“I don’t necessarily agree with everything I say”

The title of this post is a delightful quote from Marshall McLuhan that I was reminded of recently when I read the excellent, if unconventional, biography of McLuhan by Douglas Coupland.

Of course, McLuhan’s more famous quotes are “the medium is the message” and “the global village”, two aphorisms cited as foreshadowing today’s social media mania. But, as Coupland points out, “McLuhan’s ideas become like a song we all know the tune of but not the full lyrics, and so we read into him whatever comes to mind”

Wired magazine named him a patron saint and he is heralded as the father of new media but McLuhan hated technology and was more impressed with obscure English prose and poetry. If he were alive today he would likely NOT be on Facebook or Twitter even though he anticipated them 40 years ago. On the other hand, I think he would have a better analysis of social media than any of today’s self-proclaimed gurus.

Many of my friends and colleagues wouldn’t be surprised if the quote, “I don’t necessarily agree with everything I say” had sprung from my own lips. I’ve been rightfully accused of arguing for argument’s sake on many occasions. But that’s a long-standing tradition of Rhetoric.

When schools and universities still had debating societies, one was given a topic and then told whether to argue in the affirmative or the negative. Building an argument and using words impressively, as opposed to just using impressive words, was regarded as an art form. Oratory skills were seen as basic to a proper education.

Technology lessened the need for personal interaction as it brought the Global Village closer together through the Internet. Logarithms and technical writing became more important than imagination and eloquence. No wonder McLuhan hated it.

But the world is changing. I’ve trained biologists, geologists, accountants and engineers who have found themselves in situations where they need the oratory skills that were never taught to them in their technical studies. In today’s world, it’s not enough to be a great widget maker; you must be able to speak about widgets in a way that will inspire people.

Marshall McLuhan would tell them to read more poetry and fewer tweets.

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2 Comments

Filed under Communication, Media, Public Speaking

2 responses to ““I don’t necessarily agree with everything I say”

  1. Great post although I think your tendency to “argue for arguments sake” could also be attributed to your Irish heritage. And that heritage also has a tendency to lean to wonderful storytelling.

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