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Living in the Information Age: A New Media Reader

Editor: Erik P. Bucy
Publisher: Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Thomson Learning, 2002
Review Published: December 2002

 REVIEW 1: Jamie S. Switzer
 REVIEW 2: Collette Snowden
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Erik P. Bucy

Erik Bucy's Living in the Information Age: A New Media Reader brings together a series of concise and relevant readings from a diverse set of authors and publications to examine some of the impacts of new communication technologies. Anyone familiar with writers of all things digital will recognize contributors such as John Perry Barlow, Howard Rheingold, Todd Oppenheimer, Sherry Turkle, Douglas Rushkoff, Clifford Stoll, and David Shenk. Management guru Peter Drucker makes an appearance, as do communication theorists Werner Severin and James Tankard. The articles themselves have been published in familiar periodicals like Wired, Newsweek, The New York Times, Salon, and Rolling Stone, and not-so-standard journals such as the American Journalism Review and Entertainment Weekly. Excerpts from a few books are also included.

The book is divided into six broad categories, then split into chapters consisting of approximately four readings each. Bucy also includes some extras with each reading. He briefly introduces the article, providing background information and an idea of the subject matter. A list of related links at the end of each reading offers additional Internet resources about the topic. Also included are relevant keywords and subject terms to use when accessing InfoTrac's College Edition website.

The first category, "The New Information and Entertainment Ecology," contains readings that address the revolution in communication technology and includes a timeline of the evolution of multimedia. This section also discusses new media theory, from Roger Fidlers' Principles of Mediamorphosis to the traditional uses and gratifications theory as applied to mass communication written by Severin and Tankard.

The second section is the largest. "Convergence and Concentration in the Media Industries" examines print media, radio, television, film, telecommunications, advertising, public relations, and media concentration. The chapters in this section explore how traditional media, both print and electronic, are not only struggling to find their place in the digital world but are also dealing with the consequences rendered by providing content in entirely new forms. The advertising and public relations fields are also included in the discussion. The trend toward consolidation and mergers by telecommunications companies and the impact on the media and society as a whole is also considered in this chapter.

"New Technologies, the Self, and Social Life," the third section of the book, begins to address the broader societal implications of new communication technologies. Sharing a password with a significant other, computer-based gaming, the genesis of the cyberpunk movement, and a reading from Turkle's seminal book Life on the Screen comprise one chapter. The second chapter in this category explores how technological advances have changed how people interact with media. The pace of life has accelerated to the extent people now frantically channel surf using the television remote control, drown in useless and irrelevant emails, multitask in such ways as talking on the phone and typing on a keyboard at the same time, and have items delivered to their door with the click of a mouse.

The fourth category is titled "Social Impacts of Information and Communications Technologies." One chapter traces the evolution of the World Wide Web and explores some of the impacts the computer and the Web have had on society, particularly in business and education. The articles discuss why it took some time for the use of technology to increase productivity in the workplace, and includes Oppenheimer's assertation that computers in schools have not been the cure for what he thinks ails the educational system. The readings in the second chapter all present some of the negative impacts of computer technology and the Internet, such as information overload and the hype over Y2K. Also included is an excerpt from Stoll's Silicon Snake Oil.

The use of new communication technologies in the advancement of democracy and in the conduct of politics are the subjects of the next section. "New Technologies and the Public Sphere" includes a RAND think tank report proposing universal access to e-mail as one way of ensuring the democratic process. The second chapter in this category addresses the "digital divide" and explores the problem of unequal access to technology in the schools and the role gender may play in such matters. Another reading discusses the digital divide in terms of civil rights.

The final section of the book, "Policing the Electronic World: Issues and Ethics," explores copyright, privacy, surveillance, and hacking. The ease with which intellectual property can be duplicated and the inability of current copyright laws to address the issue is the subject of the first chapter, which includes an essay by Barlow originally published in Wired. Advancements in technology that make invasion of privacy and the chance of electronic surveillance an almost certainty are examined in the second chapter, while the impact of both virus writers and the hacker culture is discussed in the final chapter.

The book does an admirable job discussing the impacts of new communication technologies on mainstream topics. There are, however, many more subjects that could have been included, which Bucy freely admits. He lists several additional areas that are missing from this book which could be addressed in the future: e-commerce, information overload, wearable computing, cyberpunk fiction, information warfare, transborder data flow, digital crime, online ethics, cultural biotechnology, and sex and morality in cyberspace. Convergence of more traditional media industries, as well as the trend toward one appliance providing a multitude of services (such as cell phones that stream video), could also be included.

Living in the Information Age was written to be a companion to three textbooks published by Wadsworth: Media Now (Joseph Straubhaar and Robert LaRose), Electronic Media in the Information Age (Robert LaRose and Joseph Straubhaar), and Electronic Media (John Craft, Frederic Leigh, and Donald Godfrey). The book is not really appropriate as a primary text because it does not present a comprehensive overview of the impact of the digital revolution. It is, however, a very useful supplemental text for courses concerned with new media and new communication technologies.

Bucy has chosen short, easy to read excerpts that present both "the utopian promises of technology's true believers as well as the dystopian views of technology's critics" (xii). Living in the Information Age would be a worthwhile supplement to a library of technology-related literature. Some of the readings may be dated, but others are timeless.

Erik Bucy's Living in the Information Age: A New Media Reader is a perfect example of a publication that would best be delivered as an e-book. A compilation of articles from a variety of sources and authors, the book already contains some information that is inaccurate and out-of-date. This is through no fault of the author -- it is impossible to stay current writing about technology using a traditional print-based publishing model. In an e-book format, however, the author could easily update the book for download -- provided subscribers pay up front, of course! (Copyright -- that's in Chapter 14.)

Jamie S. Switzer:
Jamie S. Switzer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism and Technical Communication at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. Her research focuses on virtual communication and new communication technologies, and she has an extensive background in the field of distance education.  <jamie.switzer@colostate.edu>

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