Marshall McLuhan’s Theory of Attention: How to Become a Psychonaut
In light of surging cross-disciplinary interest in rethinking the conceptions of attention and attention economy, this article conducts an archeology of Marshall McLuhan’s concepts in order to construct a theory of attention implicit in his media paradigm. McLuhan’s most attentional concepts are explained (such as figure/ground and cliché/archetype) and synthesized into an integrated account of his idea of attention, which I call “eco-formed attention.” It contrasts with reigning individualist and collectivist theories of attention by being constitutive, modal, dialectical, environmental, and negative-inclusive. I argue that McLuhan’s fundamental problematic of attention—concepts mismatching percepts—is solved by using eco-formed attention to become a “media psychonaut.” Four procedures are explained to illustrate psychonautic interventions in eco-formed attention. This project is useful for media-ecological analyses, creative re-engagement with media, and reforming attention within future technological changes. The article concludes by linking to several agendas in media ecology and across the humanities.