Media Technology and Society: A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet

Media Technology and Society: A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet

Media Technology and Society: A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet

Media Technology and Society: A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet

Synopsis

Challenging the popular myth of a present-day 'information revolution', Media Technology and Society is essential reading for anyone interested in the social impact of technological change. Winston argues that the development of new media forms, from the telegraph and the telephone to computers, satellite and virtual reality, is the product of a constant play-off between social necessity and suppression: the unwritten law by which new technologies are introduced into society only insofar as their disruptive potential is limited.

Excerpt

A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

(Benjamin 1969:257-8)

An image of history as something other than a progressive chain of events informs this book. It is my contention that the received understanding of our current technological situation, the view that we are living in the midst of an ‘Information Revolution’ or at the start of an ‘Information Age’, can be seen rather differently if the histories of the technologies involved are considered. I am not necessarily suggesting, with Walter Benjamin and Paul Klee, that if we take their view we will agree that we are drowning in an ever-growing pile of debris; but I am agreeing with them that, certainly, the storm of progress blows so hard as to obscure our vision of what is actually happening. What is hyperbolised as a revolutionary train of events can be seen as a far more evolutionary and less transforming process.

The suggestion that we are not in the midst of monumental and increasingly frequent change in information (or better, communications) technology runs so

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