Monday, December 28, 2009

Gone Digital: Information Mass and Movement

Where are we going, where have we been?  It's strange thumbing through my copy of James L. Baughman's The Republic of Mass Culture: Journalism, Filmmaking, and Broadcasting in America Since 1941 (2nd edition, 1997).  It becomes clear that things have shifted significantly since its publication (and even since the 3rd edition, 2005).  Baughman looks particularly at how television changed mass media from the end of the Second World War through the second half of the twentieth century.  Radio and newspaper were displaced to more secondary roles, corporate mergers and aquisitions accrued power to centralized organizations, and so on. 

But in the last ten years, things have shifted even more wildly from analog to digital: everything from photography to publishing to music and correspondence. What we have now seems increasingly strange to me.  I remember when reading newspapers, magazines and letters were features of every day life, when phone calls were a big deal (especially "long distance"), when folks planned meals around daily news broadcasts at set times. There was more structure, more orientation based on time and place.  Now we must think differently, act differently.

The first glimpse I saw of today's rather disoriented and disorienting world of communication and culture was in Spain in 1999; specifically, in Barcelona, where many people walked around jabbering on mobile phones.  This was not the case in the US: only some used cell phones in this way, and almost every household had access to a land line -- anything from rotary to push button phones.  In the US, it was only around 2001 when things started to become more like what I'd seen in Barcelona; now, on the verge of 2010, people seem way out of the loop if they don't have access to some form of wireless device: such has been the staggering speed of change.  In a couple of decades, we've jumped from answering machines to voice mail, from wondering who is calling to screening incoming calls with digital ID, so that our social forms of communicating are radically changed in ways I have yet to absorb or fully understand.

What we have is a great deal more freedom and flexibility, but also a certain amount of bewilderment and, perhaps, a sort of mass hypnosis combined with some loss in social space for reflection and solitude.  Where are we going, where have we been . . . What do you think? 

Today's Rune:  Strength.


the walking man said...

I think we are coming to a point where we rely to much on our technology. That technology for a century has forced society to remake itself a thousand times. every time something new comes along to make life easier it gets more difficult for them who lost a job working with the old.

For example it used to take 100 people to run a large farm or ranch now it takes ten.

As a storage medium I like digital but there are flaws (hoo wah are there flaws) with it as a medium of wireless communication.

But that boc has been opened and sooner or later the new will come along and the old cycles will be replaced and that is "progress."

Unfortunately though it seems as if with every leap forward we take an even bigger leap sociologically backwards.

Charles Gramlich said...

the pace of change increases so rapidly that I wonder if they'll have to start producing new editions of textbooks even faster to try and keep up. So much is out of date by the time it's published.

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jodi said...

Erik, I must be gettin' old, cuz it makes my head spin!

Lana Gramlich said...

I think that technology is making us more & more antisocial as a society. Well, I KNOW it, actually. Don't even get me started.
You might enjoy Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death," which inspired Roger Waters' "Amused to Death" album (which is really good & sounds more like Floyd than post-Waters Floyd does.)

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