The Man and His Message
The Marshall McLuhan Center on Global Communications
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Address By The Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, P.C, M.P.,
Prime Minister Of Canada

1990 Inaugural Canada-Wide Marshall McLuhan Distinguished Teachers Awards, Toronto April 26, 1990

Technology Job Search

The Space of Technology

How can we gain control over information flow? Before we can answer this question, which I think we can to a large degree with applications of Time Manager philosophy, we must first understand how technology shapes us.

A Zen master asks one of his students what is the most important thing about a cup. The bewildered students guesses the handle, the brim, the bowl. "None of these" replies the Zen monk. "It is the space the cup creates." What is the space that technology creates in our minds, organizations and society?

Neil Postman in his book, Technopoly, explains, a la Marshall McLuhan (the medium is the message), that each new technology has embedded in its own world view. Our tools shape how we view the world. Postman writes, "Once a technology is admitted (into our world), it plays out its own hand; it does what it is designed to do. Our task is to understand what that design is."

Take e-mail for example. If we simply adopt e-mail as a new technology, we may not understand how it differs from so-called "snail-mail", and thereby end up using it as simply faster, cheaper, more accessible mail. Instead of handling 10 pieces of correspondence a day, I can easily end up with 200 pieces of e-mail. I would never think of handling 200 letters a day and still think I could get anything else done, but that is what many people are attempting to do with e-mail.

And to make matters worse, many people actually print out their e-mail, so they really do end up with 200 pieces of correspondence. And regular mail hasn't been reduced that much since we've replaced regular mail with faxes. E-mail is just on top of all our communication tools.

Because of the ease with which we can save e-mail, many people save everything that comes to them electronically. I met a fellow in one of my Time Manager seminars - years ago - who had already saved l,700 e-mail messages in his files. Knowledge or useless information - you decide.

Perhaps the biggest price we pay for this increased information is that expectations have gone up dramatically as to what we are presumed to be able to do.

Harvard economist Juliet Shor reports that technology was predicted to save us from excessively long hours. But, as Shor points out in her book, The Overworked American, we are working 164 hours more per year than we did 20 years ago. "Technology", reports Shor, "reduces the amount of time it takes to do any one task but also leads to the expansion of tasks that people are expected to do. This is what happened to American housewives over the twentieth century as they got new household appliances. They didn't actually do less work - they did more things. It's what happens to people when they get computers and faxes and cellular telephones and all of the new technologies that are coming out today."


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