When we were constructing this website we considered going through a "branding" exercize for the Center.  Briefly.  Then we decided not to do that.

Among the reasons are the distinctions we draw between "probes" and "memes."  We opted for Probes -- which is a McLuhan term.  Branding generates Memes -- which is an advertising term.

What's the difference?

Memes are famously "ideas" which operate as-if they are viruses that *infect* humans.  Meaningless, in any traditional sense, they "float free" and attack the human population, who are, as the theory goes, defenseless as the memes "reproduce" themselves.  This is the stuff of modern (i.e. television) advertising.

A good example would be the Nike slogan, "Just Do It."  What does that mean?  Nothing.  Instead it was meant as a "subliminal" attack on consumers with the intent of selling more shoes.  Yes, it was the product of a (presumably) expensive branding exercize.

Contrast that with our "We shape our tools and, thereafter, they shape us" -- paired with the traditional 5-element Taijitu emblem.  The intent here is provoke some thinking.  That is what Probes are supposed to do.  Nothing for sale.  No subliminals involved.  Just a potentially jarring juxapostion.

The famous quote comes from John Culkin's 1967 "A Schoolman's Guide to McLuhan" (published in Saturday Review) as an introduction to the New York audience anticipating Marshall McLuhan's appointment as the Albert Schweitzer Professor at Fordham University (where Culkin worked) for the 1967-68 academic year.

The Taijitu (or Yin-Yang) symbol is an ancient expression of both "harmony" and, in modern terms, "feedback."  The five elements -- Yin, Yang, Yin-inside-Yang, Yang-inside-Yin, and the "gap" between them -- are also the basis of Chinese alchemy and, as McLuhan told us in his Cambridge PhD thesis, "alchemy" is an expression of the grammar of a civilization.  

Never before, as far as we know, have the two ever been juxtaposed.

So, instead of trying to "sell" the Center, our homepage was designed to "provoke" some thinking.  We hope it also entertains.


Mark Stahlman

The Center for the Study of Digital Life (CSDL) is a not-for-profit strategic research group dedicated to understanding the effects of digital technologies on civilizations -- both East and West.

-Mark Stahlman