Old and New Media

Terence McKenna at St. John the Divine's Cathedral, Synod Hall, New York, April 25, 1996

What I see is an incredible victory of pluralism, of tolerance, of multiplicity. It's got to be that way: we cannot have our little private xenophobic agendas, our historical grudges, our gender obsessions. All these things which divide us and set us apart from ourselves, I think, are legacies of a previous and now obsolete set of technologies. And this is one of the things that I want to talk about this evening.

Since this is the world capitol of media (and probably won't be for long, because there will be no world capitol of media - it's spreading everywhere) I think it's worth talking about what media is, what it has done to us, what it can be, and how it relates to this effort to try and birth a new kind of humanness out of our present dilemma. In this part of the rap I'm very McLuhanistic in my approach. I think we never understand the impact of a technology until it's too late. And you could almost go further and say you never understand the impact of a technology until it is already obsolete.

For the past 300 years or so, Western civilization has been ruled or held together by the phenomenon of what is called mass media It begins with newspapers and of course leads into the much more penetrating and global electronic forms of media such as network television and so forth and so on. The interesting thing about these forms of media is that they are all tabloid. All of them. Imagine a newspaper such as the most venerable newspaper in this town: it is designed, because it is a commercial enterprise, to be read by millions and millions of people. It's a cultural slight of hand on our part to not realize that no one should read a newspaper designed to be read by millions and millions of people -- that that trivializes and commonalizes information beyond the point of recognition or relevancy. These forms of mass media that we're familiar with are what are called "one-to-many" forms of media. An editor, a talk show host, a somebody is dispersed to consumers - who have no ability to feed back, or only very unsatisfying [ones] like through letters to the editor or something, which is a joke. So one-to-many communication has created a hierarchy of values. It has created, in fact - and McLuhan made this point - the very notion of "the public" is a print-created idea. There was no "public" before there was large-scale print. Information was held by privileged classes, held very closely.

In the present evolving situation, the new forms of media - and by that I mean specifically the Net, the Web in all its manifestations - is an any-to-any form of communication. One person can communicate to thousands, thousands can send email to one person who somehow earns their ire or desire, or any variation on this can be worked. And the incredible pluralizing of lifestyles and the richness that has come recently to high-tech industrial societies is a consequence of the breakdown of these print maintained and created stereotypes which have everyone marching around in uniforms - suits, mostly! That now is finished. So it leads then to the question, "where do we put our own lives in all of this?" And I think that the answer - and this comes out of a long involvement with psychedelics and with the Image per se (and for me the psychedelics were always the way to get into the realm of the images) - the obligation on all of us, I think, is to use this medium, these new forms of media, and produce art, furiously. That's what it's all for. That's what liberation really means: it isn't permission to jog. It's permission to create!

The obligation that rests upon everybody in this room - and the poorest and most twisted among us still probably falls in the upper 5% percent of people on this Earth in terms of opportunity, disposable income, access to resources, so forth and so on - the way to redeem this exclusivity is to push the art pedal to the floor. And I'm trying to do this with my web site. I'm very keen on these new technologies because I don't see them as they stand today - that's exciting enough - but I see them as what they could be. And my idea, with a high-speed, semi-virtual sort of environment online, is that this is an environment in which you can display the contents of your mind, your heart, your soul, your aspirations. We are not these shaven monkeys that we appear to be. That's the surface, and beneath it lies the most complex organ of the human body, which is the mind-body interface. The experience, the ideas, the understanding of each of us is unique, but somehow useless to the community unless expressed. And we have become consumers to such a degree that we have sold our own uniqueness down the river. And so I believe that the humanizing of the future lies in a tremendously rich kind of symbiosis between a nature-based psychedelic archaism in the presence of the fastest and finest information technology that we can get our hands on. Already these technologies have put an end to the marginalization of bohemian and other forms of subculture. What these technologies do is they remove the hegemony of values and substitute instead a more realistic mix of possibilities - all kinds of possibilities. Whatever your agenda is, whatever your political position, your sexual politics, your taste in art and literature and music - whatever is on your mind, if you really care about it, you should wish to communicate it. And the communications tools that have been set before you are immensely powerful at this point.