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Acoustic parenting

In The Gutenberg Galaxy McLuhan wrote about how the split between visual and acoustic that comes with the phonetic alphabet and print technology is responsible for the ’splitting’ of the (Western) individual from the so-called ‘tribal‘ group.

I’ve been thinking about how this might apply to parenting – how Western parents are encouraged to fight the baby’s inherent association between feeding/comfort/sleep or rocking/comfort/sleep, by putting the baby to bed in a cot, in its own room, alone, to sleep through the night (as soon as possible; as soon as the baby can be taught this skill). There are various techniques for getting the baby to accept these terms, e.g. the ‘cry it out’ method (where the baby is left in the cot, regardless of its wish to be picked up and cuddled back to sleep) and some softer techniques e.g. ‘pick up put down’ (where the baby is picked up, soothed and then put back down – repeat as often as necessary, until the baby submits).

Our bub has her own cot in her own room, but during the day I often take a nap with her and some nights this works best too. This is known as ‘co-sleeping’ and is passionately defended by proponents of ‘attachment’ parenting but frowned upon by those who believe that it is unsafe for the baby, or that you are never too young to learn independence. I am fairly middle-way about such things but in one respect I think it’s brilliant: she wakes less, so I get a much better sleep and so does she. I’m sure, too, that it’s only in rich Western nations that the notion of babies having their own rooms has eventuated – elsewhere, whole families share a room and there is no question of the baby being left on its own at night.

You could say that ‘acoustic’ parenting describes the attachment parenting style (in which the baby’s needs for comfort are respected as such), while ‘visual’ parenting describes the various methods of getting the baby to sleep independently (in the cot!) on a more or less fixed schedule.

If this interests you, this blog on Parenting Baby to Sleep is an interesting read.

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What is a blog for?

Thinking about Twitter (”micro-blogging”) and starting this blog myself got me thinking about blogging more generally and its form and function.

It seems to me that blogging retrieves a whole heap of previous media including: newspaper column, poem, diary, journal, video documentary, political dialogue, letter writing, psychotherapy, book, classroom.

A few notes – the blog is:

  • a mosaic rather than linear form (newspaper column, poem);
  • on a specific topic (book, newspaper column, journal);
  • a reflection on one’s life (diary, letter writing, psychotherapy);
  • published (book, newspaper column);
  • self-edited (diary, letter writing);
  • public rather than private (newspaper column, political dialogue);
  • a verbalization of one’s inner thoughts (diary, psychotherapy);
  • a record of a process (journal, video documentary);
  • a personal communication (letter writing, however the letter addresses an other, while the blog addresses the Other, q.v. Lacan);
  • a place of learning (classroom);
  • inviting of immediate commentary…and social change (political dialogue)
  • In fact the blog is rather like a personalised, chatty textbook on a given subject, that undergoes perpetual revision.

    I then remembered McLuhan’s definition of the book: the book is a teaching machine. (q.v. The Gutenberg Galaxy, 1962, also the summaries on Visual Space and Civilization)

    Also – his insight that in the electronic age, “consumers become producers”.

    If the book is a “teaching machine”, the blog is a social medium for learning – a “textbook without walls”?


    Notes on Twitter

    Twitter – its pithy immediate style recalls the telegraph, however the telegraph was a medium for private communication while the Twitter telegraph is public. In fact -as its inventors well know- the medium Twitter extends is the conversation (”twittering”), made global.

    Twitter is by nature a celebrity medium (this is why journalists love it). Despite its apparent triviality, Twitterers must either be famous or actually have something to say (or both). Tweets are like the witty comments one adds to the dinner party conversation at just the right moment. Otherwise- noone listens.

    A McLuhan tetrad for Twitter might look something like this:

    Extends: group conversation (the Forum, the Salon, the Party)
    Retrieves: the telegraph
    Obsolesces: the media alert
    Reverses into: a global audio feed???

    On the Twitter/Facebook divide, if Twitter is the celebrity party we all get to crash, Facebook is the cozy sharehouse. It is perfectly legitimate to tell one’s nearest and dearest the trivial and mundane details of your life. Twitter however demands more attention to current events if you wish to be relevant, i.e. ‘trending’…

    On another note, interesting that we call the news feed a ‘feed’ … information gluttony???

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    A blog is born

    I had grand plans to launch (relaunch?) this blog about McLuhan as part of the McLuhan centenary celebrations (McLuhan would have turned 100 on 21 July 2011)…but having a baby this year, apart from being a proud personal achievement (yay!), has meant that I have in effect missed the centenary altogether!!!

    Ah well- it’s December, not quite the end of 2011 so perhaps there’s still time…

    I realised the other morning that part of my problem with blogging (Kim my partner says that I am a “non practising blogger” – an agnostic blogger he says) is that I feel like every post is an essay, whereas in fact every post is merely an exposition of one point, a momentary thought. Blogging is of course -like the newspaper- a mosaic form, that is to say, acoustic. What could be more perfect to write about McLuhan?

    I have spent a decade or so researching McLuhan and reading through the books that he wrote and more importantly those he read (hundreds! thousands even!!!) to try to understand his vision. I have lots of little “insight” moments where I see the world in a McLuhanist light and this blog is meant to be about sharing these moments with anyone kind enough to be interested in them! (Or, interested enough to be kind about them!)

    So here at the end of the McLuhan centenary year I plan to dive in ready to sink or swim in the murky waters of the blogging realm. Wish me luck! Hope that you can join me on my journey.

    Me and 'McLuhan centenary' baby Sophie

    Me and 'McLuhan centenary' baby Sophie

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    McLuhan on the web

    The best intro to McLuhan on the web, I reckon, is Ted Carpenter’s memoir That Not-So-Silent Sea. After that, check out the video World is a Global Village in the CBC archives.

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    Sight Unseen

    Like One Third Eye by Scarleth White

    Like One Third Eye by Scarleth White

    Perhaps there is no better example of the biases of visual space than ‘Sight Unseen: International Photography by Blind Artists’, an exhibition curated by Douglas McCulloh for the California Museum of Photography (University of California Riverside) in 2009. Says the curator, “SIGHT UNSEEN raises questions about sight and photography. Sight is so pervasive and powerful that it makes us unaware of our own blindnesses. We see, and this is so strong that we think we understand. Said another way, sight itself abets blindness. And photographers-more commonly viewed as specialized visionaries-are perhaps the blindest of all.” Photographer Pete Eckert says: “Vision is so strong that it masks other senses, other abilities; it even overrides visualization. Sighted photographers always talk about the difficulty of what they call ’seeing.’ I tell them ‘If you can’t see, it’s because your vision is getting in the way.’” Evgen Bavcar, whose carefully composed shots evoke gothic fairytales, says: “Traditional photographers are the ones who are really a little bit blind from being constantly bombarded with images. I sometimes ask them what they see, but it’s hard for them to tell me. It’s very difficult for them to find genuine images, beyond clich├ęs. It’s the world that’s blind: there are too many images, a kind of pollution. Nobody can see anything. You have to cut through them to discover true images.”

    Website: or download the SIGHT UNSEEN catalog.