A Nation Transformed by Information: How Information Has Shaped the United States from Colonial Times to the Present

By Alfred D. Chandler Jr.; James W. Cortada | Go to book overview

5

The Threshold of the Information Age
Radio, Television, and Motion Pictures
Mobilize the Nation

Margaret Graham

In previous chapters we have seen how the rise of large bureaucratic structures in the early decades of the twentieth century, enabled by a national communications infrastructure and driven by the needs of systematizers, created a voracious appetite for information and information processing technologies. At roughly the same time, in what we will term the Vacuum Tube Era, communications technologies in the United States came to be adapted to broader social purposes, on a national scale. These changes, driven in the first instance by the imperatives of national defense, involved creating a new communications infrastructure based on incorporating vacuum tubes into preexisting technologies. The result of this new combination was not only an enhanced communications infrastructure, but one that was concentrated under the control of a few large enterprises, loosely but effectively aligned with the federal government.

From the I930s through the I960s, vacuum-tube-based communications in their various forms made the United States into an increasingly mobilized society, that is, a society that could be motivated to achieve broad national purposes. Chief among these purposes were the search for national economic recovery through consumption; a culture unified, or at least socially homogenized, through mass entertainment; and broad public support for war aims. Some semblance of this "national unity culture" endured through World War II and the Korean War, continuing well into the I960s when both the concentrated control of the infrastructure and the broad cultural consensus disintegrated.

The mobilized society began its slow erosion in the late I950s, becoming simultaneously media-rich and self-conscious. Government policy toward technological changes introduced greater competition

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