Popular writing about the media resounds with rhetoric of techno-glory or apocalypse. Brian Winston argues that this “information revolution” is an illusion, a consequence of deep misunderstandings about electronic media, their development, diffusion, and present forms. Technology does not determine in an absolute way the course of human history; humans do. But we cannot hope to come to terms with the future impact of communications technologies without a clear understanding of our immediate technological past.
With lively and iconoclastic style, Brian Winston explains the development and diffusion of four central technologies—telephones, television, computers, and satellites. On the basis of these historical accounts, he formulates a model of how communications technologies are introduced into society in such a way as to prevent their disruption of the status quo. He convincingly demonstrates that the radical potential of each new technology has been suppressed by its development for specific and narrowly defined applications. Powerful historical patterns emerge as Winston moves from one medium to the next in his compelling study. This provocative book demonstrates that technology in itself is not subversive: television cannot rot our brains or destroy our morals. But to the extent that we allow ourselves to feel overwhelmed by an imaginary information revolution, we relinquish our control over what could be if not liberating, at least very useful forms of communication.