- Hardcover: 260 pages
- Publisher: Metropolitan Books; 1 edition (2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805048987
- ISBN-13: 978-0805048988
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 16 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,424,182 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives 1st Edition
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From Library Journal
From Inside Prime Time to too much media: NYU professor Gitlin argues that the Information Age has us marooned emotionally and may threaten democracy.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Gitlin, a professor of journalism and culture, examines why and how it has come about that so much of our time is spent being bombarded by communications, information, and entertainment from a variety of media. Gitlin wants to avoid the typical analysis of the effects of the media on society and, instead, looks at the media as an experience in itself, with no definitive meaning necessarily attached, analyzing the feelings elicited by a stream of information. He concedes that his objective is a gamble, but it pays off. Citing observations by Marx, de Tocqueville, Orwell, and a stream of others, Gitlin offers a short, dizzying history of how we got to the point where we are supersaturated with a torrent of information coming at us at incredible speed. The author explores how we manage and have even begun to resist media saturation, as we step back, take a breath, and consider "what we want to do about it besides change channels." Readers interested in contemporary media and culture will enjoy this absorbing book. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Despite the contention that the onrush of media content meets basic psychological needs, the author also acknowledges that this "nonstop" flow requires a variety of coping stratagems, or "navigational styles." The Fan, the Content Critic, the Paranoid, the Exhibitionist, the Ironist, the Jammer, the Seccessionist, and the Abolitionist are approaches identified by author that are used to deal with the onslaught of the media. But only the Fan is fully accepting of the "immediacy" of the media. No breakdown of the distribution of these various types across the general population is provided. Oddly enough, it appears that most media users must adopt defensive measures to deal with a media that satisfies fundamental needs.
The author is concerned that the main truth about the media, as a whole, has been "disguised." But characterizing the media with a broad brush does not seem to take into account substantial differences. Distinctions can certainly be made between various media or media content that are geared to providing primarily either entertainment, advertising, interpersonal communication, or information and even education. Surely those engaged in telephone conversations, watching PBS programs, or shopping on the Internet would have different expectations about experiencing a "jolt of feeling," not to mention the differing capacity of the various media to even provide a jolt.
The aggressive consolidation of the media industry into only a few media empires has been a concern of many media analysts ( for one, see "Rich Media, Poor Democracy," by Robert McChesney ) for some time now. They see an ability and desire on the part of these huge enterprises to control content in a manner that is not favorable to the interests of public. But this author downplays the one-sided nature of the production of media content: "our desires are [not] the unwelcome products of vast corporations." Of course, the author suggests that the manipulation of emotions is a legitimate and needed function of the media. His rightful claim that media oligopolies do adapt somewhat to consumer demand is not a serious encroachment on the contention that the media oligopolies make every effort to control content.
Those familiar with the work of Stuart Ewen, "Captains of Consciousness," would be well aware of the tremendous push undertaken by retailing giants in the 1920s to create a consumer society. Both the desire to attain a middle-class materialistic standard and the fear of not measuring up to one's neighbors were to be subtly inculcated via media advertising. Advertisers' demands then and now are for the media to deliver targeted consumers. For their part, the media adopt policies of "safe" programming, whereby media content is rid of controversy or significant questioning of the status quo. The programming found on commercial television, the most influential and watched medium at the end of the 20th century, can be described as simplistic, juvenile, smart-alecky, happy-talk, contentious, episodic, fragmented, self-righteous, and personalized. The emphasis on quickly shifting images and shortened dialogue goes hand-in-hand with the trivialization of programming content and easily fits within a description of torrential media.
The author admits that the nature of the media "reduces democracy to a sideshow," where political proceedings appear as no more than a rush of images and of sound-bites. In addition, studies have shown that television viewing is highly correlated with reduced political participation of all forms. But demobilization is hardly the largest impact that the media have on the political process. A democratic society depends on free and full information flows. But the media, and in particular television, present a highly sanitized picture of American life; the kind of programming described earlier makes no room for controversial topics such as the various effects that capitalism has on the greater society, the penetration of the political process by corporations, workplace issues and representation, the healthcare system - in other words, issues that impact real people every day in their lives. Beyond the skew due to omission are deliberate, though subtle, distortion effects such as employing mostly conservative political commentators or mischaracterizing the arguments of advocacy groups such as labor unions or environmentalists.
The author at one point is hopeful that there will be "fights over who gets to harness media power, over censorship, over improving content and broadening access." But his argument is not that; he maintains throughout the book that the media has evolved to meet real social needs for sensation and stimulus, not information. The kind of information that democratic citizens need to make wise choices will not be obtained where media oligopolies knowingly trivialize and distort the content of their products. The history and nature of the media can support the argument that the media are presently constructed to meet the needs of capitalism to sell products and maintain the status quo and only incidentally to meet any deep-seated psychological needs.
It seems that the author has taken some characteristics of the media and drawn some rather irrelevant, if not dubious, conclusions while de-emphasizing the true impact and nature of the media, so says a card-carrying Abolitionist.