Media in Transition
digital revolution has generated competing visions of apocalyptic
transformation. In one recurring scenario, we stand on the
cusp of a technological utopia where emerging communications
systems foster participatory democracy and give all citizens
access to an infinite range of commercial services, audio-visual
texts, job training, libraries, universities. The alternative
to such optimism envisions an on-line culture of chaos,
instability and greed in which pornographic images corrupt
children and challenge parental authority, information is
commodified and available only to those who can pay, political
discourse is balkanized by extremists, and human experience
itself is "denatured" or displaced by the virtual
reality of computer screens.
utopian and dystopian visions were notable features of earlier
moments of cultural and technological transition: the advent
of the printing press, the development of still photography,
the telegraph, the telephone, the motion picture, broadcast
television. In these and other instances of media in transition,
the actual relations between emerging technologies and their
ancestor systems proved to be more complex, often more congenial
and always less suddenly disruptive than initially predicted.
seeks to bring a needed historical perspective to current
discussions of media change. Our conferences create a common
space for conversation and comparison between historians
engaged in the study of those earlier historical moments
and innovators shaping the future direction of digital media.
Our research seeks a middle ground between technophobia
and technophilia, one that promises a more pragmatic and
historically-grounded assessment of the directions changes
are leading us.