Fang, Irving. Alphabet to Internet: Mediated Communication in Our Lives. St. Paul, Minn.: Rada Press, 2008. 504 pp. $95.
A few years ago, a student in a reporting class taught by me submitted a story about a neighborhood controversy regarding installation of a cell-phone tower, or base station, which residents opposed. The student wrote, "The tower will relay phone conversations to a satellite orbiting 22,000 feet above Earth." This was not a typographical error.
Most of the people reading this review are scholars and teachers of journalism and media. Perhaps some of them would like a book that would inform them and students about the technical details of modern communication devices and systems (a how-it-works explainer) as well as the pertinent economic, political, and social ramifications regarding media technology. We all know that technology has transformed media, but many of us who teach, and we hope some of our students, would appreciate information about how a specific technology operates and why it has altered the media landscape for producers and consumers.
Unfortunately, Alphabet to Internet: Mediated Communication in Our Lives does not delve into technical matters nor does it sufficiendy explain the impact of technology on media producers and consumers. As traditional media wither or die, it is crucial to provide perspective about the economic and social effects of modern communication technology.
Instead, Alphabet to Internet offers factoids and tidbits on seemingly every development in communication since ancient Sumer, and this is accompanied by brief sketches of the attendant cultural benefit. This is occasionally interesting and somewhat informative if your knowledge about the origins of writing, the spread of literacy, and the pre-telegraph delivery of information is limited. But for most scholars and teachers of journalism and media, and for most college students taking media classes, the information does not contribute to understanding the scope of technological innovation or its full significance to the presentation of information.
For example, the telegraph meant more to journalism than a different style of writing and the evolution of news objectivity, which Alphabet to Internet treats adequately. The telegraph also required investment for an Associated Press membership and equipment, subsequently elevated timeliness of news to an absolute priority in cities with competitive newspapers, and eventually letting the sources of information dictate the dissemination of that information to their advantage. …