Making sense of theory: the fiveyearnapper way

Ok. I’ll bite. Someone has to go first. I admit, I blog in my head instinctively, as I ruminate, pontificate and reflect on my life’s events. It’s as if Marshall McLuhan was reaching out to the likes of me and handing me this technology to dump my brain contents. This theory stuff is stirring up a lot inside and it seems as I read it, yelling at the author for what seems deliberately obtuse writing, the only way I can make sense of it is to find the connection to my own existence. My own blog, fiveyearnapper, was created to document my re-entry back into the work world after taking some time off to be a mother, post corporate existence as a vice president of communications; it’s a diary of my crisis of identity, so to speak. So when we were discussing symbolic interactionism last week, about how we adjust ourselves according to the role we are playing in life, and who are audience is, I could relate. I put on a very different face, or persona, when I am parent, wife, teacher, friend and now, student. I behave, speak and even dress differently depending if I am communicating with my kids’ teacher, my kids, other parents (subdivided by school-parents or hockey-parents), my students, my boss, and yes, even my husband, even though I proclaim to be an authentic human being.

But lately I’ve been feeling a conflict of values: see, I value time over money. But with my added student-role, I’m busier now than I ever have been. Even as a single executive, I still had spare time. With work, school and family, the time that I am giving up to make it all work is time with my kids. I am missing out on the “phenomenological experience of otherness”, that “authentic human relations” (Craig, R., 1999, p. 133). At least the theory is helping me see what I need to feel complete. And to see that parenting is aligned to the sociopsychological tradition of communications: I find myself in situations “requiring manipulation of causes of behaviour to achieve specified outcomes” (Craig, R., 1999, p. 133). Whatever it takes to get the homework done, or the laundry basket emptied, or guitar practiced .

Ironically, the cause of behaviour is usually the iPad or some sort of electronically-mesmerizing device, and for that we can turn to Marshall McLuhan. He’s is everywhere. When he said, “the medium is the massage,” (Babe, 2000, p. 76) I thought it was a typo. But then he went on to describe that technology is really just an extension of the human body and I realized he was eerily right. One day a couple of months ago, I was driving down Bloor Street with my son in the back seat, at about 4 p.m. I asked him to count all of the people who were carrying, looking at, or talking on phones, and it was almost every single person. I was listening to the radio yesterday and it declared that the average undergrad spends eight to 10 hours looking at their smart phone — a day! The interviews spoke of “addiction” and “gives me something to do with my hands.”

Yes, theories are everywhere. Reading about the ‘posts’, this week, I asked my artist-husband to rhyme off post modern visual artists: Andy Warhol being one. Or Marcel Duchamp, who showcased a urinal as ‘art’. And seeing that “postmodernism rejects the view that science can be spoken in a singular universal voice” (Agger, B. 1991, p. 121), I turn to my insightful seven-year old for inspiration and clarity: he’s a post modern ‘sevenist’ who believes that just about anything he says is right. He’s a master at rhetoric. Yet, he invented the ‘blow hug,’ which for us is a semiotic reference for affection.  2014-08-15 19.53.54

References

Agger, Ben. (1991) Critical Theory, Postmoderism, Poststructuralism: Their Sociological Relevance. New York. pp 105-131. Retrieved from http://moodle233.msvu.ca/m23/pluginfile.php/156942/mod_resource/content/2/BenAggerCriticalTheoryPoststructPostMod.pdf

Babe, R.E. (2000) Chapter 1 – Introduction. In Canadian communication thought: Ten foundational writers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 3 – 38. Retrieved from http://moodle233.msvu.ca/m23/course/view.php?id=3449

Craig, R.T. (1999). Communication as a Field. Communication Theory, 9:2, p 135-136. Retrieved from http://moodle233.msvu.ca/m23/pluginfile.php/147163/mod_resource/content/1/Craig%207%20Traditions%20article.pdf

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2 thoughts on “Making sense of theory: the fiveyearnapper way

  1. Great post – I really connected with your thoughts regarding McLuhan’s “the medium is the massage” and the concept that technology is an extension of the human body. Similar to your son counting all of the avid mobile phone users on Bloor Street, I have noticed a very interesting technological phenomenon among my own family. We have fallen into the pattern of instant messaging or texting one another when under the same roof, rather then walking across the hall and engaging in face-to-face conversation. Our mobile devices have become such a technological extension of ourselves that we rely on them to conveniently connect with people across the world and even in our own homes. Interestingly, McLuhan cautioned that every technological extension results in the modification of another extension. In the case of my family, online social networks extend our sense of community, but also diminish our relationships based on oral communication.

    I find it very interesting that although McLuhan didn’t live to see the advent of the Internet, he prophesized that printed books would fragmentize society. McLuhan argued that readers would isolate themselves from one another and read in private. While his “global village” theory suggests the ability of electronic media to unify the human race, it also sheds light on the fact that the digital age has further alienated people into the realms of their private lives. In today’s world, we can literally do anything from behind a digital screen, from sustaining relationships to shopping online. It has become easier than ever to feel connected to others and society without having to leave the comfort of our bedrooms. It is amazing that McLuhan was able to foresee the independence of communication as a seamless circuit linking people through media and their messages.

    Ever since starting this course and diving into McLuhan’s theories my family has attempted to break our bad technological habits. We now place our mobile devices in a glass dish whenever we come home and try to not constantly check them throughout the night. I have realized that if someone really needs to get ahold of us they will go the old-school route of actually calling our landline! Distancing ourselves from our mobile devices has enabled us to engage in deeper conversation, leave work in the office and try new activities. Similar to your post, McLuhan’s thoughts have transcended my daily life and caused me to critically think about my personal use of technology.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on such an interesting topic,

    Chelsey

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  2. I loved this post (your entire other blog as well). You have a great writing style that’s sincere, casual and humourous. It’s so nice and easy to read and your phrasing drew me in – which doesn’t happen a lot.

    Your comments about the ‘self’ that you put forward depending on audience is very true and goes to the core of communication and PR in that we must know our audiences and cater / tailor messages for them. That fact is that you show a different self, which I still think is authentic, to your audience, depending on who they are. You’re focusing yourself for your audience to optimize successful communication. There is a great video about the importance of our ‘inauthentic self’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zpf8H_Dd40 which our cohort may enjoy. Mark Bowden is terrific. He’s an author of several books on body language and communication.

    When you wrote about the ‘game’ with your son and who was walking with technology, McLuhan’s point that the medium becomes / is an extension of our selves was apparent once again. Your post reminded me of walking in Kew Gardens many years ago and everyone was talking on their phones walking around one of the most beautiful gardens on earth! This was about 14 years ago, so before social media, but cell phones were certainly popular there. I guess seeing the constant connection in big (or big-ish) cities is okay in my mind, but not there. It felt like a crime. It’s like the talk about adding cell coverage to Algonquin Park!

    Anyway, I happened to mention our use of technology in the home and that we’re never ‘unplugging’ and my husband said it doesn’t really bother him and that he doesn’t feel the need to disconnect. I, on the other hand, am feeling the wear of technology and constantly being connected and ‘on’. From first thing in the morning to before I go to bed I’m either teaching with technology or consuming information via technology – and have been doing so for years. Even on our summer vacation (for our anniversary) we were connected in the hotel and checking emails, reading Facebook updates and checking out Zite articles. Perhaps the big difference is we’re reading articles, staying in touch with loved ones, etc., and not a slave to our work email, but we were even checking that (and we’re college profs, not corporate execs!). I like Chelsey’s idea of putting technology in the glass bowl when you get in the door, but I don’t know if that would go over very well here. If I’m going to paraphrase McLuhan, I’m getting to the point that the media is exhausting. But I’ll wait until Christmas break and courses are over before unplugging.

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