Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives

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Everyone knows that the media surround us, but no one quite understands how this happened and what it has done to our lives. Critics and analysts focus on this show or that star, the latest Superbowl ad or twenty-four-hour news binge, but they miss the true import of our total immersion in a fast-moving torrent of sounds and images. As he did with television in Inside Prime Time and with the culture wars in The Twilight of Common Dreams, Todd Gitlin once again recasts the world we think we know. In Media ...
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Overview

Everyone knows that the media surround us, but no one quite understands how this happened and what it has done to our lives. Critics and analysts focus on this show or that star, the latest Superbowl ad or twenty-four-hour news binge, but they miss the true import of our total immersion in a fast-moving torrent of sounds and images. As he did with television in Inside Prime Time and with the culture wars in The Twilight of Common Dreams, Todd Gitlin once again recasts the world we think we know. In Media Unlimited, a remarkable and original look at our media-glutted, speed-addicted world, he makes us stare, as if for the first time, at the biggest picture of all.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Is there any refuge from the media that often seem to overwhelm us? Todd Gitlin, a renowned New York University professor of culture, journalism, and sociology, shows how we are bombarded, on a daily basis, by an overload of sights and sounds -- regardless of where we are and what we're doing.

Gitlin makes the point early on that we're subjected to so many different types of media that we're not even aware of the sheer cumulative bulk. The apt analogy he makes is to the old parable of the driver who's repeatedly stopped at the border by the cop who's sure that something's being smuggled in. Each time, the cop does a meticulous search of the truck, only to find nothing illegal. Finally, the exasperated cop begs the presumed smuggler, now about to retire from the business, to tell him what's been smuggled over the years. "Trucks!" the smuggler replies. Gitlin's point is that we're so busy looking at the message of each individual bit of media that we often don't realize that, as Marshall McLuhan famously claimed, "The Medium is the Message!"

Gitlin goes on to break the recipients of these nonstop messages down into types, based on how they "navigate" the media: the Fan (who can't get enough); the Content Critic (who carefully chooses his media); the Paranoid (who's worried that he's being "programmed"); the Exhibitionist (who wants to be part of the message itself); the Ironist (who takes it all with a grain of salt); the Jammer (who wants to change the message to suit his own cause); the Secessionist (who throws the TV out); and the Abolitionist (who counsels others to do the same).

Gitlin has written a wise and profound look at media, ideal for anyone trying to make sense of today's world. (Nicholas Sinisi)

Nicholas Sinisi is the Barnes & Noble.com Nonfiction editor.

Publisher's Weekly

Gitlin, a professor of sociology, culture and journalism at NYU, has examined the media in print for over 25 years--in fiction (The Murder of Albert Einstein), nonfiction (Inside Prime Time, which was hailed as the best book ever written on the TV industry) and a kind of memoir-history (The Sixties). Now, with the spirit of Marshall McLuhan hovering in the background, Gitlin claims that "living with the media is today one of the main things human beings do," and he elaborates on that theme in this wide-angle overview that attempts to tackle seriously "the baffling media totality" "as a central condition of an entire way of life." After an opening salvo of statistics on the "media cavalcade at home" (TVs, CDs, VCRs), he skims over past pop culture: the power of posters and photos was followed by neon dazzle, the rise of radio and a modern-day "electronic efflorescence" of AOL instant messages and wireless devices of the "new nomad."

Every angle is here-from Muzak's "soundscape" and T-shirts as "walking billboards" to the "packaged innocence" of Disney and adrenaline action movies. From the late Lance Loud on the once-controversial An American Family (1973) to Jennifer Ringley's webcam "life performance", media has escalated to a "nonstop spectacle" in an ever-accelerating "McWorld." Gitlin writes with flair and humor in this valuable, thought-provoking take on how--and why--media has become "central to our civilization." (Mar.)

Sven Birkerts
At once savvy and impassioned,Todd Gitlin writes with inner-sanctum authority about how our newly ramified systems,computers and media,are transfiguring our accepted sense of the world. He is one of the disciplined,one of the unenchanted: He gets it frighteningly right.
Thomas Frank
Here it is: the biggest cultural question of our time. How are we to live in 'the torrent' — the never-ceasing,never-slowing flow of mass-produced words and sounds and images that these days makes up nearly the entirety of human experience? Todd Gitlin traces all the arguments,tests all the responses,and suggests a verdict that is both intelligent and humane.
Mark Crispin Miller
This is a wise book,well-informed and well-observed. If the media torrent doesn't sweep us all away,it will be in part because Todd Gitlin has so lucidly (and wittily encouraged us to keep our heads,and use them.
Naomi Klein
We owe a profound thanks to Todd Gitlin for opening our eyes to a phenomenon that is so omnipresent it can seem invisible. Media is not just what we see on TV,it is the infrastructure in which we live our lives,not just 'content' but environment. Gitlin is our expert environmental guide through this modern wilderness,a place where rivers flow with projected images,forests are thickets of sounds,and the sky is filled with advertisements.
Dave Eggers
Many of us,when reading books of extraordinary acuity,feel the need to put exclamation points in the margins when we've read something that sweeps us up with its brilliance. Gitlin's work always does this,but Media Unlimited might be the most demanding of margin-defacement. Media Unlimited is enthralling; it's actually a pageturner; and its unbroken chain of plain and unavoidable truths makes it essential — and,happily,vastly entertaining — reading.
Library Journal
Gitlin, a longtime student of society and media (as seen most recently in The Twilight of Common Dreams), begins his latest book with the premise that the media are a central part of contemporary everyday life. He speculates that the common error of referring to the media in the singular reflects our experience of what seems to be a seamless entity. The prevalence of media makes it impossible to separate the stream of images, stories, and sounds from daily life. Focusing on the big picture, Gitlin traces the role of media in making life in the modern world bearable. The consequences of living in this artificial world of "disposable feelings" is a disengagement from social and political involvement. Gitlin categorizes individual styles of navigating media into those of the fans, the paranoids, the exhibitionists, the ironists, the jammers, the secessionists, and the abolitionists. He does not advocate a particular style, nor does he argue that we can or should return to an earlier time. He simply asks that we step back and reflect on the media as a central condition of our entire way of life. This challenging book should be purchased by academic and large public libraries. Judy Solberg, George Washington Univ. Lib., Washington, DC Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Thousands and thousands of channels, but nothing on. Instead of bemoaning that fact or celebrating it in an explosion of incomprehensible post-pastiche euphoria, Gitlin (Cultural Studies/NYU; The Twilight of Common Dreams, 1995, etc.) sets out to examine the structural role that media proliferation plays in the late-industrial world. Early on, Gitlin promises a grand summation and uses that lofty goal as a means of avoiding tiresome specificity. Unfortunately, the lack of specificity sometimes bleeds into a lack of rigor and relevance (at times one could even say coherence). Basically, there are three essays here, and the connections among them are not always clear. The first, and most interesting, is a witty riff on the media "torrent," the paradoxical promises it makes, and the deeply embedded role it plays in a consumerist society. The second patchily examines the role of speed in modern society and ties it into the demand for more media: The faster we can process images and information, the richer our lives are (in both senses of the word). The third, more descriptive than analytical, identifies six ad hoc "styles of navigation" that supposedly describe the strategies that people adopt in their interactions with the media torrent. There's a conclusion that attempts to tie all of this together by throwing around words like "culture" and "democracy," but it feels tacked on. What one's left with, then, is a strange combination of provocative thoughts (speed originally meant "to prosper" and only later took on its present meaning; the goal of the modern media is to efface the media's mediating function by presenting things immediately) and serious navel-gazing (on more than one occasionone gets the sense that we're reading cleaned-up notes that Gitlin took while watching sports on TV). This inconsistency would be less disappointing if the author weren't fighting over his chosen piece of analytical turf with a heap of other, more systematically compelling writers, many of whom he happily cites. Diffuse.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805048988
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/28/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.18 (w) x 9.62 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia
University and the author of twelve other books, including The Sixties, Inside Prime Time, The Twilight of Common Dreams, and The Bulldozer and the Big Tent. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

For all the talk, and the talk about the talk, the big story about the media slips through our fingers. The huge, obvious but weird and hard-to-grasp reality is that living with the media is today one of the main things human beings do. The most important truth about the communications we live among is not that they deceive (which they do); or that they broadcast a limiting ideology (which they do); or emphasize sex and violence (which they do); or convey diminished images of the good, the true, and the normal (which they do); or corrode the quality of art (which they also do); or reduce language (which they surely do), but that with all their lies, skews, and shallow pleasures, they surround and seep into our way of life with a promise of feeling-always there, speeding forward, flashing out of large screens and small, gushing forth in living rooms, or sliding back into the background of life, but always beckoning, always coursing onward.

"Candid, courageous, and eloquent....Strong stuff, badly in need of saying."-Tamar Jacoby, The New York Times Book Review on The Twilight of Common Dreams

"Admirable....Tells more of the truth about its complex, quintessentially American subject than any book I know."-Susan Sontag on The Sixties

"Perhaps the best book ever written about the thinking of the insulated men and women in the executive suites of Century City, Burbank, and Television City."-Los Angeles Times on Inside Prime Time

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 Supersaturation, or, The Media Torrent and Disposable Feeling 12
2 Speed and Sensibility 71
3 Styles of Navigation and Political Sideshows 118
4 Under the Sign of Mickey Mouse & Co 176
Notes 211
Acknowledgments 243
Index 245
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2002

    Fascinating Look At Media Effect On Consciousness!

    In this wry and perceptive tome, sociologist and social critic Todd Gitlin takes aim at the plethora of ways in which the modern electronic media has become such an integral part of our cultural environment that it acts to influence us in a number of important and substantive ways. In an argument reminiscent of both Karl Marx and c. Wright Mills, he writes convincingly of the insidious influence such media influence acts to rearrange our social, economic, and even psychic awareness of everything around us. Therefore, he argues, our very feelings and ideas are saturated by and therefore encumbered with, a dose of supersaturated information-rich data, and it is difficult to understand where the influence ends and we as substantive human beings begin. For what is coming at us is a revolutionary force, a virtual torrent of information hurtling down on us with increasing speed. This onslaught of media-propelled information has become a flood of images, data, and symbols we are scarcely aware of in terms of its ability to influence and guide us in our daily lives and the degree to which we carry it around with us as perceptive baggage. In this sense we are manipulated to an unknown extent by this baggage and by the predisposition to seeing the world in a certain way. Seen in this way, it threatens our individuality and our ability to participate meaningfully in a democratic setting. So, while it is commonplace to observe that the media surrounds us in all we say and do, it is less well understood how profoundly this media presence affects us in almost every aspect of our lives. Few critics point out the degree to which this immersion in a world flooded by media manipulation of every element of social, economic, and political phenomena, or what this immersion does to us individually in terms of our own ability to perceive the truth, or to our own critical thinking or cognitive functioning. Just as C. Wright Mills warned of the potential for political evil rising from the domination of the mass society stemming from the media's ability to slant social perceptions, Gitlin points out the degree to which our habitual reliance on the media for most of the information we need and use to conduct every aspect of our lives also makes us a prisoner of the quality of the information we are given in viewing the outside world or even ourselves. This is a terrific book, one that takes an intriguing look at certain elements of out media and how it affects as citizens, companions, and individuals. Enjoy!

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