Even McLuhan concurs with Williams on the above point, as he notes: what passes for education is usually technical training that “will allow them to fit into the machine-like organizations of corporate America. Even in death, we are ruled by technology through the sale of coffins that are weather-resistant.” (Strate, 2004) Through these insights McLuhan introduced the concept of ‘technique’ or ‘technopoly’ that is the dominant method of indoctrination of human beings in modern technological societies. McLuhan and Williams were thus able to foresee the unsavoury and detrimental effects – so far as general human progress is concerned – of the confluence of media technology and consumerism on culture. Of the two, it is Williams who disapproved of these tendencies more vehemently and lamented the abuse of media. He expressed disappointment over the fact that the enabling and emancipating potential of technological media is usurped by business and political interests for perpetuating their own narrow goals. Through the mere fact of exposing this reality, Williams is pitching for critical thinking and corrective remedial action on part of civil society.
One of Raymond Williams’ key ideas is how culture “is a whole way of life, and everyone adopts a certain way of life or wants to have a changed way of life”. (Murray, Roscoe, Morris, Lumby, & al-, 2002) This aspiration takes a whole set of connotations in the era of globalization. Under this global economic paradigm, the primary concern is how local or indigenous culture would be impacted by “the global flows of capital, information, ideology, values, and technology.” (Fengzhen & Xie, 2003) Consequently, Williams identifies a general anxiety permeating all cultural discourse. There are fears that globalization might challenge and eventually quell several historically developed local linguistic, ethnic or national cultures. Several social critics, including Williams, have pondered if globalization is synonymous with “unification or Americanization of the world culture”. (Fengzhen & Xie, 2003) Others insist that “globalization is not necessarily the story of cultural homogenization or Americanization; instead it encourages and creates cultural diversity and protean difference.” (Fengzhen & Xie, 2003) It is important to remember that the process of globalization happened on the back of an equally rapid growth in telecommunication technology. Hence, Williams’ observations on globalization are fully applicable to its iconic technological symbol – the Internet. In the debate surrounding Internet’s effect on indigenous cultures, a third position has emerged “that attempts to reconcile the global and the local–it argues that globalization is a two-fold process which brings the universalization of particularism and the particularization of universalism at the same time.” (Fengzhen & Xie, 2003) Bringing in the viewpoint of Chomsky-Herman to this debate, it is fairly clear that their view of globalization and attendant media consolidation is negative. Chomsky, for example, has cited the failure of NAFTA to create prosperity for a majority of Mexicans, thereby exposing its rhetoric as propaganda of half-truths.
Coming back to McLuhan, in his later work, ‘The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man’, he performs media analysis at the level of ‘system’ or ‘ecology’. Of the various observations and insights offered in the book, many pertain to the role of media (mainly the television) to the formation of culture. He identifies oral communication at the level of tribes as the earliest media developed by human civilization. The invention of the printing press at the beginning of the modern age thus brought a radical shift to the manufacture and assimilation of culture. There is even the contention that it was print technology which precipitated the beginning of the modern age, breaking away from the feudalistic and culturally stagnant medieval times. In this view, the invention of the alphabet is a watershed event in the evolution of human culture. According to McLuhan, the electronic culture (standing for both television and the Internet) is the ‘fourth culture’ which is ‘paradise regained’. Developing from
“the invention of telegraphy to television and the computer, this culture promises to short-circuit that of mechanical print and we regain the conditions of an oral culture in acoustic space. We return to a state of sensory grace; to a culture marked by qualities of simultaneity, indivisibility and sensory plenitude. The haptic or tactile senses again come into play, and McLuhan strives hard to show how television is a tactile medium.” (New Media, p.81)
Undertaking the study of the evolution of media in the last five centuries, McLuhan considers the dominant contemporary media forms in great detail and depth. It is in the context of modern electronic media and the conditions of globalization that the term ‘global village’ is introduced. One of McLuhan’s most enduring quotations in this regard is how “the new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village”. (Murray, Roscoe, Morris, Lumby, & al-, 2002) There is truth to this view as the stupendous success of Hollywood and other American cultural products across the world prove. But McLuhan’s articulation is incomplete as it does not mention the commercial backbone of the electronic/digital culture. For example, in studying the film industry one can see how there is an “intersection of political economy and cultural studies”. (Druick, 2004) In the current set up where local cultural sensibilities are challenged by Hollywood, Raymond Williams’ argument rings true. He noted that