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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Acoustic Ascendancy

McLuhan classifies media into visual and acoustic. Visual media is associated with print culture: its space is linear, sequential and logical, written, expressed through the phonetic alphabet and individual-civilized. Distancing, contemplation, and reflection are possible. Print media’s history dates from the introduction of the phonetic alphabet to the invention of telegraph. Acoustic media is associated with electronic and oral culture: no boundaries, centre, or sense of direction. Acoustic space is multisensory, simultaneous, immediate, resonant, natural and analogical; it is auditory, tactile, mosaic or nonlinear, and tribal-participatory. It encompasses history before the introduction of the alphabet and since invention of the telegraph. The acoustic or audio-tactile environment has been gaining ground, “reversing the visual bias of the intervening 400 years” (Grosswiler, 1998, p. 11).

With electronic media, synaesthesia or tactility, an interplay of the senses, has become possible, which is in contrast to the fragmented visual sensory system created through print media. The older acoustic space was spherical, multisensory, and multidimensional:

Visual space is a human-made artifact opposed to the natural environmental form of acoustic space. Visual space, created by the eyes when their operation is abstracted from the other senses by the phonetic alphabet, is continuous, connected, homogeneous and static. (Grosswiler, 1998, p. 12)

McLuhan hypothesizes the return to a decentralized, deeply participant, positive communication web through the electronic media. He feels that electronic media share positive cultural potential of oral communication to retribalize culture and reverse the direction taken by print media. Electronic media have

decentralizing psychic and social effects . . . . while the visual power of print media extends monopoly control over space, the auditory power of electronic media abolishes space and time. Electric technology is immediate, ubiquitous and decentralizing, which leads . . . to tribe rather than nation . . . favors the integral and organic rather than the fragmentary and mechanical. (Grosswiler, 1998, p. 8)

In my dissertation, the “despotic eye” (Romanyshyn, 2002) of visual print media or “book consciousness,” with its linearity and distance, gives way to the acoustic electronic media of the Internet, the movies, and Disneyland. Although the essays I have written are themselves in print, their presentation as a web site combined with hypertext and images frees them from the linearity of the traditional paperbound dissertation. According to McLuhan, prior media become the content of the new media (Grosswiler, 1998). In this case, print essays are contained in the acoustic, electronic media of hypertext essay and web site.


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