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This startling exploration of the mass media age uniquely combines complex nonfiction and prescient fiction from the best and brightest visionaries of the future. Essay contributors include Marshall McLuhan, who posited that the medium is the message; Cory Doctorow and his re-visioning of intellectual property in the digital age; and Nicolas Carr, whose cautionary warnings include that Google is making us stupid. The thought-provoking short stories are authored by science fiction luminaries including James ...
This startling exploration of the mass media age uniquely combines complex nonfiction and prescient fiction from the best and brightest visionaries of the future. Essay contributors include Marshall McLuhan, who posited that the medium is the message; Cory Doctorow and his re-visioning of intellectual property in the digital age; and Nicolas Carr, whose cautionary warnings include that Google is making us stupid. The thought-provoking short stories are authored by science fiction luminaries including James Tiptree Jr., whose pseudonymous cyperpunk preceded all of her peers; Joe Haldeman and his wars where humans fight through cloning and time travel; and Norman Spinrad, who has pitted the media against an immortality conspiracy. Offering a blend of predictions for the course of communications, Future Media entertains while it informs and challenges readers to consider the implications for a society dealing with networks that are alternately personal, public, pervasive, and powerful.
The origins of this collection lie in conversations I had beginning in 2009 with Tachyon publisher Jacob Weisman and his colleague Bernie Goodman, and it was Bernie who took the lead in urging me to think about a book that played to my deep and abiding interest in two seemingly different fields: the mass media, where I have enjoyed a long career as a professor and as a textbook author; and in science fiction, where I've also been fortunate enough to enjoy a long career as a writer and have happily spent a lifetime as a devoted reader. I have been teaching mass-media courses at various universities since the mid-1970s, and while I make no claim to real scholarship in the field, I enjoy teaching what I've learned from those scholars who have made major contributions to our understanding of the often worrisome power of the media. Similarly, in the science fiction genre I've enjoyed a mildly successful career as a writer and editor since my first published short story in 1980, and I happily admit to being a great admirer of the field's many excellent writers and their work.
It was Bernie who pointed out an obvious connection between science fiction writers and mass-media scholarship. In both cases there has long been an interest in where the media are going in the future, and what the social implications of that mediated future will be. Science fiction writers tend to follow one troubled individual into that mediated future while mass-media scholars tend to take a broader, wider point of view; but both are certainly interested in the mass media of the future and its impact on us all.
And so this anthology attempts to take a glimpse at both the forest and the trees of the future of the media, offering various kinds of material from scholars, science fiction authors, popular essayists, media theorists and inventors, performance artists, and others. Their material ranges from memoranda and addresses to Congress, to performance pieces that are meant to be staged, to short stories, to novel excerpts, to blogs, and more.
On the fiction side there are excerpts from classic novels that feature the mass media, including Norman Spinrad's famous Bug Jack Barron, Aldous Huxley's dystopian Brave New World, Ray Bradbury's classic Fahrenheit 451, and the very recent Makers, by award-winning blogger, novelist, and futurist Cory Doctorow. There are also a number of entertaining, and often fretful, short stories by some of the most famous names in science fiction, as well as a pair of important, and very edgy, performance pieces, one by Guillermo Gomez-Pena and the other a play by Joe Haldeman, one of the most honored writers in science fiction, who pays his respects to Huxley in his "feelie script."
On the nonfiction side there are journal articles, a blog entry, several important magazine articles, a few chapters excerpted from important books focused on media criticism, and even some testimony given before the U.S. House of Representatives.
There is, in these various offerings, a wide diversity of opinion about the promise or peril of the mass media. For instance, while Gregory Benford, James Patrick Kelly, and Nicholas Carr take a worrisomely dark view of what's happening to us as we read less and surf the Web more, Cory Doctorow and Timothy Berners-Lee find the emergence of easy access to information and global interconnectedness to be profoundly positive in many respects, so much so that these benefits do much, for them, to outweigh the cultural losses. And while Kit Reed and Norman Spinrad predict a dark side of television entertainment that seems to have come true in many ways, Henry Jenkins finds much to admire in an environment that blends movies and television into the digital online future that offers access to inventive storytellers who work outside the old mediated systems to find ample audience.
In terms of structure, the book opens and closes with material from Marshall McLuhan. The opening essay is the very famous chapter "The Medium Is the Message," from his seminal book Understanding Media, and it is in this chapter that he coins the phrase "the medium is the message" and explains it, setting the parameters very nicely for what is to come in the book you hold in your hand. Later, at the back of the book, another famous McLuhan essay (and the concluding chapter from that same book) closes this collection with McLuhan's thoughts on what was, for him in the mid-1960s, the "new electric age," which offers total interdependence even as it promotes the pursuit of independent thought and independent work. With McLuhan firmly wrapping the contents, the book then generally alternates fiction and nonfiction, paying attention to how the two forms interact thematically. For instance, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and Gregory Benford's homage to Bradbury, "Centigrade 233," pose questions about the decline of reading and its implications that are then discussed in James Patrick Kelly's "New Brains for Old" and "Nicholas Carr's "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" Similar ties to immersive and interactive media where the audience has a direct connection to—and sometimes a hand in directly modifying—the content are found in stories or essays by Pat Cadigan, Kate Wilhelm, James Patrick Kelly, Judy Wacjman, Allucquére Rosanne Stone, and others.
The inclusion of significant material from decades in the past does, I hope, lend an interesting viewpoint to the future that these gifted writers saw up ahead somewhere. Has television become the artificial reality that Kit Reed predicted in the 1960s, where it's possible to order in everything you need to live your life? Do we have television hosts who shout at and denigrate their guests, as Jack Barron does in the excerpt from Norman Spinrad's famous novel? Are there television game shows that follow men and women in peril as they struggle to stay alive, as in Robert Sheckley's famous short story? Was Vannevar Bush right in what he saw in 1945 as the future of computing and its impact on society? Did McLuhan and Neil Postman (as his son, Andrew, notes wryly), predict with disturbing precision some of the issues thatconfront us today, and will confront us in the future, when it comes to media use? The answer seems self-evident.
Ultimately, it's my hope that this collection serves two important functions. One is to celebrate the inventive social commentary of some of science fiction's best writers and to compare their work to the deep conjecture of scholars and writers of various kinds who have given thought to the future of the mass media and raised perceptive questions about the societal implications of mass media not only today but into the future. The other is to present readers, especially undergraduate readers taking courses in media studies, with a mix of entertaining, if often quite profound, science fiction stories centered around the mass media, and add in a similar mix of significant nonfiction articles about the mass media written by important scholars and other thoughtful critics of the field. Several of the articles reprinted here have formed the basic root structure of mass-media studies, and it is interesting to see how accurate McLuhan and others were in their seminal work. Other, more recent, pieces offer predictions of where the media might be in the future and what the implications may be for society should those predictions come true. Will the media in the future live up to the promise that Doctorow, Jenkins, Berners-Lee, and others see? It's going to be fun to see—or more likely, to immerse ourselves in—isn't it?
Rick Wilber February 2011
Excerpted from FUTURE MEDIA by Rick Wilber Copyright © 2011 by Rick Wilber. Excerpted by permission of tachyon publications. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Preface: Thoughts on Predicting the Mediated Future Rick Wilber 9
Introduction Paul Levinson 15
Excerpt from Understanding Media: The Medium Is the Message Marshall McLuhan 19
Is Google Making Us Stupid? Nicholas Carr 33
New Brains for Old James Patrick Kelly 44
Excerpt from Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury 50
Centigrade 233 Gregory Benford 57
Excerpt from Brave New World Aldous Huxley 68
Fantasy for Six Electrodes and One Adrenaline Drip (A Play in the Form of a Feelie Script) Joe Haldeman 82
Introduction to Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death Andrew Postman 135
At Central Kit Reed 144
Excerpt from Bug Jack Barron Norman Spinrad 154
The Prize of Peril Robert Sheckley 174
Sex, Death and Machinery Allucquére Rosanne Stone 191
Baby, You Were Great Kate Wilhelm 220
Rock On Pat Cadigan 234
Feel the Zaz James Patrick Kelly 242
Dude, We're Gonna Be Jedi! Henry Jenkins 278
From Women and Technology to Gendered Technoscience Judy Wajcman 299
The Girl Who Was Plugged In James Tiptree 312
Tech-Illa Sunrise Rafael Lozano-Hemmer Guillermo Gómez-Peña 348
As We May Think Vannevar Bush 358
Download for Free Cory Doctorow 377
Excerpt from Makers Cory Doctorow 380
The Future of the World Wide Web Timothy Berners-Lee 408
Excerpt from Understanding Media: Automation Marshall McLuhan 420