Identity: Do We Know Who We Are?


Update: I not only got a job this week but I also trained and completed my first day. This rapid succession of events just shows the rapid pace of today’s world. So through a scheduling mix-up I was able to take today off. So to fill the day I had made plans to do something I wanted to do, instead of just aimlessly scroll the web. Although it has value there is very little satisfaction in it.

So I went to my local library to find some new and interesting books to read. In my search I was unable to find a single one I had wanted. However I did stumble upon a book called; On McLuan: Forward Through The Rearview mirror. Although I was after some of Marshall McLuan’s original books this one seemed like a good survey.

What first amazed me about this book is just the amazing thoughts and ideas that McLuan created before most people could even begin to understand them. Now we take his ideas as common knowledge. So I am half way through the book and have seen a pattern in his ideas (very similar to the patterns he saw in culture and society) of identity.

In today’s society most people feel they have a very unique identity. They can blog their life, represent themselves with an avatar and have access to any film, music or picture instantaneously. In essence we all live in the “Global Village”. However McLuan points out that instead of increasing our sense of identity , technology suppresses it and hinders it to a point where we no longer know who we are.

“When thing’s come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself. Anybody moving into a new world loses identity. … But everybody at the speed of light tends to become a nobody. This is what’s called the masked man. The masked man has no identity. He is so deeply involved in other people that he doesn’t have any personal identity.”

He explains that because of this, modern society acts out in an attempt to rediscover their true identity.

“I first began to explain…that pornography and violence are by-products of societies in which private identity has been scrubbed or destroyed by sudden environmental change, or unexpected confrontations that disrupt the image the individual or the group entertains of itself. Any loss of identity prompts people to seek reassurance and rediscovery of themselves by testing, and even by violence. Today, the electric revolution, the wired planet, and the information environment involve everybody in everybody to the point of individual extinction.”

I can’t help but see parallels in today’s environment of violence and sex. Sure they both are a part of our natural lives but may this explain the recent rise of them. Especially when we look at America. Is the war in Iraq a natural response to a fledgling nation that is seeking its identity? McLuan thinks it might…

“The American bureaucracy, political and educational, was set up for very slow speeds of the printed word and railways. At electric speeds, nothing in the USA makes sense.”


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