Changing Media, Changing Us

By merging many formerly distinct knowledge situations, electronic media have been breaking down the boundaries among various disciplines, opening new dialogues, and fostering the development of cross-disciplinary areas of study (Meyrowitz, p. 327). Meyrowitz extends this observation past television and even computerized information to include video games, which often "involve multiple lines of action, increasing speed, and increasing rate of increasing speed" (p. 326), all of which are at odds with the unilinear form of print media.

Video games, Meyrowitz speculates, may be "introducing our children to a different way of thinking that involves the integration of multiple variables and overlapping lines of simultaneous actions" (p. 326, my emphasis).

While Meyrowitz is eager to assert that electronic media in general and television in particular have greatly reduced the influence that time and location used to have on what people knew (or could know) -- with the result that such media have reorganized the social settings, and hence the public and private behavior, of humanity -- he stops short of claiming that those media have already changed the way we think.

But if the transition from orality to literacy entailed a change in human thinking (Ong, 1982), it is not unreasonable to suppose that the transition from "the one-thing-at-a-time, one-thing-after-another, and take-time-to-think world of reading" (Meyrowitz, p. 326) to the world of interconnected layered matrices of information, continual superimposition of images (unavoidably promoting associations and inferred relationships), and "electric speed" (McLuhan, p. 91) will likewise give rise to some alteration in thought.

Related ideas at other Web sites:

Theories about how our communications media rewire our brains are explored in The Rise of the Image the Fall of the Word (Oxford, 1998), by Mitchell Stephens. More a media book than a "brain book," it builds a skillful argument for how we absorb and process non-textual (that is, non-alphabetic) information from print, movies, and video. Original and very readable.

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Cybermedia, by Mindy McAdams
Copyright © 1993, 1995 by Mindy McAdams. All Rights Reserved.
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