Chicago Hot


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, ‘To write a book set in the present . . . is to write about the distant past. ‘ )

My time in Chicago would become a trip to the past.




Edith Shannon, the secret weapon of education at Jonesboro High School,  had mentioned Marshall McLuhan and his understanding of the inherent power of media, but I didn’t read anything he wrote until 1966, two years after she regretted that he seemed to predict the end of the book as she knew and loved it. There is of course much more to McLuhan’s theories than the demise of print, but we often regret out losses more than we celebrate our gains.  Once there were dinosaurs; now there are hummingbirds. Few kids have a collection of plastic hummingbirds.

To reduce McLuhan’s theories overmuch, risking the famous response from ‘Annie Hall’, ‘You know nothing of my work, ‘ I will point out two aspects: (1) our inventions, our technologies, are extensions of ourselves; (2) the medium that we use to express ourselves is more important than the expression.  The first statement is extremely important to understand human evolution, which includes much more than our genome. The second statement is essential to understanding how we communicate and what sorts of information we can communicate (and often what we are really saying despite ourselves).

the prophet de chardin


Jonesboro, Arkansas, in the 1960’s was a land caught in 19th century religion and small-town insecurities.  If there were many people who didn’t think the bible literally true as it was interpreted by their pastor, they were quiet about it. There was one family of famously free-thinkers, unitarians who rode bicycles, and they occasionally experienced mysterious fires.

Into this assumed and assuring homogeneity,  in which I was an uncomfortable teenager, my latin teacher, Edith Shannon, introduced the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  I was immediately hooked. Here was a christian who was also scientist,  who found evolution, the dark shadow at the edge of baptist understanding,  not only acceptable but central to his christology. Of course, the church was not comfortable with his christology or with his rather pelagian view of original sin,  and banished him more or less to the desert of China, rfusing to allow his wor to be published during his lifetime. And scientists tended to take exception with his teleology.

But I found his writings wondrous.  Those were the days when Harper books were bound in real blue cloth and stamped with gold lettering and an alladin’s lamp and had to be ordered. I’m not sure whether Fomby Barnett, owner of the Lighthouse Bookstore,  would have ordered them for me if he had known what they were about.

In many ways de Chardin was still a midaeval thinker, building on the last of the ancients, Augustine.   The spherical concept of the universe left over from the pythagorians was still central to his metaphor. But it was not a universe in which stasis, the unmoving, was the good. Rather everything moved towards an Omega, a concept hinted at in the Revelation to John and explored by yhe Ukranian philosopher Vladimir Vernadski. The Omega de Chardin called the Christosphere.

But before the Omega came the geosphere, the form of existence of matter. From the geosphere, and building on it, emerged the biosphere, the form of existence of life. These spheres are continuous. In de Chardin’s world, the one or many question is answered clearly, one.

We, in the mid-twentieth century when de Chardin was working as a paleontologist and writing as a cosmologist, were living in the emergence of the noosphere,  a continuity of thought and consciousness which would unite life in reaching its goal of becoming the Christ.

This was heady stuff for a high school student.  But it was also, at a time when we had been herded into a concrete football bleachers to await the icbm’s we thought might be coming during the Cuban missile crisis, it was also very hopeful stuff.

How, I wondered, might the developments de Chardin predicted come about? What would it be like to be connected with all conscious creatures? Was this going to be the transcendentalists’ oversoul? The way I have seen the emergence has been very surprising.

in the beginning was chicago


August 1966 was an exciting time. The Lovin’ Spoonful said it was a ‘hot time, summer in the city’, when the boy who would become me arrived in Chicago with two trunks, one of books and one of everything else, and an orange Schwinn varsity, ready to understand the world. He was a little hungover from reading the heady cocktails of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin when he found a new brew. The first book he bought in his new home was McLuhan’s The Mechanical Bride.

That McLuhan chose advertising as his medium was probably the hook. It had been sophisticated adverts that had clued the young scholar that there was a world beyond his home town.  It was the adverts from glossy magazines, hung on the wall of his dorm room in Memphis that had brought a visit from the Dean of Men. 

Although the youngster was a history major, it was really the history of the future that interested him. The problem of human knowledge as he saw it was that it was always about what had been; we always seemed to live beyond our threshold of understanding.

Without knowing it,  I was becoming a futurist.  My major professor was happy to indulge my effort to find some sort of model that described how we might predict the future. It was time for one Thomas Kuhn’s paradign shifts.  I tried to fund others who shared my lack of vision, putting ‘posters’ made from old bent-wood chairs around the Auditorium Building inviting folks to join the exploration.  When they came to my little multimedia shindigs, small budget with nonlight shows, Bach and the Beatles played against each other, both musics from the past.

Almost no one got it. No great explorers’ club came about. I studied  Japan’s transition to the industrial age and Germany’s conflicting efforts to invent modern during the Weimar Republic and read more McLuhan.

The clue that was the most important, I ignored. Because I worked for a sociology professor who was studying Iranian political elites, I was one of the few undergrads who got to ‘use’ the Univac at the University of Chicago. Ironically, the computer was in the same football elites. bleachers where the first controlled nuclear reactor had been built. The bigger explosion was there and I hardly noticed it, grudgingly making a few ‘donotfoldspindleor mutilate’ jokes.

o brave new world


For several years I have written a blog, , describing some of the situations into which the choosing of Chad as patron has taken me. Chad lived at a time of great change in the British Isles,  as oral culture was being supplanted by written culture, celtic customs with roman ones. It was at first his simplicity of life that attracted me. In a time of rapid everything, I wanted the luxury of a pedestrian pace.

But as I ambled through the turn of the century, l noticed more similarities between Chad’s time and ours, adapting to which has encouraged me to change my lifestyle further, and to describe it in this new blog. Hopefully writing about the milieu in which I find myself will help me understand it better.  Perhaps my writing might be helpful to someone else as well.

Chad was consecrated Bishop of York by King Oswy of Northumbria but Wilfred was chosen by Alcfrid. Chad was consecrated within the celtic tradition, Wilfred the roman. Wilfred returned from Rome with books, and a new way of understanding knowledge and learning and the world came with those books.

The rest of Chad’s life was spent in the hinterlands, so to speak. He was given the episcopacy of Mercia, where he established Litchfield as the see,  and he succeeded his brother Cedd as abbot of Lastingham.

I too have somewhat retired to the hinterlands,  except that in the brave new world of the internet, there are no hinterlands. The very nature of the time and space we occupy has changed quite as much, and much more quickly, than the nature of time and space changed for Britain with the coming of writing. My community is scattered across the globe, but I have almost instant communication with them. I have become a cybermonk.  Now to try to understand what that means.