- Paperback: 231 pages
- Publisher: McFarland (September 2, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0786465603
- ISBN-13: 978-0786465606
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,434,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The New Media Invasion: Digital Technologies and the World They Unmake
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About the Author
John David Ebert is the author of four previous books and has published essays in such periodicals as the Antioch Review, Utne Reader, Parabola, and Whole Earth. He has also been a featured scholar on A&E's Ancient Mysteries.
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True to the book's subtitle, Ebert sees history as a natural progression of new technologies unmaking old. His brief history lessons in this regard are enlightening. For example, he points out that the technology of what we recognize as a "book" progressed from clay (earth) to papyrus (plant) to parchment (animal) and finally to paper (wood). There's a reductive logic there that had escaped me, on display throughout the entire book. He strips away to the essence, shows what you already know in a new light.
Ebert "attempts to follow the countours of the structure of the process whereby one world disintegrates while another takes it place" (p. 3). The word "contours" here is an interesting choice, because his survey is not exhaustive --nor does it attempt to be. Rather than showing us what the technologies are, he uses them to show us what our central myths are.
Chapters include Amazon, Youtube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Wikileaks, Macintosh, digital photography, video games, drones, and a strange new egg-shaped isolation chamber called the Ovei.
Building on McLuhan, Ebert sees all of this technology not merely as an extension of the human body and senses, but as a natural extension of capitalism itself. For example, Amazon.com is "simply making explicit what had been merely implicit in capitalism all along: namely the desire to remove...the real world of goods...into an abstract realm all its own -- a virtual flowing river -- an amazon of pure decoded flows" (p. 32).
This is not the global village, but the global hive, with each person connected via digital devices to the hive mind. The individual, "wrapped in his cozy womb of electronic pleasure is all that is left of a once great civilization" (p. 171).
Ebert argues that humans are moving beyond books, beyond the tangible, concrete, and elemental, to the fleeting, the ghostly, the ethereal.
Luminous technology, the desire to turn living things into light, is at least as old as medieval stained glass, and history has finally realized the ultimate illuminated manuscript in the form of a computer screen. Thus the image of St. Jerome on the cover of the book, poring over a book tilted at the exact same angle as an iPad. This is at the heart of the book in Part II, Chapter 7, "The Mythology and Metaphysics of the MacIntosh."
The mythology in question is what Ebert calls the "great myth of Western civilization," the Wonder Child vs. the Elder. At its inception, the 20-something Achilles defeats the aging Agamemnon in the Iliad.
Fast forward three millenia to 1984 and Steve Jobs' commercial introducing the MacIntosh computer. An Olympic athlete throws a hammer into the face of Big Brother, representing IBM, and starts a revolution. As a result of this revolution, "when you are using a MacIntosh, you have entered inside the mind of Steve Jobs, a realm composed of subtle images and graphics not centered around the power of the Word -- Jobs was a college dropout --but around the Image" (p. 123).
Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Julian Assange, all are depicted as Wonder Children worshipping the new, disregarding and even despising the old, the traditional. The assumption here is that these men will one day become what they despise, the Elders, and the great myth will replay itself again with new technologies.
The author ends on a hopeful note, saying that one day we will wonder what we were ever worried about.
How can any culture so constituted as to worship youth and newness, and despise the old and traditional, be considered conservative? Ebert argues that it's not. This is just one of many startling and unpredictable perspectives he offers based on what he has identified as our central myth.
I have read all of Mr. Ebert's books and listened to many of his lectures, and I am continually amazed at the depth and breadth of his insights. This book is quite different in character from his previous book, "Dead Celebrities, Living Icons," but similarly shows a considerable intellect growing in scope and ambition.
My only critique of this book is that the broad scope makes it hard to boil down into pithy arguments or epigrams. The above synopsis barely scratches the surface. Try explaining this book to a friend and you might need a while. On the positive side, there's a lot there, a lot to process, a lot of thought invested for the money you will spend.
Also, because the book is "following contours," it lacks a single central argument and therefore often feels more like a journey than a destination.
Come to think of it, the organization of the chapters felt a bit arbitrary. Why was Amazon chosen first for discussion, for example? Come to think of it, none of the first four soft technologies profiled would exist without the hard technology of the Mac or the PC. Yet they all appear together as equals. The author might have presented them in chronological order, or order of importance, heck, even alphabetical order -- but as they stand, the chapters feel a bit like a compilation of separate articles.
These are minor quibbles, in no way qualifying my recommendation to BUY THIS BOOK. Yet I believe they point to the fact that Ebert's best work may be yet-to-come.
How does Ebert continue to break new ground? While McLuhan explains humans in terms of their extensions, Ebert explains our technologies in terms of our central myths. He goes to the heart of the matter. In that sense he is deeper than McLuhan. Whereas McLuhan offers polished gems of epigrams, Ebert goes deep and strikes veins of gold from every angle possible.
John David Ebert can already turn a phrase -- and I believe he has the potential to break through the public consciousness with this and future books. Highly recommended. ****
Donning Laocoon's robe, Ebert echoes Neil Postman's call for prudence; new technologies, no matter how innocuous, displace traditional methods. Before complete assimilation of new technologies, there is an economic, social and psychological disruption within the culture. This disconnect, Ebert contends, should be more closely scrutinized as a likely culprit for our current Great Recession; capitalism is struggling to adapt to abstractions. Presumptive? Perhaps. Ebert's work, however, forces the reader to an inescapable conclusion: Western culture is under attack.
Our linearly organized and materially substantialized world is being eroded by an electronic fog of digitized information. The bookstore's economic foundation has been reduced to rubble by this website. And thanks to e-readers, such as The Kindle, books too, Ebert predicts, will go the way of cuneiform tablets and Egyptian scrolls, With YouTube's sheer existence challenging copyright integrity and WikiLeaks' sheer audacity challenging multinational corporations and the nations that harbor them, there doesn't seem to be a safe port in this electronic storm.
Sadly, Ebert offers no short-term solutions to surviving this media metamorphosis. To his credit, though, he does not issue a clarion call for "bedgraggled retreats" or espouse a Luddite-like affinity for outdated tools. The author only points to the articulation of this crisis in some of our finest films and novels as a potential source for individual catharsis and acceptance. Appreciation of modern art is merely a form of palliative care; Ilium's high walls couldn't stop this invasion.
John David Ebert proclaims "the Wonder Child's struggle against the Elders" as THE Western myth. Our constant desire for innovation has allowed us to reject the wishes of our elders, tradition, for centuries. Acceptance of new ideas, no matter the potential harm, is interwoven into our cultural DNA. We love new toys, even Trojan Horses.