McLuhan calls radio the tribal drum. I arrived in Chicago in 1966 with a Channel Master nine transistor am portable radio, stuck in a new 9 volt battery, and went explorin’. One of my strongest memories is of walking up Clark Street with the Lovin’ Spoonful singin” ‘Hot Time, Summer in the City’ in my one little ear phone. It was the time before hifi, stereo earbuds.
It was also the time when I discovered McLuhan’s The Medium Is the Message, in which he described media in terms of hot or cold. Radio was hot. It was, he said in Chapter 30, ‘the drum of the tribal village’. It was a year after Dylan had ended ‘Highway 61’ with ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’. Like Mr. Jones, I knew something was happening here, but I didn’t know what it was. I wanted to find out, and I suspected McLuhan could help me. His work seemed to offer a way to analyze happenings–which would become common over the next few years–but like the hits on WGN, they just kept comin’.
The table of contents from The Medium Is the Message was pretty comprehensive in what it considered as media that were significant extensions of ourselves. As the Vietnam War heated up, to be cooled by the medium of television, it seems especially significant that McLuhan considered weapons as a medium. But more significant for me and Mr. Jones is what the list doesn’t include, and the mash-ups that were about to happen. I’m writing this post on a device smaller than the hardback edition of The Medium which includes the ‘functions’ of itemsnumber 8-11,14-18, 20 & 21, and 23-33. It is of course a ‘cell phone’, a computer much more powerful than the Univac I used in the football stadium of the University of Chicago. On my bicycle (item 19) riding to Starbucks, a whole new twist on item 13, I listened to the radio, but in a much more global village way than I ever could have expected in 1966: I was streaming XFM Manchester.
One of the other really significant books that would have helped those first few months in Chicago is Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock. It wouldn’t be published until 1970. So, I innocently walked or biked around Chicago, dazed and confused, trying to write the history of now. But as Gary Shteygart says in theverge.com, ‘To write a book set in the present . . . is to write about the distant past. ‘
( http://www.theverge.com/culture/2014/3/19/5475122/dark-arts-tumblr-cyberpunk-renaissance )
My time in Chicago would become a trip to the past.