Future of Privacy and Human Organization

Alan Watts calls into question whether our desire of privacy is justified, and how we can organize ourselves into resilient structures (or metaorganisms) that are less susceptible to corruption.


The question arose this morning about the problem of whether the extension of the network, especially by electronics, might not abolish individual privacy. And I said I was planning to devote this afternoon’s session to that problem and some of its ramifications. This, of course, is the area of the problem with which Marshall McLuhan is very largely concerned, for he has pointed out that just as the wheel is an extension of the feet—and as, beyond the wheel, naturally, comes the horse and carriage, the automobile, and the airplane—all these technological creations are extensions of the human organism. And finally, the electronic network—of telephone, telegraph, radio, and television—is an extension of the nervous system. And into that we must throw, as an additional extension of the nervous system, the computer. The computer, into which data can be fed from the files of the insurance companies, the Internal Revenue Service, the police, the credit agencies—everything. So that in a matter of seconds, when an individual is identified, an enormous amount of information about him can be instantly known.


In a rather similar way, the time is not too far ahead when you will be able to have a box, about so big, on your desk which has a little screen on it, and a dial. And after dialing a key code you will dial the catalog number of any book in the Library of Congress that you want to read. And at any rate that you wish, the spread pages of that book will appear on your television screen. And you can get it right like that.


When we get to television worked with the agency of laser beams you will, of course, be able to see solid three-dimensional images in color projected in a certain area, and you can walk around it. I haven’t discovered yet whether you can kiss it. But when you get a phenomenon like that it begins raising the question of where somebody actually is. When the reproduction becomes technically perfect, you see, you won’t know the difference between the reproduction and the original. That’s going to be a new kind of confusion.


And we will perhaps even be able to think about the word ‘reproduction’ in a new sense. We say, now—one of the meanings we give to the word ‘reproduction’ is sexual reproduction of the species; the biological method. Then we have reproduction through photocopy and all that kind of thing. Let’s suppose, too, that we begin increasingly to be able to manufacture the parts of the human body in very perfect kinds of plastic, so that when your heart goes wrong or your kidneys go wrong the surgeon will simply replace them with a plastic reproduction, which will work equally well. And perhaps they’ll never be able to reproduce—in plastic—the brain, but they can at least put in there a radio device which will connect with a computer system of some kind which will do the same job. So that then, after the years go by and your parts have been replaced, the serious question arises as to are you the same individual? And we would say, “Well, no. You’ve been entirely replaced.”

04:47 Audience

But that happens normally.


Of course it does. You’re being replaced all the time, though by a different method. And just as, say, an institution like the University of California—which is a very rapidly changing university—for some mysterious reason it remains the University of California, recognizable as such, even though the students, the faculty, the office and administrative staffs, and the very buildings themselves are in a state of flux so that they hardly remain a constant for five years in succession. What, then, is the university? The university is a pattern of behavior, and the organisms involved in that pattern keep changing, but the pattern retains an identifiable continuity. So does your body. So does the whirlpool in the stream. So do the hot springs down below: although the water is running through them all the time and is never the same.


So you can envisage the reproduction of the human being in this electronic way. And at first you say, “Oh, horrors! Are we going to be converted into nothing but plastic replicas of ourselves? Will we be there in any sense anymore? Will the soul survive it?” But you see, in the case of the University of California, it is what we call the University of California that is the soul. And its bodily expression keeps changing.


So when we find out that we are electronic echoes of ourselves being perpetuated through the ages, we shall come to the astonishing conclusion that that’s what we already are. Only, we have to do it again ourselves in order to realize it. We are already the most remarkable electronic patterns from the standpoint of physics.


So let’s—a bit—lay that bugbear to rest, although I must say there is something about plastic in its present stage of evolution that is somewhat repulsive. There is a state of consciousness which those who are psychedelically hip—or hep—call the ‘plastic doll,’ in which everything looks as if it’s made of plastic, as if of patent leather or enameled tin. That it only reflects light and has no light inside it. There is another side to the vision whereby everything becomes living jewelry with light inside, a kind of beatific vision as distinct from a diabolic vision. And at the present stage of its development plastic always suggests the diabolic vision. But it is through the diabolic vision that you gather the deepest insights. It’s really profounder than the beatific vision in a certain way ,because if you can go down into any experience—I hope you understand the meaning of this phrase ‘go down into,’ it’s very important. It means exploring a certain sensation or a certain feeling, to find out all its implications, to find out what it is at root that you like about it or dislike about it. And you will find, if you explore the plastic doll vision sufficiently carefully, that it will bring about, in the end, a far greater depth of bliss and realization than merely exploring the things that are lovely at first sight, obviously so.


So one should think about this funny thing of technology considered as artificiality in the light of the realization that there really is nothing artificial. You might say the distinction of the artificial from the natural is a very artificial distinction; that the constructs of human beings are really no more unnatural than bees’ nests, and birds’ nests, and constructs of animal and insect beings. They’re extensions of ourselves.


So then, what about the situation, when it arises, that we are all computerized? That no one is hidden. I want you to notice something already about the Bell Telephone Company: they have a regulation whereby you cannot switch your telephone off. You may have an extension in the house and you may switch that off, but you may not switch off your main phone. And if you leave it off the hook it starts screaming after a while. They project that, not many years hence, the ordinary telephone will disappear and every individual will carry around with him a thing about the size of the old pocket watches. One side of it will be a TV screen and a speaker, the other side of it will be a set of buttons over which you just place your finger to activate them. You’ll be able to dial world information, who will give you the number or any given individual. If he doesn’t answer, he’s dead. So under such circumstances, absolutely no one can get lost.


And then, you see, as this moves on—let me develop some of its further possibilities. People like Toynbee and McLuhan have noted that as technology progresses there enters into it a quality of what they call ‘etherealization.’ And this is connected with Teilhard de Chardin’s doctrine of peduncles. Peduncles aren’t exactly relatives. And we have to understand first the doctrine of peduncles.


Now, here it is: here is a globule. It might be an amoeba or it might be oil in water, suspended. And this globule is going to separate. First it does this, then it does this, then it does this, and then it does this, see? Now, these things here are peduncles, from the Latin root pest, pedis, meaning ‘foot.’ Some sort of protrusion out of a globular body. So notice, then, that the production of a peduncle—here in the form of a connecting neck, and here in the form of little tails when the neck is broken—that in the course of development, when we reach this stage, the peduncles have disappeared. According to de Chardin, this is why we do not find missing links around in the evolutionary process: they vanished in accordance with the law of peduncles.


Now, in exactly the same way the human technology sets up certain kinds of peduncles. A road, for example—or a railroad—is a peduncle because with the development of automotive traffic, truck traffic, the railroads become increasingly obsolete, and there are rusty old tracks lying all over the country that are not used anymore. And then, with the development of aircraft, the road tends to become obsolete. With the development of radio the wire, as a connection, as a peduncle, becomes obsolete. So that more and more the connecting links that we saw in a visible way disappear with the development of more expert types of communication.


We can easily take this a step further when we develop a form of electronic communication such that you don’t even need to take a plane. You want to see—supposing I want to see my father in England: we both have these laser-beam TV jobs and “wwzzhhrt,” like that, I can recreate in front of him myself and my exact environment, everything around, just as if he was sitting in the room. And I can do that with his set on the other end. So that eventually we don’t need to take the plane.


You can conceive—as some science fiction writers have—what seems to us a rather appalling situation where you never, never need to leave the place where you’re sitting. All food supplies and everything are automatically delivered. You just dial what you want and some kind of mechanical process transmits it to you.


Then they go further than that. They don’t—they really abolish food altogether because they’ve got it down to some special essences which you take. Then they go beyond that and you give yourself a certain kind of electronic stimulation, and it does all for you that food could ever do. And then you think: oh dear, what’s the next step beyond that?

15:49 Audience

Technical sex.


Of course! The next step beyond that is, of course—there’s one thing yet, one peduncle we yet have to get rid of, and that is the black box. The electronic gadget. Because by the time we have become as etherealized as that we move into telepathy and psychic communication, and as soon as you make that step, of course, it would seem that all privacy whatsoever has gone. Because what you are, inside, is an open book to everybody else. Your thoughts are easily read, and therefore you may say at first, “Eugh!” That is the conversion of humanity into an anthill of the worst type. And this is, in a way, naturally, what all properly educated Americans—and I will add properly educated Britishes, and some other peoples—dread.


It is said the Englishman’s home is his castle. And everybody needs a castle, a place where you can get away from it all and just be yourself. But even then, when you’re away from it all and you’re just being in yourself, you’ve unfortunately got a lot of thoughts inside your head that aren’t yours. Because you think in the English language, and that was given to you by other people and contains their prejudices; that you can’t avoid them in thinking. Japanese people will say that when they think in Japanese they can have certain feelings that are characteristically Japanese, but when they start thinking in English they can’t have those feelings. And so you are very, very much, really, in the sphere of public influence when you start to think.


And if you listen carefully to your thoughts—insofar as they are uttered in words, and they very often are—try and discover the tone of voice in which certain of your thoughts are being said, and you will listen and hear your mother, or you will hear an aunt, or you will hear a school teacher, or will hear certain friends expressing their opinions and telling you who you are and how you ought to behave. And you think those are your thoughts and they’re nothing of the kind. An inner pandemonium under the dome of the skull is going on all the time. Myriads of voices, myriads of influences from outside working upon you even when you are physically quite alone.


So—wait ’till the question period, please—this means that you’re not nearly as much of a private individual as you think. You are also, of course, exercising these influences upon other people. You’re telling them who they are, what you think about them, what you think of their behavior. And even if they don’t believe you they nevertheless pay very serious attention to it. They can’t help it. You can take the experiment, for example, that B. F. Skinner used to try, which is very terrifying. He would send two members of the class, selected arbitrarily, outside of the room. Then he would arrange two chairs, chair A and chair B. He would say to the class, “Now look: when these people come back we’re going to engage them in a conversation. Whatever A says, agree with him. Whatever B says, disagree with him.” So they come back into the room and they take their seats, and a conversation begins. Now B may be a very strong-headed, articulate person, and A really rather feeble. But what happens is this: that by group agreement with anything A says, he is encouraged, he is built up, he becomes more articulate, he finds himself… sprouting. But B, by being disagreed with on every point, begins to get baffled, and confused, and feel very uncomfortable indeed. Unless he is onto the game and he challenges the whole group: “I see now what you’re playing. You have made up your minds to disagree with everything I say. Therefore, of course, you don’t count. I shall pay no attention to you.”


So in this way, you see, we’re already colossally influenced by each other. And this is why I think that Harry Stack Sullivan’s basic ideas about psychopathology are in some respects more profound than Freud’s. Freud is always looking into the individual history, into the physiology, into the depth psychology of the individual in an interior sort of way. But Sullivan was always looking to the individual as the expression of a social network. And the same in the psychology of George Herbert Mead, where he called the conceptions that we have of ourselves the “interiorized other.” In other words, the sum-total of all the things that people have told us we are. Because you do not know yourself as a self except in a society. Just as you do not exist biologically without a father and a mother, you do not carry on an existence without a society, and the reactions of other people to you provide you with the mirror in which you attain a realization of yourself. You know who you are in terms of your relationships with others.


So then, now, when we contemplate this disappearance of privacy and a completely integrated human society, we can look at this from two different points of view: pro and con. Let us first look at the pro point of view. How great to have nothing to hide? How great to give up all worries about ownership? Because you could say, if somebody says they would like something you have, and you say, “Please. Have it.” Because you know very well you can go to someone else and say, “Could I have that?” and they’ll give it to you. And so, all the way around, there is no propriety. In the sense, not of prudish propriety, but propriety in the sense of possession. Also, of course, in the sense of prudish propriety. Nobody has any dirty little secrets, because if I have any dirty secrets I know very well that you have, too, and so let’s drop the whole pretense and let go. So in this sense, there might be a very, very close fellowship between all people in which there are no barriers, no defenses, and we all cooperate together beautifully and love each other.


Now let’s look at the con point of view. The con point of view would say, “Yes, but surely the more we communicate with each other in that way and have no property, and there are no boundaries, and there are no fences or defenses, then, just in the same way that jet aircraft makes all cities the same city, so this would make all people the same individual.” Would that be what the Hindus mean by saying “you are all one, you are all the godhead in disguise?” Would it mean that?


Now, part of our difficulty in approaching this is that we begin from the standpoint of a certain conception of the individual person. And this is, of course, the Christian ego—which is the soul as a center of action, and something alive with consciousness and intelligence—that lies hidden in the bag of skin. As, for example, King John says in Shakespeare’s play to Hubert:

Within this wall of flesh
There is a soul counts thee her creditor
And with advantage means to pay thy love.

See the image? “Within this wall of flesh, there is a soul.” Within the castle, there is the king. And every man’s home is his castle.


And so those of us who are brought up in that way to feel, A) that we are basically the soul in the body, and B) that every soul that exists is of infinite value in the eyes of God. We, therefore, have instituted since the Industrial Revolution a tremendous technological campaign to preserve the individual. We have all kinds of social services, hospitals, ambulances, medicine, welfare agencies—every kind of thing with the one aim of preserving life, getting you to live longer, and giving what is called full opportunity for the development of your personality. To the myriads of Asia, this is almost unbelievable. And then, of course, we are teaching the peoples of Asia medicine, and sanitation, industrialization, so that every single coolie child can be regarded not as so much waste human material—which, because it’s sick, has to be thrown away—but as some individual to be loved and cherished and properly treated. And because individuality, the human—the particular, each particular human organism is infinitely precious. That is the moving ideal of the sort of people who first created the great hospitals, who abolished slavery, who abolished the death penalty for trivial offenses, who made that great humanitarian movement of the 19th century associated with such people as Wesley, and Charles Dickens, and William Wilberforce, and so on, to rescue the precious individual from the ravages of impersonal disease or impersonal political exploitation.


Then, when a kind of American capitalist liberalism achieved, to some extent, this sort of ideal, we look, then, at political forms which are socialistic or communistic and are leery of them because they seem to go back on all that. So, of course, did national socialism in Germany. Because the position there is not the individual who is the supremely important being, but it is the community—the state—which is supremely important. The individual realizes himself as the servant of the state. But our theory, in the liberal capitalism of the United States, is that the state is the servant of the individual; that we employ policemen, and soldiers, and sanitary inspectors, and department of commerce officials, all to serve us. And we call them public servants. And when a policeman gets uppish he has to be reminded that we pay his salary and that his job is to serve us and not to be a kind of admirable cretin sort-of butler who takes the upper hand.


But of course, the very idea of a servant still has in it—doesn’t it?—something aristocratic. And as we all know, in this country it is increasingly difficult to get services of any kind. More and more it is felt beneath the individual’s dignity to be, say, a waiter, a barber. After all, they give you a certain kind of service. Certainly, it’s beneath anyone’s dignity to shine shoes, because that’s the feet and that’s very low down; that’s like kissing people’s feet. To give massage, to do all these things for other people that are rather material skills—increasingly, you have to get them in another way: either by a do-it-yourself system or by some sort of machinery. And so, in the same way, people who used to give service want to translate themselves professionally. People who were formerly called undertakers now call themselves morticians. Janitors call themselves maintenance services. I suppose barbers will soon call themselves tonsorial experts. All sorts of things like that are happening right now in order to give the sense of equality all ’round. And so the guy who gives you gas at the garage will notice your first name on your credit card and will address you by it. I get very irritated to be called Al; I just don’t respond to that form of address at all. But I suppose that’s my British snobbishness.


But here it is, you know: everybody slaps everybody’s back. I was very puzzled by this when I first came to live in California because here the use of first names and this kind of familiarity is extraordinarily common. And when I found myself on first-name terms with a man who was, in a certain sense, my boss—who was the president of the University of the Pacific—I felt distinctly uncomfortable. And the reason I felt uncomfortable was that I felt the whole thing was insincere, that there was not the kind of relationship between us which would normally be represented by being on first-name terms. But there was (what was much worse) a sort of effort to prove that there really ought to be that kind of relationship when neither side had any intention of forming it. And that’s very baffling if you come from outside and you don’t know, I suppose, what all good born-and-bred Californians know: what are the cues, the subliminal cues, which distinguish one form of first-name address from another. Of course, what eventually happens is that people have two first names: the published one and the nickname, known only to an intimate circle; used only by an intimate circle.


But you see, what we see in this, then, is the creeping socialism, the creeping abolition of what is precious and what is private and what is property, and feel that as that disappears and as all fences disappear, the collection of human beings will simply dissolve into an amorphous mass. And indeed, there is a danger of that. We have seen people disappear into amorphous masses. We have seen Hitler’s legions. We have seen the things that Chinese can do with the military tactic called the human sea, when swarms and swarms of troops, all identically uniformed, are absolutely thrown at the enemy in wave after wave after wave. But let us not forget that the generals of the western powers did exactly the same thing in the First World War—on both sides they used the tactics of the human sea, in which the lives of individuals meant nothing whatsoever.


Now, there are two different ways of responding to what we will call the invasion of privacy. Very often you will encounter someone who attacks your privacy in a psychological way. It may be a drunk sitting next to you at a bar, or it may be someone who fancies himself as an expert psychological guru. And when you express an opinion or, say—you know, you walk up to such an individual and say, “Good morning. How are you feeling?” He says, “Why do you ask me?” You know? And he immediately—you see—he breaks the social rules whereby you communicate with another person without actually saying anything. Phrases like “How are you?” “Nice day, isn’t it?” are like, on a radio, buzzing to be sure that the other side is in communication. And so you make various noises, testing, is that so-and-so, give a call letter, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, and you know you’re in touch. So in the same way, we, in our general daily converse, we feel each other out by saying these little social platitudes, and then we test the person as to whether—by the sound of the voice, by the smell, which we don’t think about but which we absorb unconsciously (unless they smell very strong)—then [jet fighter passes by] complete with bombs! And then we get the feeling, “Do I want to explore this relationship further?” We test. Then those people, you see, who invade your privacy instantly—it’s either the drunk, or the child (who’s quite innocent), or the probing psychologist who is playing his special game (maybe one-upmanship of some kind) and sees how uncomfortable he can make you.


Now, what are the tactics of response to be in these various situations? When you get the probing psychologist you can shrug your shoulders and say, “Didn’t your mother ever teach you manners?” Or you can simply not defend yourself. Some people just don’t need to defend themselves at all. And so that probing them in that way is like tossing a rock into a well, and you wait, and there’s no splash. And that really sets people back. Krishnamurti does that. If you make a comment about somebody in his presence that is in any way adverse or critical, he gives just no response at all so that you suddenly feel—like the Buddha said—you’ve spat at the sky and the spit falls back into your own face.


And I was once present where a certain person of that nature was using, as his ploy, silence. And the silence implied the conversation of everyone else around this table is trivial. You know, it was one of those tangible silences. And suddenly, someone at the table turned to him and said, “You know, I can’t stand people who use silence as a weapon.”

37:30 Audience

Did he remain silent?


No, a conversation then started. But—and it was a very rather disagreeable conversation, if I may say so.


So there is, you see, always the response to psychological attack—an invasion of privacy—as Allen Ginsberg does it: if anybody presses on him too hard, he’ll strip naked. And if anybody challenges him to fight he says, “Alright. You challenged me, I choose the weapons. Who’s going to undress first?” And he has this kind of marvelous feeling that there really isn’t anything that he’s hiding. I don’t know; there may be, but he certainly doesn’t impress me as anyone who really hides anything.


So that, you see, to enter into a human relationship where there is nothing to hide and you don’t depend on any sort of property-gimmick for your personal worth, that’s a thing we get very easily hooked on. It may be your car, it may be your clothes, it may be your cameras, your style of watches, your fountain pens, your heaven only knows what, your home that you possess—and that is inseparable from your personality, and you can’t be you if you’re stark naked. So the confrontation of people in an atmosphere of physical or spiritual nakedness is one where many individuals seen they have completely lost because they can’t play their accustomed role. Of course, I have a certain advantage, which is that even if I’m stark naked I can still talk. But now, supposing they say, “Now, you shut up!” Don’t defend yourself with language, see? That’s like taking off an extra set of clothes.


But, as I say, there’s a certain kind of individual whom this doesn’t phase at all because he knew from the beginning that he was nothing and nobody. And of course, that’s a very important thing to know because you have nothing to lose. He who sleeps on the floor will not fall out of bed, and he who has nothing to lose has really no fear—either of the loss of his property, his propriety, or his privacy. But there are other people who—in this situation of the loss of privacy—are completely degraded. The way, for example, we systematically deprive privacy from the inmates of prisons and mental hospitals. You go into a mental hospital: all the johns are completely exposed, everything is smooth walls; there are no corners, there are no secrets. Everybody’s sort of herded around, and they all look the same: put in the same uniform, have the same haircut. And also in the army. In, say, the marine boot camps; the same. The first thing is to degrade the individual ritually so that he has no privacy, and to see what happens to him if you do that. Now, you may—the result of this is that you may brainwash him completely and make him nothing more an obedient tool of the system. And in this case you see what you’ve got: you’re back again to monarchical politics.


And so in a system where the design of the politics is that the community of human beings is ruled—whether by an individual monarch or by a totalitarian state makes no difference—but the dynamics of that situation is that this community is not a group, it is a crowd. Now, we therefore have to understand the difference between a group and a crowd because this is the key to the whole thing, and if you understand this you can get ’round the things that seem threatening in a society where there is no privacy.


A crowd is structured in this way: there is a number of identical individuals, suitably brainwashed, and there is a leader—whether this is an individual again, or a bureaucratic entity of some kind. The relationship between them is this:

Crowd/Mass Communication
Figure 1: Crowd/Mass Communication

In other words, the line of communication is from the individual to the leader, and they don’t really—they’re not really in communication with each other at all, except insofar they may communicate with each other, but this controls the nature of their communication. So, in other words, when a politician speaks to an enormous audience, what he sets up is a crowd because the audience are individuals who don’t know each other. They’re just people, they’re just heads—or hands. And so the leader really communicates with them and they can’t answer back unless they do so as a group. “Sieg Heil!” You know? Then they answer back, but all as a collective. Because along the lines of this kind of communication… supposing I talk to a thousand people over the radio, and they all send me back letters—well, I can’t read them, much less answer them! There isn’t time. So this is a strictly one-way communication.


Now then, let’s look—in contrast to that—to the design of a group. We’ll make it a circle again, for convenience. Now, a group has no leader because it is, itself, an organism. And so the lines of communication run, first of all, like this:

Figure 2a

(Well, this isn’t very well drawn because I’ve got an odd number in it, but that’s alright.) But they’re much more complicated than that.

Figure 2b

They’re also this. Now you see what’s going on? Let’s go this one around, who isn’t he talking to yet?

Figure 2c

He isn’t talking to that one. He isn’t talking to this one, he isn’t talking to this one… Do you see how? I’m not going to draw all this; it’d take forever. [Curator’s note: I did :) ]

Decentralized Group Communication
Figure 2d: Decentralized/Group Communication (Organism)

But the thing is that these—this sort of pattern (Figure 2d) is group communication, this sort of pattern (Figure 1) is crowd communication. So an effective group—a true group of human beings—is one in which there are enough people, or not too many people, so that they can all know each other and are in communication with each other. Now then, you say: how do you relate that sort of a cell to the larger human group?

Simple Metagroup Communication
Figure 3a: Simple Metagroup Communication

Why, very simply. Every group appoints one cell to represent it. And that cell goes and joins a group of representative cells, and they have to be of adequate size for them all to be in touch with each other.

Metagroup Communication
Figure 3b: Advanced Metagroup Communication (Metaorganism)

And then, if it’s necessary to go higher than that and include a still greater number—or collectivity—of small cells, [then] the representative group, Representative1, will elect Representative2 to go to a representative group of 2s.

Hypergroup Communication
Figure 4: Hypergroup Communication (Hyperorganism)

And in this method—which is the actual original design of the republic of the United States (which, of course, has been completely overlooked)—you get a hierarchy of cell structures where… because I am in communication with you, here, and I’m fully occupied in this system of communication, the chances are that I don’t know a great deal about what other cell groups are doing, because it’s too complicated for me to scan. But therefore, we will delegate one particular individual and say, “You make a specialty of scanning these other groups around here, so that you have a wider knowledge.” And so it goes, so that you have a hierarchical system of communication—you can call it ‘government’ if you want to, because what we’re simply talking about is an information system. So that, for example, one of these will not ever, individually, elect the President of the United States. But his representative, at a certain level, will. Because his representative at a certain level knows far more about who to select than he does because he’s made it his business to do so. Every individual can’t do that.


And so you will find that this (Figure 1) is the system of direct representation used by all dictators: all dictators vote themselves into office by referendum, they take it to the people and say, “You are the people. You elect me.” Well, that’s the easiest thing in the world: to bamboozle an enormous number of people by mass persuasion to do practically anything you want. But you can’t bamboozle that kind of structure (Figure 4), it’s too strong.


Here, with mass communication (Figure 1), you see everybody getting the same thing. Now, oddly enough, you see, McLuhan—in his thought about the future of communications—says that with the development of the electronic circuits we tend towards tribalism. And this, precisely, is tribalism (Figure 4). This is the monolithic state (Figure 1), this is the tribal community (Figure 4). This is utterly paternalistic (Figure 1). But this is different (Figure 4), this gives everybody a chance to have his say so. And have his say so not only in terms of a yes or no vote, but the thing of the unit, the tribe, is small enough for there to be a discussion.


And that’s why we can’t understand about Indians—Amerindians—why they don’t like the idea of voting. They have a pow-wow. They’re like Quakers: the Quakers don’t vote, they get what they call a “sense of the meeting.” Because they all know each other and they consider putting a thing to a vote as a kind of unreasonable procedure. We should all get together and feel it out, and establish, through discussion, a consensus. So this (Figure 4), as I say, is a very strong human cluster. Very difficult to be pushed around by this (Figure 1).


Now, as we have developed electronic communications thus far, we have things like great national hookups so that everybody in the United States is watching whatever it is that comes over ABC or NBC at the major hours. But that is, I think, a fairly temporary phenomenon with the development of UHF (Ultra High Frequency) television broadcasting, and the more we develop micro-electric machinery the greater the capacity for discrimination on the dial. See, as it is, you get a lot of interference and therefore it cuts out the possibility of an innumerable cluster of stations. But as the technology becomes more perfect, you can receive an enormous number of different stations. And these stations will increasingly have machinery that makes them fairly simple to run. For example, with a video tape machine now made by Ampex costing $6,000 and a Sony television camera costing $250 you could produce a television show with only one technician. The average TV show produced in a studio requires 14 technicians to handle it. So as this happens, you see, it means that there can be an increasing variety of the kind of material that is presented through the electronic channels.


McLuhan adds to this a kind of strange point of view, which is that it really doesn’t matter what kind of material is going over. Because the message is not the content of the television show, but your exposure to and involvement in that kind of a medium. Well, there’s something to this. That when you touch a person, physically—which is a sort of direct communication—you don’t necessarily say anything. It is just the act of touching that may give the message (or the massage) of affection or love. And so people love to wander into the streets and mingle with a crowd of shoppers, especially a colorful crowd going back and forth, and the feeling of all the interesting people around, and everything. They’re not saying anything to each other in words, but this exciting feeling of being involved in this colorful goings-on.


And so, in the same way, when we are plugged in—if not turned on—to a huge in-and-outing of human communication, we feel very like an old Italian peasant lady leaning on the windowsill and gazing at the busy street, watching life flow by. And in a way, you see, there’s something… when you see it in terms of the old Italian mamma watching the world go by, there’s something very fundamentally good about that. Something we associate with colorful villages, exciting streets, and the romance of an archaic peasant-type person.


But you see that that sort of thing of watching an ever-varying panorama of life is not completely excluded by electronic technology. Especially if people—in their net structure—are organized here as true nets (Figure 4). This is not a true net (Figure 1); this is just a trap.

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