Books -- Communication, Media and Change by Jack Lyle and Douglas McLeod

Article excerpt

Lyle, Jack, and Douglas McLeod (1993). Communication, Media and Change. Mountain View, Calif: Mayfield. 264 pp. Paperback, $24.95.

This thorough and thoughtful book provides an outstanding undergraduate textbook for a communications technology course focusing on the development of today's converging technologies and their many profound consequences for media and society. Indeed, the book is the outgrowth of the authors' efforts to teach such a course at Boston University.

The book begins with an introductory overview of functional needs (news, persuasion, education, and entertainment) for communication by individuals, groups, and societies. Then Part 1 looks at enabling technologies that make the Communications Revolution possible: semiconductors, satellites, optical fiber, personal computers, and high-definition television. In this section the authors examine changes within and across media and speculate how new competition will affect existing media.

In Part 2, the authors examine technological change in marketplace context. They explain how communication tools must overcome barriers of policy, infrastructure, and money. According to the authors, U.S. policymakers "try to force the new to fit into old patterns and to deal with each situation on an ad hoc basis"; thus the "crazy-quilt pattern" of laws and regulations applying to communication technologies. The authors stress that marketplace viability of a new technology depends on where and how it fits into existing systems (e.g., can it easily and economically attract buyers and users?). Moreover, the system structure and the complexity of many technologies underscore the importance of standardization and crossover of application among media institutions. This section also examines revenue impact of new technologies on common carriers, the press, Hollywood, and TV networks.

Part 3 explores technological consequences that permit readers/viewers to personalize news selection by acting as their own gatekeepers and agenda-setters, and thus circumventing news professionals. This section also looks at changing persuasion strategies of commercial and political advertisers and changing formats of knowledge: the knowledge explosion and entertainment explosion; digital archiving; notions of "new literacies" replacing standard measures of education; and "hypermedia"--information in the form of images and sounds and video that are linked and indexed together.

The Conclusion forecasts coming technologies and offers provocative scenarios of an all-digital world. The authors see us navigating multimedia cyberspace via the personal window of our PCs, all the while exposed to customized, personalized advertising made possible by interactive database marketing technology. …

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