Creative Global Network for the Visual Arts

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The industrial revolution introduced the railroad and the telegraph line, paving the way for future changes in communications. The train and railway system caused sudden distortions in traditional perspective and vision. This foreshortening of time and space due the train’s speed caused the display in immediate succession of views and objects that in their original spatiality belonged to separate realms. The accelerated viewer isolated from nature by extra mechanical skin, was able to perceive the discrete as it rolled past the coach window indiscriminately; this was the beginning of the 'synthetic sense' that has since that time become a basic feature of human perception.

It brought about the perceptual changes needed in early 20th-century culture for the rise of the new media that captured communications: photography, cinema, radio and the telephone. The new 'high-speed' technologies were the origins of the modern 'annihilation of space and time' upon which 19th- and 20th-century perceptions of the real world depend. McLuhan (1964, p.19) described these phenomena of Western world implosion caused by electronic communication at the speed of light:

'After three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the Western world is imploding. During the mechanical ages we had extended our bodies in space. Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned. Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the extensions of man-the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society, much as we have already extended our senses and our nerves by the various media'.

To cope with such extreme changes in perception, special qualities are needed, traditionally owned by the artists. In McLuhan's words (1964, P.33): 'The serious artist is the only person able to encounter technology with impunity, just because he is an expert aware of the changes in sense perception'.


McLuhan, M 1964, Understanding media :the extensions of man, Signet books, New York.

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