Old New Media

From Oral to Virtual Environments

by Paul Grosswiler (Author)
©2013 Textbook X, 333 Pages


Old New Media examines how the introduction of a new medium threatens those accustomed to the old media environment. Taking a media ecology perspective to examine the historical transitions from oral to literate, print, electronic and virtual media environments, the book includes theoretical chapters and case studies in five areas: media ecology; critical media theory; freedom of expression; Eastern thought; and the body and the media environment. The book argues against the «newness« of each new medium, which is often associated with unprecedented technological change, stating that the patterns of change identified with the most recent smartphone or computer are related to the patterns of change in human perception and social affairs that accompany the electronic media environment. It cautions against condemning the new medium with technological horror as the cause of all of our problems or celebrating it as the technological sublime that will cure all our social ills. If we are aware that media are extensions of the human, we can overcome the alienation and shock they cause, and be sensitive to the fluid boundaries between the human and the technological. The book ends by discussing how new media environments disrupt the balance in our lives and suggests strategies to help restore that balance.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Old New Media
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1 The Phaedrus Effect: Patterns of Changing Media Environments
  • Technological Horror, Technological Sublime
  • Resisting “Newness” of New Media
  • Poe’s Maelstrom and Narcissus’s Extended Self
  • Overview and Chapter Summaries
  • Part I: Media Ecology Perspectives
  • Part II: Critical Contours
  • Part III: Freedom of Expression
  • Part IV: Eastern Approaches
  • Part V: The Body and Media Environments
  • Conclusion
  • Part I: Media Ecology Perspectives
  • 2 Media Ecology: Key Theories and Theorists
  • Drawing on Diverse Disciplines
  • Literary Criticism on Media Ecology
  • Media and Culture Causality
  • Critical Theory and Media Ecology
  • Reappraising McLuhan’s Relevance
  • Misunderstanding McLuhan
  • Speed, Cyborgs, and Media Change
  • 3 Carey on McLuhan: Admiration, Rejection, and Redemption
  • Carey’s Views Reflect Changes
  • Media Scholars Rejected McLuhan
  • Carey’s Early Admiration
  • Negative Determinist Interpretation
  • Linking McLuhan and Benjamin
  • Completing Carey’s Transformation
  • Dismissing Determinist Label
  • Reappraisal Not Widely Known
  • 4 World History Narratives: From the “Shrunken World” to the “Global Web”
  • World History Texts
  • General Terms
  • Orality and Literacy
  • Typography
  • Electronic Media
  • Media Ecologists: A Conclusion
  • 5 The Global Village: A Place of Pain, Not Peace
  • Cultural Critique of the Global Village
  • McLuhan Miscues on Global Village
  • Pain of Media Environment Change
  • Global Village Fosters Diversity
  • From Terror to Awareness
  • “Gossip,” “Rumor,” and “Malice”
  • 6 Case Study: Instant Steal! The Media Ecology of Plagiarism
  • Two Plagiarism Experiences
  • Plagiarism Statistics
  • Plagiarism Police and Research Paper Mills
  • Media Ecology Courses and Plagiarism
  • What Media Ecologists Say
  • A Postmodern Rhetorical Perspective
  • Part II: Critical Contours
  • 7 Habermas and the Mediated Shape of the Public Sphere
  • Readings of Habermas and McLuhan
  • The Shape of the Public Sphere
  • Bourgeois Public Sphere/Print Culture
  • Manipulated Public Sphere/Electronic Culture
  • Refeudalization/Retribalization
  • Ideal Speech Situation/Synaesthesia
  • 8 Cross-Breeding Media Ecology and Social Ecology
  • Contours of Social Ecology
  • First and Second Nature
  • Hierarchy and Domination
  • Organic and Mechanistic Society
  • Techné, Technics, and Eco-technology
  • Socially Ecological Communication
  • Comparing Media Ecology and Social Ecology
  • 9 Anarchy in a Technological Society: An Ellulian Perspective
  • Evaluating Ellul: Pessimism, Fatalism, and Determinism
  • Reinterpreting Ellul: Freedom, Resistance, and Anarchy
  • Ellul on Pessimism, Determinism, Fatalism, and Freedom
  • Ellul on Anarchy in a Technological Society
  • 10 Case Study: Understanding Media Anti-Environments
  • Media Ecology and Media Anti-Environments
  • Emerging Media Anti-Environments
  • The Internet as Media Anti-Environment
  • Corporate Media Coverage
  • Anti-War Advertising
  • Newspaper Editorial Positions
  • Conclusion
  • Part III: Freedom of Expression
  • 11 Free Speech in Changing Media Environments
  • Free Speech in the Modern World
  • Toward a Postmodern World
  • Free Speech in a Postmodern World
  • 12 Media Cultures and Hate Speech
  • Spheres of Consensus, Controversy, Deviance
  • Civil Rights Advocacy and Free Expression
  • Gay Rights and Free Speech
  • Core Gay Rights Issues
  • Gay Rights Court Cases
  • Holocaust Denial and Free Speech
  • Confronting Holocaust Denial
  • Distorting Holocaust Research
  • Conclusion
  • 13 Case Study: “Burn the Flag! Earn Extra Credit!”
  • Flag-Burning Background
  • Case Study: The First Day of Class
  • University, Radical Right Activists, and Media
  • Hate E-Mails
  • Islands of Support
  • Weblog Salvos and Salves
  • Conclusion
  • Part IV: Eastern Approaches
  • 14 Contradictions of Media Ecology on China
  • Exploring the Chinese Cultural Matrix
  • Cultural Oceans and Marshes
  • McLuhan and Media Ecology in China
  • 15 Dispelling the Alphabet Effect
  • The Alphabetic Literacy Argument
  • Challenging the Alphabetic Literacy Theory
  • Alternative Narratives of the East
  • Conclusion
  • 16 The Tao of Media Ecology
  • Media Ecology and Balance
  • Comparing Taoism and Media Ecology
  • 1. Balance and Harmony
  • 2. Tao and Media as Structuring Principles
  • 3. Humanism
  • 4. Environmental Patterns
  • 5. Constant Change
  • Conclusion
  • 17 Case Study: Tai Chi and Media Ecology
  • Tai Chi as Biospiritual Cultivation
  • Tai Chi and Taoism
  • “Playing” Tai Chi Connects Earth, Body, Sky
  • Yang Style of Tai Chi
  • “Tai Chi Remedy”
  • Part V: The Body and Media Environments
  • 18 Virtual Media Voices: “Isn’t It Nice to Have a Computer That Will Talk to You?”
  • Sound of the Human Voice
  • Talking Computers: From HAL to Siri
  • Orality vs. Literacy
  • The Nature of Sound vs. Sight
  • Secondary Orality
  • Virtual Orality
  • 19 Probing the Shifting Sensorium: Q-Methodology and Media Environments
  • Media Ecology Dissertations
  • Q-Methodology
  • A Q-Method Study of Media Environments
  • Literature Items
  • Music Items
  • Visual Art Items
  • Popular Culture Items
  • Findings
  • Factor I: The Synaesthesiac
  • Factor II: The Literate Oralist
  • Factor III: The Anti-Literate Spectator
  • Factor IV: The Literate Stylist
  • Factor Demographics
  • Discussion
  • 20 The Self, Body, and Technology: From Cars to Cataracts
  • Embodying Technology
  • Technologizing the Body
  • Perceptions of Self, Body, and Technology
  • Factor I: Primary Realist
  • Factor II: Techno Communicator
  • Factor III: Techno User
  • Factor IV: Techno Mind
  • Discussion
  • 21 Narcissus and Frankenstein: Technological Sublime, Technological Horror
  • Frankenstein: A Media Ecology Reading
  • Middle Circle: Victor’s Voice
  • Center Circle: The Creature’s Voice
  • Middle Circle: Victor Returns
  • Farewell Speeches
  • A Mutant Memory
  • 22 Case Study: Reading Trollope as a Plea for Typographic Time
  • Mastering Space, Destroying Time
  • Trollope Novels as Braking Mechanism
  • “I Will Take a Week to Think of It”
  • Critical Detachment in the Maelstrom
  • Trollope’s Hybrid Media Culture
  • Conclusion
  • 23 The Phaedrus Effect Redux: Socrates on New Media Environments
  • The Internet and the Loss of Deep Thinking
  • Technological Horror and the Printing Press
  • Media Ecology Writing on Phaedrus
  • Philosophers on Phaedrus
  • Phaedrus and Media Ecology in Dialogue
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index

| vii →

image Acknowledgments

The process of writing this book may be best described as “peripatetic”—the word derives from Aristotle walking about while he was teaching. To properly acknowledge those who assisted this walkabout retraces many of these paths. A genesis of sorts occurred when Lance Strate invited me to a Marshall McLuhan Symposium at Fordham University in 1998, and I was introduced to the media ecology family. Among members of the media ecology family I particularly wish to acknowledge are Lance Strate, who presided over that genesis and much since; Joshua Meyrowitz, who has generously promoted my work in his own writing; Donna Flayhan, who shares a radical interpretation of media ecology; Ray Gozzi, who provided a framework for reading Jacques Ellul; Corey Anton, whose provocative ideas I can sometimes partially fathom; Casey Lum, who brought media ecology to China and Taiwan; Yoni Van Den Eede, who assures me that the body is a medium and who introduced me to McLuhan scholars in Europe; Thom Gencarelli, whose talk about the heavy materiality of the “cloud” inspired me to look into the global village dump for a new project; Fred Wasser, who helped me understand Carey’s life as a teacher; and Janet Sternberg, who encouraged me to serve on the Media Ecology Association board. ← vii | viii →

Tracing my media ecology “peripatetic” to Canada, I also am grateful to Ellen Rose, co-coordinator of the 2010 Media Ecology Convention in Maine who led me to write about how writing made us stupid; Cathy Adams, whose wisdom about curling up with a good book makes an excellent media ecology point; Phil Rose, who carries Innis’s ideas to new depths in an accessible way; and Liss Jeffrey, whose ebullience and energy promoting Canadian media ecology never flagged and always inspires, even though she is no longer with us.

Three leaders of media ecology also deserve my deepest thanks, although they, too, have died: Neil Postman, the patriarch who graciously welcomed a non-New York University outsider; Christine Nystrom, who described my writing as “meta-theory”; and James Carey, who mesmerized, amazed and humbled me with his intellectual breadth and depth, and his generosity and humanity.

Many of these pages originated in written and spoken presentations to academic associations to which I am grateful: the Media Ecology Association, where literally all of these ideas have been spoken; the Canadian Communication Association, which has always been receptive to McLuhan research; the New York State Communication Association, which formed an early nucleus of media ecology interest; and the National Communication Association, which offered me homes in the Freedom of Expression Division and the Spiritual Communication Division. Without these opportunities, much would have withered on the vine, unspoken and unwritten. The Fulbright Scholar Program also granted me a senior scholar position in communication and journalism at Wuhan University in China, where my interest in freedom of expression and Taoism flourished and converged.

In my local community, I owe a debt to the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor, where I started learning tai chi, and whose liberal tradition helped me endure the trauma of the flag-burning discussion aftermath. Among my colleagues at the University of Maine, I am grateful to Michael Grillo, who introduced me to Anthony Trollope, and whose conversations have kept the spark of scholarship alive; Tim Cole, who helps keep a sense of humor alive through morning runs; and Mike Socolow, who shared many media research interests and academic life experiences.

The staff at Peter Lang has artfully managed the electronic media environment of the book. Acquisitions editor Mary Savigar shepherded this ← viii | ix → project from initial conversations, through the proposal and manuscript external review process, and manuscript revisions. Production managers Sarah Stack and Jackie Pavlovic presided over copy-editing, proofreading, and formatting. The Florida Center for Instructional Technology website at the University of South Florida was the source for the Bowen knot image at the beginning of each section. I chose this heraldic symbol for its similarity to illustrations of McLuhan’s four laws of media—extension, obsolescence, retrieval, and reversal. It also is the symbol used on the Macintosh computer command key. I owe special thanks to my sister, Joyce Grosswiler, a graphic artist for a Danish publisher, Klim, who did her brother the honor of designing the book cover. She endured my suggestions, doubts and second thoughts, making our first working relationship one that I hope to repeat.

My family has endured with alternating applause and exasperation throughout the “peripatetic” journey. My daughter, Simone, offers a case study of living in a more balanced way between the physical and virtual media environments; she will happily engage in making origami creatures or a similar activity if denied her computer and video game screens. My son, Leif, offers a case study of thriving in the new digital media environment through a strategy of knowledge and mastery; he leads us into the virtual world in which he is comfortably immersed as a subject of study, balancing its allure with swimming and math. Both are a Phaedra and Phaedrus who offer the wisdom of adjustment, and whom I watch with fascination and love as they grow. My wife, Marie, simultaneously supports and tolerates all the activities and digressions that have taken my time to continue as a “peripatetic.” Without them, this would not have been possible.

| 1 →

image Chapter 1

Introduction: The Phaedrus Effect

Patterns of Changing
Media Environments

New technologies is a historically relative term,” Carolyn Marvin (1988) observed in her classic When Old Technologies Were New (p. 3). The introduction of the telegraph in the 1840s marked the first generation with the “modern” worry about the dramatic changes wrought in people’s lives by new media. The telegraph, which was the first electronic medium, broke with a past dominated by printing. “The computer is no more than an instantaneous telegraph with a prodigious memory,” Marvin wrote, on the latest in a long string of electronic media that “have simply been elaborations on the telegraph’s original work” (p. 3). Marvin only mentioned the printing press briefly, referring to Elizabeth Eisenstein’s (1979) seminal research showing that printing had unintended consequences for religion—instead of definitively settling questions about the Bible, that new fifteenth-century medium gave rise to deep divisions in religion (p. 202).

On the other hand, Marvin (2013) argued that new mobile devices of the “digital revolution” are a “game-changer” on an “epochal scale” (p. 154). In this recent article, Marvin described the “fears and opportunities that are now rising . . . from the shattered foundations of pre-digital social distance” (p. 154). Marvin identified her earlier work’s recounting of ← 1 | 2 → the impact of late nineteenth-century electronic media as part of the “old story” of new media’s transformation of social distance. In the twentieth century, radio and television shrank social distance, bringing outside social forces into the home (p. 155). In response to mobile media today, Marvin called for a revival of “deeper democratic politics” to restore “social trust” as “old boundaries of public and private wither” (p. 157).

Marvin’s study of the “digital transformation” and “mobility turn” (pp. 154-155), however, does not negate her earlier message that the computer is a telegraph with a memory. That message still makes the critical points that all electronic media since the telegraph are part of a historical media environment spanning more than a century, and that today we live in that same media environment. Her claim that this new media environment since the telegraph is qualitatively different than the print media environment that preceded it, on the other hand, contributes to the false sense that our shift to a new media environment is unique, in comparison with the shift from orality to literacy or from literacy to typography.

Equating the computer with the telegraph should be kept in mind when we feel overwhelmed by new media changes, to help us remember that what appears to be new is in reality a recurrence and repetition of patterns that have been established at least since the introduction of the telegraph, a media environment that I suggest calling the Morse Millennium, in honor of the inventor of the telegraph, Samuel Morse. From a media ecology perspective, though, that time frame would be expanded historically to include the transition from the oral media environment to the chirographic, or literate, media environment, and then again to the print media environment. These patterns of response to changing media environments, then, could be extended back to at least the introduction of alphabetic writing in ancient Greece. In honor of the youth Phaedrus, whom Socrates advised about adjusting to the new media environment of writing, this complex of patterns could be called the Phaedrus Effect.

Technological Horror, Technological Sublime

Media ecology perspectives on technology and culture, which this book adopts as its theoretical framework, study patterns of change accompanying the introduction of any new medium. One predictable pattern is responding to a new medium with technological horror; the flip side is ← 2 | 3 → responding with the technological sublime. As Marshall McLuhan (1967) noted in an early example of technological horror, Socrates predicted in Plato’s Phaedrus that the introduction of alphabetic writing in ancient Greece would create “forgetfulness in the learners’ souls,” destroying their memory, and replacing truth with the “semblance of truth” (p. 113). Other examples from media history show the same response of fear that a new medium will have deleterious psychological and social effects.

This book examines how the introduction of a new medium threatens those accustomed to the old media environment, and urges the need for adjustment. As McLuhan (1964) wrote 50 years ago, “electronic technology is within the gates, and we are numb, deaf, blind and mute about its encounter with the Gutenberg technology, on and through which the American way of life was formed” (p. 32). Today, that old electronic global village seems comfortable and quaint, while Google, the Internet, and digital technologies are “within the gates.” We need strategies to help us to adjust in order to survive today’s equivalent of writing in Socrates’ day, rather than condemning the new media environment as the cause of all of our problems, or wildly celebrating it as the cure of all our social ills.

This book will argue against current thinking about the “newness” of each new medium, which we associate with the dizzying speed and alarming rates of technological change. Unlike print media culture, which was relatively stable as the printing press remained unchanged from the mid-1400s until the early 1800s, when technological advances culminating in steam power and the iron press accelerated the speed and scope of printing, the electronic media era has heralded countless changes since the telegraph first sent news from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, and, in the words of newspaper publisher James Gordon Bennett, annihilated space (Folkerts & Teeter, 2002, p. 129). We can easily mark advances in electronic media since the telegraph, from the telephone to radio, film, television, satellites, and computers, capped off by the digital communication “revolution.” The telegraph itself went silent in 2006 (Freierman, 2006), and Morse code is truly a dead language, yet its media environment lives on in the latest smart phone and social medium.

In agreement with Marvin, the argument to be made in this book is that the patterns of change identified with electronic media, starting with the telegraph, are the patterns of change in human perception and social affairs that we can still identify with electronic media up to and ← 3 | 4 → including the Apple iPhone 4, which in 2011 was the fourth model since 2007, with the addition of an interactive voice named “Siri” inside the phone, each creating a frenzy of consumer interest and being released in ever shorter intervals.

Resisting “Newness” of New Media

Perhaps because of this constant innovation, the seductiveness of the newness of Siri and similar media is seldom resisted, and history is given short shrift. This is the case in Paul Levinson’s New New Media (2009), the title of which inspired the present book’s title. For Levinson, himself a trained media ecologist and acquaintance of McLuhan, “new new media” are newer than “new media.” These “new new media” are as unlike the “classic” new media of e-mail and the Web as the earlier new media are from old media, i.e., newspapers and television. In the four years or so before the book was published, the “new new media” did not exist, and now were ubiquitous. The “new new media” at the time included blogging, YouTube, Wikipedia, Digg, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, and podcasts. The defining principles of the “new new media” included: anyone can produce them; most producers are amateurs; and the media are free, among others. Why not call them social media, or Web 2.0 or 3.0? Levinson argued that these are not distinguishing characteristics between new media and new new media. The historical lens provided reaches only as far back as the history of electronic writing and Second Life. This view is so myopic that New New Media is already outdated and a new edition is being planned for 2013. The problem of what to call the next wave of innovation remains unresolved, although the logic suggests “new new new media,” followed by “new new new new media,” and so on, every few years.

Other new media texts do make an effort to be historical, the most successful being similar to Marvin’s sense of the nineteenth century as the brackets of history. Lev Manovich’s (2002) classic Language of New Media claimed a “new media revolution” is happening, as all culture is moving to computer-mediated forms, “much as the printing press in the fourteenth century [sic] century and photography in the nineteenth century had a revolutionary impact” (p. 19). He linked today’s new media to the beginning of computing and the daguerreotype in the 1830s. Martin Lister and his co-authors (2003) promised a historical dimension to their ← 4 | 5 → work on new media—from which they excluded photography and film. They paid lip service to engage with the media histories because “‘old’ media technologies were themselves once new and held enormous significance,” reminding us “that we have been here before. Even printed books were once new” (p. 4). Beyond that, there is no sustained history of new media.

At the beginning of another text bearing a similar title to this one, The New Media Environment, Andrea Press and Bruce Williams (2010) had a media ecology moment as they briefly chronicled the changes between oral culture and print culture, and between print and electronic culture, citing McLuhan and Neil Postman. They then devoted the rest of the book to changes in the media environment in the past 25 years. They defined “media environment” as the specific media being used, and the social, political, and economic environments in which the media are used, including ownership, media use, government regulations, and the like (p. 8). McLuhan is quoted as saying that “[C]hanges in broader communication cultures alter the very structure of human consciousness” (p. 10, citing McLuhan, 1964). The authors also noted the difficulty of being aware of changes in the media environment in which we are living, much like McLuhan quipped that fish are not aware of water. Eric Havelock’s argument is brought to bear with other evidence that alphabetic writing altered human thinking in ancient Greece and later. Plato’s Phaedrus is also mentioned as an example of distrust of the impact of writing. “In order to understand the implications of a new media environment, we need to analyze the ways it structures our own reality,” they argued (p. 12).

Press and Williams (2010) assessed the transformative impact of the telegraph, which severed the tie between communication and transportation (Carey, 1989), and the telegraph’s remarkable ability to send messages without physical form (Peters, 2001). Moving forward in time, the authors detailed Postman’s (1985) critique of television in Amusing Ourselves to Death, contrasting the image-based experiential quality of television with the word-based rationality of Postman’s preferred typographic era of the book.

On the other hand, Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey Pingree (2003), in their edited New Media, 1740–1915, proceeded “from the truism that all media were once new media” to explore the emergence of media in the time period noted in the title. The editors contended that studying what ← 5 | 6 → it meant for old media to be new is a “timely and important cultural task” in order to “seek out the past on its own passed terms” (p. xi). Their goal was to understand “how interpretive communities are built or destroyed, how normative epistemologies emerge” (p. xv). They found that emergent media offer both positive and negative possibilities, as their studies of the zograscope and telephone in Amish communities found, and are rife with “unforeseen consequences” (p. xviii).

Poe’s Maelstrom and Narcissus’s Extended Self


X, 333
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2012 (January)
social affairs ecology Eastern thought human perception Media ecology Technology Alienation Society
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 333 pp.

Biographical notes

Paul Grosswiler (Author)

Paul Grosswiler is the author of Method is the Message: Rethinking McLuhan through Critical Theory (1998) and editor of Transforming McLuhan: Cultural, Critical and Postmodern Perspectives (Peter Lang, 2010), as well as more than 35 scholarly articles and book chapters. He is a professor in the department of communication and journalism at the University of Maine, where he teaches media ecology, media ethics, international mass communication and mass communication history. He was a communication and journalism Fulbright scholar at Wuhan University in China in 2000. He also is the editor of the journal Explorations in Media Ecology. He earned a PhD in journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and worked as a journalist in Missouri and Maine.


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