by psychologists, for those of lesser stature to emulate or at least to discover some common denominator, to share with a man or a woman of distinction.

I am not certain whether or not this is indicative of an inferiority complex but, in any event, I confess that I am no exception, particularly in respect to today's distinguished guest.

You may well ask-what in the name of goodness do I have in common with Dr. McLuhan?--my answer, in all humility, is that we are both squares-I hasten to add, however, that we are squares not in a derogatory sense.

Each of us earned, or if you prefer, we acquired, two Bachelor of Arts Degrees.

When these are listed after our names, they appear, in proper mathematical parlance, as (BA) to the second power or, in common parlance, as BA squared.

Needless to say, Dr. McLuhan leaves me in the dust at that point.

He is also an MA squared and a Doctor of Letters to the seventh power.

Sir, we are delighted to have you with us today. Indeed, we consider it a signal honour that you should do so, particularly in view of the heavy demands upon your time and talents.

When I wrote to our guest last May and extended to him an invitation to address the Club during the current season, I also forwarded to him a copy of our Year Book.

Shortly thereafter I received a very gracious letter in which he said:

"It is good of you to think of me for The Empire Club. I shall be very pleased to speak to your members at lunch in the coming season.

Many thanks for the Year Book. It reminds me, however, to mention that I never use a written manuscript for talks. I am sure something can be worked out."

I advised him that this presented no problem since all addresses to the Club are tape recorded.

The ability to deliver an address or talk without recourse to a written text is almost a lost art but our guest is in good company in this regard, with Mr. Caouette, who spoke to us last week and with John Fisher, who addressed us earlier in the season when we paid homage to another distinguished Canadian, A. Y. Jackson.

As you are undoubtedly aware, the Group of Seven were by no means acclaimed with open arms when they originally banded together to form the first Union of Artists in Canada. Mr. Jackson made a reference to this when he addressed the Club in 1925. He said:

"There are a great many people interested in Canadian art today, more than ever before. That interest is sometimes like that of the old lady who was hurrying rapidly out of one of our Group exhibitions, and when asked why she was in' such a hurry she explained, 'I hate these pictures, but I am afraid if I stay around here longer I am going to like them'. "

I don't really expect that any of you are planning to rush out of this meeting, or you wouldn't have come in the first place.

But I can't guarantee that you will like, in the sense of agreeing with, that which you are going to hear but I'm sure we will find it stimulating and enjoyable.

Our guest is a distinguished academician, author and lecturer. He received the Governor General's Award for critical prose, the Carl-Einstein-Preis, West Germany Critics Award, the British Institute of Public Relations Presidential Medal, the Golden Medal of the President of the Republic of Italy and was appointed to the Schweitzer Chair at Fordham University.

In 1963, he was appointed by the President of the University of Toronto to create a new Centre for Culture and Technology (to study the psychic and social consequences of technologies and media). He was appointed as a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1970.

He is the author or co-author of some thirteen major works, including

The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man
The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man
The Medium is the Message
Culture is our Business and
Take Today: The Executive as Dropout
which was published this year.

One of the finest tributes paid to our guest was by one of his contemporaries in reviewing The Gutenberg Galaxy:

"If McLuhan's way out it is because that's where we really are. His book opens directly and creatively out onto every humane activity known to man; it forces consideration of pressing up-to-date (futuristic, yet) problems in politics, economics, philosophy, literature, and post-Newtonian physics so as to leave many current jargons distantly relevant at best. It offers casual erudition that's appalling in scope and variety; it's shot with illuminations of illuminations of men like Shakespeare, Pope, Swift, Blake, Ruskin, Rimbaud, and Joyce. It leaves an average professor of English like myself feeling somewhat of a cross between a dodo and an astronaut with a heart condition."

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to ask Prof. McLuhan to speak to us on the subject: "THE END OF THE WORK ETHIC".


It's not that seagulls are stupid, they are very wild and very emotional. They just can't be trained like eagles, hawks and ravens.

I have a friend on the Faculty, Professor John Abrams who went to Russia a few months ago. Before he started out, I asked him: "John, please pick up a couple of authentic Russian stories for me. I'd like to know just what sort of stories they tell in Russia." In due time, he relayed a couple to me:

One story concerned a yokel visitor to Moscow, who was a bit of a provincial, was oohing and ahing over "this wonderful city" and thanking God for "our wonderful subways" and " our wonderful economy" and " our wonderful stores" and "our wonderful people. " His acquaintance remonstrated: "You don't thank God, you thank Stalin." And the visitor said: "Sure, but what if Stalin dies? Then you really can thank God."

The other story concerns a Russian attempt to set up an Americanstyle nightclub:

The nightclub failed and they had a little investigation. The committee inquired: "Well, what did you do? How about the decor? What was the setting?" "Well", they said, "we had top Italian designers, with Hollywood advice and suggestions." "And how about the food?" They said: "It was splendid. We had French chefs, nothing but the best wines, modest prices, and everybody seemed pleased. " ' 'And how about the girls?" "Well, they were super, too. Every one of them had been a Party member since 1918. "

There's an undercurrent of grievance in all good jokes, as you may have noticed. Take the story about a man who went to Kennedy Airport not long ago, to pick up an Irish friend for whom it was the first visit to the U.S.A.:

As they drove into New York, the Irishman was fascinated by the advertisements. When he saw an ad: USE EX-LAX -BE YOUNGER, he said: "What is it?" Said the friend: "There's a drug store right here. I'll stop and get you some. " And he bought a cake of Ex-Lax which the Irishman proceeded to consume. After a while, the friend said: "Are you feeling any younger?" And the Irishman showed a certain amount of hesitation, but he said: "I'm not sure-but I've just done something very childish!"

Jokes are mostly concerned with grievances, and when new kinds of jokes appear, you can depend upon it, there is some sort of uncomfortable abrasive area of tension developing in the community. The Newfie jokes represent a certain amount of mild irritation relating to group maladjustment. Most of us have heard some of the "good news/bad news" jokes that project a sort of gripe about the rise of the new subjective journalism and the disappearance of the old objective journalism. I'll have a chance, perhaps, to refer to examples later. The old journalism had attempted to be "objective" and detached. For many years this meant giving "both sides" at once-the pro and the con-the yes and the no-the for and against-the black and the white. When you give both "sides" at once, you are in the tradition of "objective" reporting. If something is about to be done in the community, you explain what's against it and what's for it. On the other hand, the new journalism is an attempt to give "all sides at once" by simply immersing you in the total situation, Norman Mailer style, or Truman Capote style (In Cold Blood). Norman Mailer's Miami and the Siege of Chicago is not so much a report about the convention or the candidates or the policies of the parties. Rather, Mailer plunges us into a "happening" for the feel of it. The new journalism is subjective--immersion. Whether it's fact or fiction, doesn't matter any more. When you get all sides at once, it is a sort of fiction anyway. So, Norman Mailer's subtitle on his Armies of the Night is: "History as novel--novel as history", pointing to the loss of boundaries between reporting and fiction. When we say: "He made the crews", we point to the fact of news as fiction, as something made. Perhaps that is why there is always just enough news every day to fill every paper, with nothing left over.

Now, I am going to turn to my topic at once, so I will not be accused of not having gotten around to it. "The End of the Work Ethic" is quite directly related to the fact that under electric conditions of the new information environment it is no longer possible to have a mere goal. When everything happens at once, when you are inundated with information from every quarter of the globe at once, and every day, you cannot fix a distant objective and say: "I'm going to move toward that point. " That point is already in rapid motion, as you are, and long before you take a step in that direction, everything will have changed.

The work ethic, insofar as it meant private goal orientation, is not practical and disappeared some time ago. But, related to this situation is change in the job. The job will no longer hold up-it's too specialized an action for the electric age. The job as specialism, as a fixed position in an organization chart, will not hold up against the simultaneous jostling and the interfacing of simultaneous information. What is taking the place of the job is role-playing. When you are moonlighting and starlighting, that is role-playing; and most people are doing this in some degree or other. The job-holder drops out as the consultant drops in.

Role-playing, in effect, means having more than one job. A housewife is a role-player because she has many jobs, and so do farmers and many other people in the community. They are not essentially job-holders, but role-players. Notice the stress on "playing". I am going to bear down on that theme a bit. Electrically, we are moving into an age of play which will bring many new patterns of work and learning. There is about to appear from a Canadian publisher a book called The Leisure Riots. It concerns a rebellion of a community against a group of executives who are trying to transform fun and games, and leisure time activities, into industrial packages. When skiing or hockey or football or tourism become encumbered with equipment and consumer packages and are made expensive and difficult, they cease to be fun. The play has gone. This is a situation which is reflected in various aspects of our world at present. It is another area of grievance. The idea of play and, recreation has gained much new meaning in this age, not only, from such classic studies as Homo Ludens by J. Huizinga, but from quantum mechanics. Huizinga relates the play principle to the development of all our institutions, so that the very idea of "party government" implies the interplay of diverse attitudes and policies as a means of equilibrium and social adaptation. In chemistry and new compounds, the very fact of the chemical bond has become the resonant interval of interfacing particles. Matter is now seen to be constituted by resonating intensities of interplay, minus any connections whatever.

All are familiar with the play between the wheel and the axle as the very principle of mobility, and we seek to avoid the up-tight, on one hand, or the too slack, on the other hand. But it could be argued that the dropout is a victim of the up-tight situation and that he drops out in order to regain "touch". When the wheel and the axle get too close, they too, lose touch. When they are too distant, they collapse. To be "in a bind" is to lose touch as much as when we become too remote. When a group of viable people volunteered to enter mental institutions as if they were in need of therapy, the staff was unable to detect their sanity, but the seriously deranged pointed at the intruders at once, saying: "They're playing." Without play, there looms the shadow of madness in private as in corporate life, whence the danger of specialism and bureaucracy when the rigors of classification overlay the relaxed countenance of harmonious faculties. The artist is always at leisure because he must keep his mind at play, and he is never more at leisure than when seeking the solution of tough technical problems.

Let me refer to an item from Business Week of last month-"The Case Against Executive Mobility". The theme is quite simple, and relates to the recognition that frequent transfers to new homes and places of work have become a sterile way of life in North America. To pull up stakes and move families as a means of advancing up the corporate ladder is no longer considered a very practical or rewarding thing by big business. Another observation, in the same way, belittles a chance for significant job promotion that would affect the emotional lives of school-age children. At the other extremes, local I.B.M. operations have become so large that executives can often get the effects of diversified managerial experience they need for advancement without moving anywhere. To move people around quickly is to cease to have a community.

The current best-seller, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, is a kind of side-swipe or spoof on the Protestant work ethic. If the words "Jonathan Livingston" suggest the great medical missionary of the last century, the word "Seagull" is rich in aerial and spiritual suggestion. In fact, J.L.S. is a very hard-working and very aspiring individual whose endeavours are richly rewarded by rapid advancement aided by delightful skyscapes and photographs. We read how J. L. S. never ceases from practising all manner of flight techniques: "A hundred feet in the sky, he lowered his webbed feet, lifted his beak and strained to hold the painful, hard-twisting curves of his wings." Of course, the idea of elevation and levitation are easily associated with the strenuous and precise manoeuvers of the seagull. However, he soon phases himself out of all polarity in the company by the sheer speed of his success.

Since a seagull never speaks back to the council flock, Jonathan's voice was raised in exhortation: "Irresponsibility, my brothers? Who is more responsible than a gull who finds and follows a meaning, a higher purpose for life? For a thousand years we have scrabbled after fish heads but now we have a reason to live, to learn, to discover, to be free. Give me one chance, let me show you what I've found. The flock might as well have been stone." But that didn't stop them from moving up the organization tree very fast into another dimension altogether, where he encountered a voice: "How do you expect us to fly as you fly? You are special and gifted and divine above other birds." Look at Fletcher, Lowell, Charles Rowland, Judy Lee-are they also special, gifted, divine? No more than you are. No more than I am. The only difference, the very only one, is that they began to understand what they really were, and they began to practise it.

Now the toil for self advancement and self perfection is one that belongs to the work ethic, allegorically spoofed in this book. Perhaps the success of the book has been that the reader can take it both ways at once, either as a critique or a panegyric of the old work ethic.

To return to the theme of the obsolescing of the work ethic in a world of electric information, it is helpful to understand that the public today has taken on a new role. Because of the very simultaneity of electric information and programming, there really are no more spectators; everybody has become a member of the cast. The consumer function itself, as it were, is outmoded. On Spaceship Earth there are no passengers, but all are crew.

Just how quickly the public participation flips from audience to actor has recently been noticed in Watergate, and earlier in the trial of Lieutenant Calley. When audience participation becomes too extensive, the villains on trial flip into public heroes because the audience quickly identifies with them, especially when they are men who are carrying out robot-like activities which necessarily resemble those of the average audience. When the audience identifies with a villain on trial, the public at first begins to feel villainous and guilty itself, and then resolves the problem by flipping the villain into the role of a "culture hero". Another situation in which the opportunities for public participation are very dramatic has been discovered by the hijackers of aeroplanes and other public services. One of the principal causes or motives for hijacking was precisely the desire for coverage and public attention on the part of these unhappy performers. So attractive is this form of notoriety and coverage, that the reporting of these events has had to cease.

Perhaps we can get into the situation of today via the remark of the little boy on his first aeroplane ride. Once they had taken off, he said: "Daddy, when do we start to get smaller?" The little boy's question is rather complex since it is plain that the plane gets smaller, while the cabin does not. The little boy would never have asked such a question in an open cockpit plane, for not only does the plane get smaller, but the occupants also feel increasingly insignificant. However, the enclosed space of the cabin of the plane presents a very special kind of structure, namely, a visual space; that is, a space or figure without a ground. Visual space has peculiar properties that are not shared by spaces created by any of the other senses. Visual space is continuous, uniform, connected and static, whereas the sense of touch, like the sense of hearing or smell, is discontinuous, disconnected, non-uniform and dynamic. Such is also the case with acoustic space, the space in which we all live in the electric age. To a considerable degree, Western literate man in the 19th century lived in visual space which he thought of as normal, natural, rational space. With the advent of a world environment of simultaneous and instantaneous information, Western man shifted from visual to acoustic space, for acoustic space is a sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose boundaries are nowhere. Such is the space created by electric information which arrives simultaneously from all quarters of the globe. It is a space which phases us out of the world of logical continuity and connected stability into the space-time world of the new physics in which the mechanical bond is the resonant interval of touch where there are no connections, but only interfaces.

Many people may still suppose that these matters belong to the realm of speculation and obtruse scientific investigation, but the present fact is that we all live in this new resonating, simultaneous world in which the relation between figure and ground, public and performer, goal-seeking and role-playing, centralism and decentralism, have simply flipped and reversed again and again. Civilized man, Euclidean man, whose visual faculties were sharpened and specialized by GraecoRoman literacy, this kind of aggressive, goal-seeking, one-way entrepreneur, has simply been dislodged and put out of countenance by the new man-made environment of simultaneous electric information. It is important for survival to understand that the simultaneous data of the omnipresent information environment is itself structurally acoustic. When people understand this acoustic structure as their new habitat, they will at once recognize the risks for the strange goings-on in the human psyche and in human society in the effort to relate to this new habitat. It goes without saying that any of our senses adjusts at once to any change in levels of light or heat or sound, and so it is with the changes in the environmental structure that is constituted by the information services of our 20th century world. Instantaneous retrieval systems and data processing alter entirely the nature of decision-making. The old job-holder, secure in his niche in the organization chart, finds himself an Ishmael wandering about in a chaos of unrelated data.

Let me try to make this matter more vividly comprehensible by relating a story which concerned my own first discovery of acoustic space. A group of us which included Carl Williams (now President of the University of Western Ontario), Tom Easterbrook (Political Economy, University of Toronto), and Jacqueline Tyrwhitt (Architecture and Town Planning) were discussing the newest book of Siegfried Giedion, The Beginnings of Architecture. Jacqueline Tyrwhitt (she had worked with Giedion on this study for years) was explaining how Giedion presented the fact that the Romans were the first people to enclose space. The Egyptian pyramids enclosed no space since their interior was dark, as were their temples. The Greeks never enclosed any space, since they merely turned the Egyptian temples inside out, and a stone slab sitting on two columns is not an enclosed space. But the Romans, by putting the arch inside a rectangle, were the first to enclose space. (An arch itself is not an enclosed space since it is merely formed by tensile pressure and thrust.) However, when this arch is put inside a rectangle, as in the sections of a Roman viaduct or in the Arc de Triomphe, you have a genuine enclosed space, namely a visual space. Visual space is a static enclosure, arranged by vertical planes diagonally related. Thus, a cave is not an enclosed space any more than is a wigwam or a dome (Buckminster Fuller's domes manifest the acoustic principle rather than the visual or enclosed space principle). The wigwam, like the triangle, is not an enclosed space and is merely the most economical means of anchoring a vertical plane or object.

At this point, Carl Williams, the psychologist, objected that, after all, the spaces inside a pyramid, even though dark, could be considered as acoustic spaces, and he then mentioned the characteristic modes of acoustic space as a sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose margins are nowhere (which is, incidentally, the neo-Platonic definition of God). I have never ceased to meditate on the relevance of this acoustic space to an understanding of the simultaneous electric world. The basic structural fact about simultaneity is that the effects come before the causes in such structures, or, the ground comes before the figure. When the figure arrives, we say "the time is ripe".

Living electronically, where the effects come before the causes, is a rather graphic and vivid way of explaining why distant goals and objectives are somewhat meaningless to "neuronic" man. Electronic man, that is, works in a world whose electric services are an expansion into environmental form, of his own nervous system. To such a man is it meaningless to say that he should seek or pursue distant goals and objectives, since all satisfactions and objectives are already present to him. This explains the mystery of why preliterate and acoustic peoples appear to us to be so deeply satisfied with such shallow resources and means of existence. Acoustic man, living in a simultaneous environment of electric information, is suddenly disillusioned about the ideal of moreness, whether it be more goods or more people or more security or more fame. Acoustic, or electronic man, understands instantly that the nature and limits of human satisfactions forbid any increase of happiness through an increase of power or wealth. Acoustic man naturally "plays it by ear" and lives harmoniously and musically and melodiously. Ecology is only another name for this acoustic simultaneity and the sudden responsibility for creating ecological environments pressed very suddenly upon Western man on October 17th, 1959. That was the day when Sputnik went into orbit, putting this planet inside a man-made environment for the first time. As soon as the planet went inside a man-made environment, the occupants of the planet began to hum and sing the ecological theme song without any further prompting.

When the planet was suddenly enveloped by a man-made artifact, "Nature" flipped into art form. The moment of Sputnik was the moment of creating Spaceship Earth and/or the global theatre. Shakespeare at the Globe had seen all the world as a stage, but with Sputnik, the world literally became a global theatre with no more audiences, only actors.

Another theme with which we are acquainted today is that of the dropout, whether it be Agnew Agonistes or the school kid who cannot see how he can relate to the curriculum fare. It is also a theme in Take Today: The Executive as Dropout (Longmans Canada Ltd., 1972Marshall McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt) that the dropout is literally trying to "get in touch". This paradoxical fact is obscured to visual man, always looking for connections and unable to see any rationale in the dropout process. Earlier I had mentioned the example of the interval of play between the wheel and the axle as exemplifying the very nature of touch. To "keep in touch" is always to maintain a resonant interval of play between figure and ground, between our jobs and our lives, and between all of our interests and responsibilities. The paradoxical fact that touch is not connection but an interval, not a fixed position but a dynamic interface, helps to explain the changes from the work ethic of yesterday to the diversified role-playing demanded of us in the new electronic environment. Archie Bunker is extremely popular as exhibiting much of the discomfort that results from his being frequently subjected to new situations which are alien to his specialized emotional rigidities and his very particularized points of view that result from his having a fixed position at all times when looking at his world. Time was when a man's point of view was thought of as something integral and important.

Today, to have a fixed position from which to examine the world, merely guarantees that one will not relate to a rapidly changing world. The problems in the Watergate hearings are notable exemplars of this new situation. Their expertise and highly specialized skills as advisers to the government bureaucracy seemed only to qualify them for involuntary show biz. They were a group of backroom confidants who were suddenly flushed out into the public eye as expendable.

Wyndham Lewis, the painter-writer, once said: "The artist is engaged in painting or describing the future in detail because he is the only person who knows how to live in the present." However, to live in the present, or to take today now, involves acceptance of the entire past as now, and the entire future as present. Science fiction doesn't really measure up to the everyday reality because the real has become fantastic. The future is not what it used to be, and it is now possible to predict the past in many scientific senses. With "carbon 14" tests available, we can now predict why we shall have to re-write most of the past, simply because we can see much more of it simultaneously. At electric speeds of information it is not only the assembly line that is outmoded by computer programming, but the organization chart that has been outmoded. On the one hand, we hear about new difficulties at the Ford and similar plants in getting workers to come full time. Two or three days a week seems to be as much as the Detroit worker feels necessary to be involved in gainful employment. Absenteeism means that most of the cars now turned out on Fridays and Mondays are duds. This results from having to staff the assembly lines at those periods of the week with substitutes who have perhaps never seen an assembly line before. The story is told in Arthur Hailey's Wheels.

The instantaneous, simultaneous programming which has succeeded the one-thing-at-a-time world of the assembly line is familiar to the IBM world. It is now possible to include all the assembly line programs of an entire enterprise on a few little "solid state" chips. Along with the flip from hardware sequence speeds, comes the flip from hardware scale to software programming. The shift from hardware quantity to software is nowhere more spectacular than in the micro-dot library contrived by Vannevar Bush for the use of the astronauts. He made it possible to include in the space the size of a pinhead, twenty million printed volumes in retrievable form.

One of the peculiarities of the reversals in this new world of the electric information environment, is the return of the mentality and the figure of the hunter, on a massive scale. Manhunting, whether under the mode of commercial or military espionage, is one of the biggest businesses of the 20th century. It is a world in which the vision of Edgar Allan Poe and the work of Sherlock Holmes merge to become a new kind of "work". It is a kind of aesthetic work of pattern recognition far removed from the Protestant work ethic of goal-seeking. Today the hunter, the engineer, the programmer, the researcher, and the aesthete are one.

Intimations of this coming change occurred as early as Carlyle's Past and Present (1843) in which he contrasted the world of his time with the life of a medieval monastery in which work and prayer combine to create community. As specialism and industrialism developed in the 19th century, the artists combined to confront and denounce the anti-humanism of this new mechanical world of fragmentation. Paradoxically, the aesthetes, from Ruskin and Pater to Oscar Wilde, agreed that art and work must blend once more to create good art and the good life. The medievalism of the pre-Raphaelites was not nostalgically motivated so much as concerned with the need of their time to recover an integral work and life pattern. Comically enough, medievalism has come upon us in the 60's and the 70's in the so-called "hippie" costume of international motley, which we associate with the dropouts. Shaggy hair and shattered jeans is worn by those who are "agin" the establishment, even as motley was the clown costume of the rebel against authority. International motley is not limited to any continent, nor did it originate in any theory or concept of dress. It is as spontaneous a thing as country music, or Bob Dylan's enunciation. The figures of Emperor and clown, of establishment and anti-establishment, represent an age-old conflict. Strangely, the clown is a kind of P. R. man for the Emperor, one who keeps the Emperor in touch with "where it's at", regaling him with jokes and gags which are frequently of a hostile intent.

The 19th century revolution had been, in part, to substitute the laws of the market and the economy for the laws of Nature. Economists and sociologists sought to discover the Newtonian laws of the universe embedded in the marketplace. The Sputnik event was another thing altogether, which simply obsolesced the planet itself as Nature disappeared into an art form. Now, the moment of Sputnik was the moment of creating Spaceship Earth, and the Global Theatre which, as we have seen, transformed the spectators into actors. Today, therefore, everybody demands a positive participation in the world process. This, of course, is one of the marks of Women's Lib. Whereas the suffragettes had merely sought to gain the right to vote, women today sense that they are totally involved in the social process on a non-specialist basis, and want a large piece of the action. Watergate has shown how the top executives of any big operation are extremely vulnerable today, so the most confidential operations can be submitted to public scrutiny on a mass scale. The Watergate cast represented a very specialized group, so much so that not one of them was able to provide any examples of decision making. However, they were able to dramatize the plight of the specialist at high levels who, in effect, has nothing to do with decisions. At electric speeds, nobody makes decisions, as it were, but everybody becomes participant in a complex situation for which he can take no responsibility whatever.

Another peculiar feature of this electric time is that people not only do not make decisions individually, but in terms of the movement of information, it is the sender who is sent. It is the user of the telephone who goes to Peking and back, and so it is with TV or radio. When you are "on the air", you are everywhere at once. This is a power beyond that of the angels, according to Thomas Aquinas, for they can only be in one place at a time. This is one way of pointing to the revolution in the work ethic, since we haven't a clue as to how to adjust our traditional lives to this kind of instant transportation of whole populations. Moreover, it means that the information environment automatically involves everybody in the work of learning, for the user of a radio program, or a newspaper, or an advertisement, is assisting the community process as much as anybody in a classroom or on an assembly line. When you are watching a play or a ball game, you are working for the community. We live in a world of paradoxes because at electric speed all facets of situations are presented to us simultaneously. It used to be the specialty of "the Irish bull" to do this. For example, a recent example mentions an exchange between two chiropodists. One says: "I have taken the corns off half the crown heads of Europe." That particular one contains several contradictory facets and metaphors, but as a wag said: "A man's reach must exceed his grasp, or what's a metaphor?"

In the 16th century Gutenberg made every man a reader, creating vast new publics, and in our time Xerox has made every man a publisher, creating (via position papers) vast numbers of big committees. When "every man" becomes a publisher, for the office boy can give the Pentagon papers to the world. Such papers are really position papers that may never have been read by anybody. On the other hand, from the point of view of the publishers, Xerox is a total invasion of copyright and all books go into the public domain via this new kind of access. One of the dominant effects of our electric time is the effect of speedup on decision-making and on awareness of innumerable patterns and processes which had been quite undetectable at slower speeds. In fact, electric speed is tantamount to X-ray in relation to all human activities, invading privacy in both the personal and in the political sectors alike, and creating new patterns of involvement and participation in all affairs.

What is called the "new journalism" is, in effect, "immersion" reporting in contrast to the old "objective" reporting. The old and new journalism, corresponding to the old 19th century hardware and the new electric software and the old and new politics, match these accordingly. The old objective journalism had aimed at giving "both sides" of the case, whereas the new "immersion" journalism simply plunges the reader into the experience of being on the scene, or being part of the scene; in "you are there" style. Of course, "you are there" is merely another name for movie and TV experience, but the old ideal of objectivity in reporting, of "giving both sides at once", now appears, in retrospect as an illusion. That is, to give the "pro" and the "con" is worlds away from being objective, since it is necessarily a point of view at a distance. In the days of objective reporting, it was always taken for granted that the "news behind the news", or the "inside story" was necessarily quite different from the outside or objective view of the situation. The outside story was "fit to print", and the inside story was "not fit to print", in the style of conscious vs. subliminal investigation of human psychology. It was Freud who began the "immersion" approach to the human psyche and the reporting of the subliminal or inside story of human motivations. Personally speaking, my own approach to media study has always been to report the subliminal effects of our own technologies upon our psyches, to report not the program, but the impact of the medium upon the human user. Surprisingly, this kind of reporting of the hidden effects of media creates much indignation. Many people would rather die than defend themselves against these effects. The corresponding flip from "objective" to "immersion" techniques in politics presents itself in the form of apolitical shift from parties and policies to images and services. That is, political parties and their explicit policies have simply been obsolesced by the images presented by the party leaders, on the one hand, and the services taken for granted by the community, regardless of the party that happens to be in power, on the other hand.

The drastic flip from "objective" to "immersion" reporting has spawned a new genre of jokes which contrast to good news and bad news in a style represented by such stories as that of the doctor who reports to the patient: "I have some bad news for you. We cut off the wrong leg. But there is some good news. The withered limb is beginning to show some signs of life!" Or the story of the master of the group of galley slaves, who says: "Men, I have some good news for you. You are going to have an extra noggin of rum today. But now the bad news-The Captain wants to go water skiing!" And in even briefer form-Othello says to Desdemona: "1 have bad news for you. I'm going to strangle you. Now I'll tell you the good news. I found your handkerchief!"

The "revolution" I have been describing in reporting and in politics is the theme of the book called Deschooling by Ivan Illich. The theme of the book is simply that since there is now more information outside the schools than inside, we should close the schools and let the young obtain their education in the general environment once more. What Illich fails to see is that when the answers are outside, the time has come to put the questions inside the school, rather than the answers. In other words, it is now possible to make the schools not a place for packaged information, but a place for dialogue and discovery. This new pattern is recorded in the observation that twentieth century man is a person who runs down the street shouting: "I've got the answers. What are the questions?" There are various versions of this observation, some of them attributed to people like Gertrude Stein. At any rate, when information becomes totally environmental and instantaneous, it is impossible to have monopolies of knowledge or specialism, a fact which is extremely upsetting to nearly everybody in our present Establishments.

The loss of monopolies of knowledge and specialism is recorded in many fun books, like Parkinson's Law and The Peter Principle and One-up-man-ship. In fact, it is a basic principle that when new grievances occur, new jokes come with them. Another basic change resulting from electric speed, of course, is the shift from centralized to decentralized structures in every sector of community life. At the political level it is called "separatism", but it has been happening on a huge scale in business and in education, as well. In private life it is called "dropoutism". In fact, that is the theme of my book Take Today: The Executive as Dropout. The work ethic is being overlaid very quickly by these new forms of organization so that twentieth century man not only experiences his subliminal life being pushed up into consciousness, but the daily process of living takes on an increasingly mythic or corporate participation in processes that had previously been kept down in the unconscious. It was Harold Innis in his essay on "Minerva's Owl" (prompted by his studies of the Canadian economy) who showed how the ordinary technologies of everyday life have effects upon us that are in no way dependent upon the uses for which their makers intended them. However, in the age of ecology, the age in which we recognize that everything affects everything, it is no longer possible to remain unaware of the effects of the things we make, on our psychic and social lives. We are living in a situation which has been called "future shock". Future shock, in fact, is "culture lag", that is, the failure to notice what is happening in the present.

Before you return to work, I will tell you the story about the artist, Rodin, who, as he was completing his work on his statue of "The Thinker", it being a very hot afternoon, turned to the sitter and said: "O.K. stupid-you can get down now!"

Thanks very much.

Professor McLuhan was thanked on behalf of The Empire Club by Mr. H. Ian Macdonald, a Past President of the Club.


Mr. President, if you will forgive me a personal observation but I couldn't help noticing after studying you and Marshall McLuhan in profile that in one sense I think you are becoming a more rounded square than the guest speaker today.

A few years ago the name of Marshall McLuhan became synonymous with the phrase "The medium is the message". And about that time this country was engaged in one of its periodic states of self-flagellation with the face of doom appearing in every crystal ball. However. I recall one noted public figure suggesting that all we really needed was a "happy medium". No one has ever suggested that Marshall McLuhan is a medium but I am sure that after listening to his message today we have found him, indeed, a deep and perceptive social commentator.

Personally, in my own anachronistic way, I have never really thought of work as an ethical matter--rather I simply thought of it as a preferable state to slow starvation. However, the new world that you have sketched, Marshall, is infinitely to be preferred to either work or starvation and it is a privilege for me to express to you the appreciation which we all so clearly feel for your remarks today.

Thank you.

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The End of the Work Ethic

A couple of jokes and comments about the function of jokes in society. A discussion of the old objective journalism and the new subjective journalism. The topic, "The End of the Work Ethic" and how it relates to the new information environment. Changes in the nature of the job. The concepts of play and recreation. Many references to current media issues, events, and the people involved. The role of "culture heros." A multitude of philosophical thought and speculation, included with examples, anecdotes and literary and historical allusions in describing current cultural and scientific evolutions and revolutions in our society. Back to "objective" vs. "immersion" journalism. Future shock as "culture lag."