Soft Edge:Nat Hist&Future Info

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Overview

The Soft Edge is a one-of-a-kind history of the information revolution. In his lucid and direct style, Paul Levinson, historian and philosopher of media and communications, gives us more than just a history of information technologies. The Soft Edge is a book about theories on the evolution of technology, the effects that human choice has on this (r)evolution, and what's in store for us in the future.
Boldly extending and deepening the pathways blazed by McLuhan, Paul Levinson has provided us with a brilliant and exciting study of life with our old media, our new media, and the media still to come.

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Editorial Reviews

Wired
Remarkable in both scholarly sweep and rhetorical lyricism. . .what first promises to be the digital Origin of the Species turns out to be a sequel to The Odyssey: media's progress is presented as an epic journey toward freedom, unseating censors along the way.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Those who think the "information revolution" of the subtitle refers only to the current electronic transformation, will be surprised to discover how big a piece of history Levinson bites off. In this philosophical ramble, Levinson, who teaches at Hofstra University and the New School for Social Research, and, as president of Connected Education, offers graduate courses on the Internet, reaches back to the invention of the alphabet. In early chapters on the development of the printing press in China, public education in America and such 19th-century inventions as photography, Levinson spreads the paint pretty thin. But when he homes in on specific technologies (telephone, electricity, radio, computer) he does offer original insights about how various media respond to basic human needs and characteristics. Some media survive better than others because they occupy important cultural-ecological niches and seem natural to human sensory perception. For instance, the radio, which provides background noise, fits with pre-technological human habits, whereas television, which must be attended to with eyes open, does not. Another valuable idea is that of "remedial" technologies that make up for deficiencies of others: the VCR, for example, compensates for the fleetingness of television images. There are interesting ideas here, but they are often obscured by sticky prose: e.g. "[T]he icon's re-enlistment of the hieroglyphic for communication service far less peripheral than road-signs partakes of a rear-view mirror reaching so far back into the past for its inspiration as to seem like the Hubble, except quite the reverse of forward and outward in its outlook."
Library Journal
Readers interested in history, technology, politics, or the limitations of cyberspace may now all clamber aboard for a grand tour of communications media and their effect on our personal and social lives. Levinson, president of Connected Education and a frequent contributor to Wired and The Village Voice, deftly guides us on a cogent review of everything from the alphabet and its impact on monotheistic religion to the printing press and its shaping of Columbus's voyage to the New World, concluding with (what else?) a crackerjack essay about cyberspace and "the feel of knowledge." Smart, spare, yet deep, and heartily recommended. -- Geoff Rotunno, Tri-Mix Magazine, Goleta, California
Library Journal
Readers interested in history, technology, politics, or the limitations of cyberspace may now all clamber aboard for a grand tour of communications media and their effect on our personal and social lives. Levinson, president of Connected Education and a frequent contributor to Wired and The Village Voice, deftly guides us on a cogent review of everything from the alphabet and its impact on monotheistic religion to the printing press and its shaping of Columbus's voyage to the New World, concluding with (what else?) a crackerjack essay about cyberspace and "the feel of knowledge." Smart, spare, yet deep, and heartily recommended. -- Geoff Rotunno, Tri-Mix Magazine, Goleta, California
Booknews
Levinson, a historian and philosopher of media and communications, describes the history of information technologies within the context of theories on the evolution of technology, the effects that human choice has on this evolution, and what's in store in the future. He presents an intriguing argument that technology is becoming more human. Thought-provoking and accessible for general readers and students. The author's essays on media theory have appeared in publications including Wired and The Village Voice.
Kirkus Reviews
The "soft edge" of the title refers to the intangibles surrounding technology's impact on society. The second half of this overview of the development of information techonology gets mired down in elaborating on this definition, to the study's detriment. The "natural history" offered by Levinson, an educator and writer (New School for Social Research) takes the study of information from the dawn of written language to word processing, showing, for instance, how radio, which would presumably be replaced by television, survived by finding its niche with rock 'n' roll—something TV could never offer on the same scale. The implications that Levinson derives from the first part of his study, stressing the ways in which new media have always had a profound impact on human society, are often thought-provoking though sometimes unconvincing. For instance, Levinson ties the success of monotheism to the Israelites, who had an alphabet, as opposed to earlier monotheistic Egyptians, who had hieroglyphics and, thus, lower literacy rates. However, the assertion that the ancient Egyptians ever were monotheistic is only a theory, and is not substantial enough to build yet other theories on, which Levinson repeatedly attempts to do. Further pitfalls await the author as he attempts to attack the World Wide Web and artificial intelligence. His arguments increasingly ignore the larger impact of new information technology on contemporary society altogether, instead addressing such seemingly unrelated topics as copyright law, author compensation, and online education. Levinson's sprawling investigation and proliferating theories lessen the strength of his clever final chapter, which uses instant coffee asan ingenious metaphor for information—you can describe it, he says, and it is an efficient way to transport a product, but if you can't taste it, what good is it? Levinson should have excised the chapters that don't tie in with his central theme. As it stands, The Soft Edge is too soft, and without taste.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780415197724
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 10/1/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
1 Introduction 1
2 The First Digital Medium: The alphabet and the rise of monotheism 11
3 The Printed Authorship of the Modern World 21
4 The Age of Photography and the Ageless Image 37
5 Telegraphy: The suspect messenger 49
6 Telephone: The toy that roared 59
7 Electricity: The book's best friend 69
8 Radio: All together now 78
9 Survival of the Media Fit: Radio, motion pictures, and TV in human ecological niches 91
10 Remedial Media: Views via VCR and window 104
11 Word Processing and Its Masters 115
12 The Online Author as Publisher and Bookstore 125
13 Hypertext and Author/Reader Inversions 136
14 The Open Web and Its Enemies 148
15 Twentieth-Century Screens 162
16 Paper Futures 174
17 Electronic Watermarks: A high profile for intellectual property in the digital age 187
18 Artificial Intelligence in Real Life 205
19 You Can't Touch That in Cyberspace 222
Bibliography 233
Index 243
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