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Digital Media

Transformations in Human Communication

Edited By Paul Messaris and Lee Humphreys

The age of digital media has given rise to a new social world. It is a world in which the transmission of information from the few to the many is steadily being supplanted by the multi-directional flow of facts, lies, and ideas. It is a world in which hundreds of millions of people are voluntarily depositing large amounts of personal details in publicly accessible databases. It is a world in which interpersonal relationships are increasingly being conducted in the virtual sphere. Above all, this is a world that seems to be veering off in unpredictable ways from the trends of the immediate past. This book is a probing examination of that world, and of the changes that it has ushered into our lives.

In more than thirty essays by a wide range of scholars, this must-have second edition examines the impact of digital media in six areas – information, persuasion, community, gender and sexuality, surveillance and privacy, and cross-cultural communication – and offers an invaluable guide for students and scholars alike. With one exception, all essays are completely new or revised for this volume.

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Chapter 6: Digital Media, Information Technology, and the Electric Circuit (Lance Strate)


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Digital Media, Information Technology, and the Electric Circuit

Lance Strate

For many years, I must admit, I was puzzled by the fact that Marshall McLuhan (1964) characterized number as an extension of our sense of touch. After all, touch is the most concrete and intimate of all of our senses, while numbers are altogether abstract, and governed by cold logic. What could possibly be the connection between the two? My difficulty stemmed from the fact that I was associating the concept of number with higher mathematics of the sort I encountered in writing and print, taking the form of statistical formulae, algebra, and calculus. It was not until I started to think about our most elementary engagement with numbers, namely counting, that I recognized the basic link that McLuhan was pointing to: fingers. We may count on our fingers, touching the fingers of one hand with the index finger of the other. We may count with our fingers, raising one after another in succession. Or we may count by pointing or actually touching a series of objects. And that is why the term digit, from the Latin digitus, originally referring to any finger or toe, later came to refer to the numbers we first learn to count on and with our fingers (and sometimes our toes). That we fall out of touch with the tactile origin of the digital is no surprise, in that McLuhan argued that every extension...

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