Chapter One Things as Media: The Pan Media Trend
1.1 Traditional Media: Roads and Buildings
Hailed as a prophet of media technology, McLuhan’s Understanding Media reveals the tremendous changes in the turbulent 1960s with novel perspectives and sharp styles. McLuhan points out that the advent of the telegraph enables “messages to travel faster than a messenger”, and before this, “roads and the written word were closely interrelated” (92). He adds:
“Great improvements in roads brought the city more and more to the country. The road became a substitute for the country by the time people began to talk about ‘taking a spin in the country.’ With super-highways the road became a wall between man and the country” (94).
For McLuhan, the road is the extension of man’s feet, and the speed-up of roads “is the extension of power in an ever more homogeneous and uniform space” (92). McLuhan sees the evolution of roads to a more advanced version as an implication of centralization and totalitarianism, another method of governmental control, indicating his pessimistic view on roads’ possible negative impact on ordinary people and their ways of living. However, McLuhan holds an opposite view in describing the building, another extension of man. He refers to housing as an “extension of our bodily heat-control mechanisms” (123): houses “are media of communication” in that “they shape and rearrange the patterns of human association and community” (127). McLuhan believes that housing shelters us from danger and chaos, thus “enables us to attain some degree of equilibrium in a changing environment” (127). Also, he points out that modern technology provides different forms of housing, which “range from the space capsule to walls created by air jets. Some firms now specialize in providing large buildings with inside walls and floors that can be moved at will” (128). McLuhan is concerned with the alternation of old media by new technology and how they change the way people understand the world.
1.2 New Media: Technological Inventions
Like The Time Machine and The Island of Doctor Moreau, the protagonist in When the Sleeper Wakes is a man involved in an unusual experience who sets off in a world constructed by new media. McLuhan shares the same idea with Wells and believes that new media would “reshape any lives that they touch” (52). To prove his assertion, McLuhan gives the example of the telegraph: Since the invention of the telegraph in the 1830s, countries around the world have ushered into a new era of global communication, abandoning the letter as a way for information delivery. This new electronic medium inherits the intuitive characteristics of the old ones and overcomes the limitation of time and space. As a result, it brings people closer and makes the world a small “global village”. In human history, the emergence of every new media technology will bring subversive effects on society and the human race as a whole, which Wells has verified in When the Sleeper Wakes with notable examples.
Wells manifested his particular prediction about how visual technology would assist in manufacturing the modern consuming society. Naked while awakening, Graham is in a disorientated situation and later kitted out by a professional tailor equipped with modern machines, who uses a miniaturized electric screen on which a virtual man with various outfits can be changed at will. Just by flicking out “a little appliance the size and appearance of a keyless watch” and whirling the knob, the tailor “caught up a pattern of bluish white satin” and found the most suitable cloth for Graham, which is obviously amazing to this man from the 19th century (76). The Sleeper undergoes a vista of glaring and unstable scenes.
Chapter Two Man as Medium: The Human Mediality
2.1 Man’s Media Materiality
Endowed with aesthetic and philosophical implications in the modern period, the