A History of Mass Communication: Six Information Revolutions

Article excerpt

Fang, Irving (1997). A History of Mass Communication: Six Information Revolutions. Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann. 280 pp. Paperback, $34.95.

Irving Fang's A History of Mass Communication attempts to be as inclusive as possible while breaking the typical chronological organizational model of standard history books. Instead, he chooses to illustrate the history of mass communication in terms of six "information revolutions": writing, printing, mass media, entertainment, media in the home, and the information highway.

If this seems like there may be considerable overlap, there is. To his credit, Fang admits that "each information revolution appears to share certain characteristics with the others." This overlap causes a number of problems, however, in terms of presentation, omissions, continuity, intuition, and analysis.

Fang defines a revolution as "profound changes involving new means of communication that permanently affect entire societies, changes that have shaken political structures and influenced economic development, communal activity, and personal behavior." He spends only a brief moment on the first revolution, writing, but describes the origins of recording symbols of communication.

The second revolution traces the move of printing from China to Europe, and discusses pre-Gutenberg Europe before discussing the printing press. Mass Media, or the third revolution, touches briefly on the impact of the printing press, but quickly begins discussing the emergence of newspapers, advertising, photography, the telegraph, radio, and movies.

Entertainment, as the fourth revolution, discusses magazines, phonographs, broadcasting, cameras, and movies (again). Then, Fang brings technology into the home as the fifth revolution, "The Toolshed Home," which comprises home mail delivery, phones, radio (again), television, broadcast news, cable, VCRs, records, and books.

Finally, Fang emerges into the information age with his sixth revolution, "The Highway." Not surprisingly, it focuses on the computer and its communication capabilities, including multimedia, cable (again), satellites, telecommuting, the Internet, e-mail, fax, teletext and videotex, and on-line newspapers.

While there is a lot of good, valuable information, there are two notable omissions to the book. The first involves regulation and the second involves communication effects.

Nowhere is the First Amendment mentioned or discussed. The lack of discussion regarding the U.S. government's involvement in broadcasting becomes particularly noticeable when Fang attempts to discuss PBS. Second, by ignoring mass communication history that revolves around effects and effects research, Fang makes it impossible to underscore the connections between his revolutions and their social impacts. …