“The medium, or process, of our time – electric technology is re-shaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing us to reconsider and re-evaluate every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted. Everything is changing: you, your family, your education, your neighbourhood, your job, your government, your relation to the others. And they are changing dramatically”.
(Marshall McLuhan The Medium is the Message. 1967)
Nearly 30 years before the internet became popular, Marshall McLuhan foresaw not only the possibilities, but the dramatic effect it would have on our lives and institutions. Now, so much is just a click away. We can research whatever we want, whenever we like. We can upload images, create products, or set up a company – all from our kitchen table. In a few years our lives have changed, yet we do not quite understand how or why.
“The wheel is the extension of the foot, the book is an extension of the eye, clothes as extension of the skin, electric circuitry, an extension of the central nervous system.”
(Marshall McLuhan medium is the massage 1967)
The internet has made this possible by acting as an extension of our brains or central nervous system, so we are linked to each other across the world like so many neural highways. Air travel has made countries closer, but the internet has linked our brains. This has challenged our world and customs, making fashion beyond borders a reality and forcing us to rethink how we educate our students.
Another McLuhan terms was the ‘global village’, again foreshadowing the effect of interconnectedness. As Ted Polhemus puts it:
“ Today someone in Moscow, someone in Buenos Aires, someone in Sydney, someone in Bangalore can all eat the same meal in the same fast food restaurant, drive the same car, watch the same movie, struggle with the same computer software, drink the same beer, lust after the same pop star and wear the same clothes, shoes and watch. In this sense, not only is the world interconnected, it is culturally continuous, amalgamated, united”
(2005 What to wear in the global village?)
But we do not want to be consumers of homogenised products. We expect to be able to buy a range of culturally different artefacts and to be a part of culturally different ways of dressing- to style ourselves with reference to a global market place. Yet, look at the effects of our cultural footprint: the inexorable spread of western influence and fashion with its symbiotic relationship to media and the web. From Ulan Bator to Bond Street, we have Louis Vuitton; from Paris to Beijing, Chanel lipstick is sold. Fashion retail aspires to have a global presence: whether it be Topshop in New York, Jaeger in Dubai or Burberry in China, possibly giving us a world where every High Street has the same shops, every nation shows the same TV shows, global mass media affects and limits our individuality and restricts a nation’s cultural diversity.
Yet I am hopeful that the fashion industry and educators can show us a way forward. Although we constantly incorporate cultural references, appearing to demand a homogenous output with people similarly dressed, we also celebrate and encourage distinctiveness.
Read the rest of this article in the Pigeons and Peackocks Magazine Issue 5.
The P&P magazine will be stocked by all good UK newsagents, including WHSmith, from today July 16th 2012. It will be distributed internationally from August.