Once the curtain came up on the past, the future became lit…and so began the McLuhan International Festival of the Future. It started late last Friday at a gala opening for the festival’s artists and those able to afford the $250 per person ticket. Indeed, the future is bright, but certainly at a price.
“Beyond: thinkers, speakers, artists” challenged perceptions on new media, and over the next week the fest offered up digital storytelling, multimedia plays at the Drake Hotel, Beatzmassive channeled ‘subtle’ themes, and top-heavy ‘Extreme McLuhan’ (“not for the faint of heart”) sessions led a writer concerned with accessibility and future promise to the following critique: If the ‘medium is the message’ then limiting the open-armed ethos’ of McLuhan to the technologically elite will only create-to cite McLuhan himself-an “environment that is quite as imperceptible to us as water is to a fish.”
Moreover, with so few posters advertising the festival, you needed the Internet just to hear about it! ‘The Medium is the Mobilization,’ held by the McLuhan Global Research Network, seemed an understatement on realizing that one had to have the Internet and a cell phone to enjoy the event’s full effect.
Most useful to budding technophiles, technocrats, and anyone who planned for it were the ‘Vortex’ sessions, wherein business proposals would be critiqued, developed, and advanced by the business-savvy ‘new media’ moguls present. Toronto’s David Rokeby, an interactive artist for 22 years, chose to speak in a secluded garden on the edge of Oakville, rather than approach the native audiences of his base. At the Oakville Galleries, he presented an interesting approach to ‘interactivity’: his pieces, two-thirds using audio recording of the viewer(s) and computer-programmed playback, worked best when the viewer stood alone, becoming outnumbered by the dazzling array of suspended G5 computers: an acoustic symphony of technology interacting with its audience.
At Innis Town Hall, the recently released book The Rebel Sell by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter set the tone for an interesting discussion. A rejection of marginal countercultures, it seemed strangely applicable to the marginalization of many of the festival’s sessions, sacrificing accessibility or futuristic content for good ideas played out in mediocre venues.
As a first try, the McLuhan Festival was admirable in intent, but must break free of its underlying technocratic conceptions if it is to bring the great theorist’s message to a wider audience.