Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Laozi was an ancient Chinese sage/philosopher from the 6th century B.C. who is known as the father of Taoism. The origin and life of Laozi is pretty ambiguous and even after years & years of research very little is known about his life. Nonetheless, his teachings have been passed down through time. Today he has many Taoist followers. Why did McLuhan choose the passage about immateriality and absence to describe the Western shift toward a more unified, fused society? First of all, it is necessary to understand what Laozi’s passage means. Taoism preaches that "nothingness" should be present everywhere. Without it, there would be chaos. In the Tao Te Ching, order is accomplished by including emptiness - thus, balancing something with nothing. Laozi believed emptiness to be a blessing, without which life would all be too much. McLuhan’s translation is a little different. 
I think McLuhan chose this passage in order to emphasize the apprehension he has about the advancement of technology in Western society. Our society “our western legacy” of separation and isolation has been eradicated by the constant flow of digital information. Like a room, a wheel, or a vase, the usefulness of technology must lie in its empty space. But what is its empty space? Does it have empty space? Media information is now multi-dimensional and comes to us so abundantly and with such speed that we no longer have the ability to categorize it all, and in that sense we are now fusing everything together. We are no longer able to remain isolated. We are constantly involved and no longer detached. While this may be viewed as positive, McLuhan emphasizes its uncertainty. Where is the usefulness in technology when there is no absence of it anymore?

Laozi Riding an Ox, Buhzi Chao, n.d., Ink on paper

1 comment:

  1. Laozi idea of "emptiness as a blessing" is really interesting when paired with McLuhan's thoughts on media like this. I think we're so used to being inundated with information and the need to be busy that "emptiness" is considered laziness or a lack of productivity. However, your point that emptiness helps us value the time/things that aren't empty really makes sense. We start to take things for granted when they're always present.