If to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work?
-- George Washington, speaking at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, 1788
Bidding farewell to his students at Chicago in 1951, Robert Maynard Hutchins, the man who had helped to institute the Great Books course to celebrate Western civilization, described a gloomy future in which there would be "nobody speaking and nobody reading." He explained it this way: "Astronomers at the University of Chicago have detected something that looks like moss growing on Mars. I am convinced that Mars was once inhabited by rational human beings like ourselves, who had the misfortune, some thousands of years ago, to invent television."1
Early on, Hutchins had foreseen the technology boom and the "intellectual wasteland" of the visual age. He may not have reckoned on the full on- slaught of entertainment that television would impose on every aspect of life in the second half of the twentieth century, but he understood its effects. America would be described as the "best entertained and least informed nation in the Western World."2
Technology has not been a significant problem for media companies. Both print and electronic news have had little difficulty adopting inventive means of distribution from the telegraph to the satellite. The more complicated task was to keep an established audience. Life magazine had to surrender to television. Network television's enormous audiences were fragmented by cable and VCR. Now the computer minces the market for the traditional media into even smaller pieces. This may have a positive effect on entertainment, perhaps on children's programming, and even on general