More from the wonderful Summer issue of American Affairs:
To formalize their study of formal cause, Marshall and Eric McLuhan used the heuristic of a “tetrad” of media effects, intended as a complement to Aristotle’s four types of causation. Two of the general consequences of technologies or mediums, they observed, were “retrieval” and “obsolescence.” While the logic of science adopted by market liberals thoroughly embraced the notion of linear and progressive obsolescence (except for scientific logic and economic theory itself), the notion of a retrieval of once-obsolete forms was unthinkable. Yet the principles and structure of market liberalism are now showing significant decay. Gone—obsolesced—is the quintessential economic participant of the print and early electric age, the mature adult father carefully calculating and ranking market preferences to secure his interest as head of household. Here, in his place, is the typical consumer of the terminal electric age: the immature young daughter, her scattered and perhaps contradictory preferences shaped by a fire hose of social media content (i.e. terminal television), from which she and her peers are already disengaging. The replacement of homo economicus with puella economica reflects a desperate attempt by televisual industry professionals to find and lock in new consumers, new revenue streams, and a new pattern for their own agency and viability. Yet they cannot arrest the obsolescence of the social and psychological environment once formed by televisual technology.
What new economic practices and institutions will arise in a West where the medium, not the market, shapes us? We are about to find out. But in keeping with the retrieval of premodern, pre-print political forms, it is likely that where once a unitary globalized West once stood, a plurality of arrangements and entities, some doubtless more prevalent in the Old World than the New, will arise—and not emerge.
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