By Robert K. Logan
This second edition includes 37 new pages in a new Foreword and Afterword where Logan reports on a number of new developments in his research into the origin and evolution of language. The first edition of the Sixth Language, published in 2000, was a recipient of the Susanne K. Langer Prize of the Media Ecology Association for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Symbolic Form.
The Sixth Language updates the work of Marshall McLuhan by applying his
ideas to the communications revolution taking place due to digital
information technology. Logan's work interweaves ideas which touch on
language, education, work, social class, information technology and
management theory. He establishes the theoretical background for his
study with a succinct and very readable summary of McLuhan's ideas.
Logan develops a new theory of language by showing that a language is not
merely a system of communication but also an information processing tool.
He goes on to show that speech, writing, mathematics, science, computing
and the Internet form an evolutionary chain of verbal languages. A new
language evolved each time the informatic capacity of the previous set of
languages was exhausted. Math and writing arose to deal with the
information overload associated with economic transactions of the
agriculture based city states of Sumer.
The schools that evolved to teach the new math and writing skills gave
rise to scholarship and a new form of information overload ensued.
Science or organized knowledge arose to deal with the new information glut
created by the teachers in the newly established schools. Computing
developed out of the need to cope with the information overload created by
science and the Internet was the response to the info overload and need
for greater connectivity of computing.
As Logan weaves his tale of the development of language he also shows how
new educational, social, political and economic institutions arise. He
then develops a theory of social class based on the notion that
agriculture created the aristocratic class; and literacy, the middle
class. He then speculates as to whether computers will give rise to a new
social class - computerate class.
Turning to education Logan shows how the evolution of language led to the
evolution of education. He explains that the reason our schools are so
out of touch is that they are Industrial Age institutions trying
desperately to meet the needs of the Internet Age and the Knowledge Era.
He suggests a radical new way of remedying the malaise of education by
proposing that the core curriculum focus on the generic skills associated
with the use of the six languages of speech, writing, math, science,
computing and the Internet. He contends that the actual content of the
curriculum, the topics that are studied are not important and should be
chosen to cater to the students' interests. Once students have mastered
the six languages they are then in a position to learn whatever topics or
material they require for their work or their personal interest.
Logan proposes an equally radical rethinking of training and education in
the work place. He shows how information technology has completely changed
the way in which we work and learn; and more importantly, he exposes how
the relationship between work and learning has also changed. He explains
that one can no longer earn a living by putting in time; but instead, one
must now "learn a living'. The only form of job security is life long
learning and a set of up-to-date skills that are in demand. His call for
life long learning re-echoes the theme of McLuhan's earlier work and that
of today's business management literature.
Logan closes his book with a chapter on the Internet in which he shows how
this medium recaptures the spirit of oral culture. He demonstrates that
the new level of connectivity requires more than the mere re-engineering
of business processes such as marketing, advertising, sales, customer
support, and market research. According to Logan, it requires an actual
alignment of these processes because of the way in which they are
integrated by the Internet. Logan also suggests that the Internet has
become an environment where learning and work come together and that this
medium gives rise to the need for knowledge management as well as being
an essential tool for its practice.
“Logan was a young colleague of Marshall McLuhan at the University of Toronto and brings a richness of linkage between McLuhan's vision and its fruition in the internet age. While the book gives many practical overviews, it is more a book of comprehension than of instruction. The internet age is upon us, but many firms are not at the point of understanding "learning a living" as a concept. Logan's book provides the kinds of insights that are needed in organizations in order to move into the vast resources of the internet both in terms of knowledge and also in terms of language and communications with the WWW which is indeed the World Wide Web. We don't hear enough of homage to McLuhan for seeing what was coming though the scale of it was surely beyond his wildest imagination, but not the idea of it. Here we have Logan who had the privilege of working with McLuhan taking that vision to the next level of comprehension -- that is the being in it as so many are, and the implications in the workplace and the world at large.” an Amazon reviewer
Dr. Logan is an alumnus of MIT and currently teaches at the University of Toronto where he is a member of the Physics Department and is cross-appointed to the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and the McLuhan Program in Cultural Technology. He served as an advisor to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and has authored studies for the Ontario Ministry of Education, the federal Department of Communications, the Science Council of Canada, and the federal Ministry of State for Science and Technology.