Distant Early Warning


In 1969, Marshall McLuhan published Distant Early Warning, a playing card deck his estate describes as “a problem-solving device.” The deck was a part of the DEW Line Newsletter project (a “startling, shocking Early Warning System for our era of instant change”), which delivered McLuhan’s dispatches to subscribers via a range of unconventional formats, including records and decks of slides.

Based on these images, there are a few zingers in here — “With data banks, we are taped, typed and scrubbed” — and some thought has been put into which kinds of slogans or quotes appear on which kinds of cards. But much of the text hasn’t aged well, and it is sometimes hard to see this as much more than just a customized poker deck. I love the idea of people in 1969 getting curious bespoke “Newsletters” from Marshall McLuhan in oddball formats like card decks, but, at least compared to other popular works by McLuhan — notably, The Medium is the Massage (1967) — this feels slightly mailed-in. Even so, it remains a fascinating object.

You can buy the DEW Line card deck from Eric McLuhan.

# Sep 21, 2010

“There are interesting parallels in the debates between Williams and McLuhan and those between STS and ANT . . . Williams and many STS traditions can be seen to foreground the social at the expense of an appreciation of the cognitive or esthetic, while McLuhan and some variations of ANT tent to privilege networks and specific media to the exclusion of social and economic structures. There are useful elements to be gleaned from both sides . . . In an age of ‘intelligent agents’ and everyday engagements with various machine-based intelligences, we should take seriously the notion that our perceptual and cognitive facilities may be shifting, even as we understand that these shifts are part and parcel of larger cultural forces.” (8)

Tara McPherson – Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected