New Media Have Always Been Criticized, Especially by the Old Media That Feel Threatened by Them


Dear readers,

I have been offline for about a week in the process of moving, which is still not entirely complete (try moving a library of 10,000 or so books; e-texts have their advantages). But life is getting back to normal and I will try to re-establish regular postings to this blog. This recent article in The Atlantic, which cites Marshall McLuhan, makes an important point – that new technologies have always been criticized, especially by the old media that feel threatened by them. Such critiques are usually premature and inhibit understanding, which is why McLuhan avoided making them, at least after The Mechanical Bride (1951), telling the 1969 Playboy interviewer that “I neither approve nor disapprove. I merely try to understand”………Alex

In 1858, People Said the Telegraph Was ‘Too Fast for the Truth’

Sound familiar?   –    JUL 28, 2014

Illustration of the laying of the transatlantic telegraph cable ( Library of Congress )

Perusing The New York Times archives a few days ago, I stumbled upon a delightful news nugget from 1858 about the “benefits and evils” of the transatlantic telegraph—delightful, because it reads like it could have been written today by a print nostalgist about the benefits and evils of the Internet.

Just try replacing “telegraphic intelligence” with “Twitter” or “online news,” and you’ll see what I mean:

“Superficial, sudden, unsifted, too fast for the truth, must be all telegraphic intelligence. Does it not render the popular mind too fast for the truth? Ten days bring us the mails from Europe. What need is there for the scraps of news in ten minutes? How trivial and paltry is the telegraphic column?”


“Has the Internet been overhyped?” the Times asked in 1994. Twenty years later, though we’re still debating its benefits and its evils, the answer is clearly no. 

Looking back, it seems that anxiety about technological advances is often wrapped up in how a new technology disrupts our expectations about time—it’s too fast!—and control. Marvels in modern technology have repeatedly connected us in ways that once seemed impossible. And it is that connectivity—the sense of something bigger than the individual, the networks that upend perspectives of time and scale—that makes so many people uneasy. Here’s how media scholar Marshall McLuhan put it in a 1979 lecture

What is desperately needed is a kind of understanding of the media which would permit us to program the whole environment. If you understand the nature of these forms, you can neutralize some of their adverse effects and foster some of their beneficent effects.

Or maybe it’s just that people like what they know. And that humans, for as inventive and adaptable as we are, don’t always like change. McLuhan explained that it was, back in 1979, as it is now: “Nostalgia is the name of the game in every part of our world today.” Read the full article at .

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