Identity, Organization, and Public Life in the Age of Small Digital Devices and Big Digital Domains

By (author) Robert C. MacDougall

Publication date:

16 December 2011

Length of book:

320 pages


Fairleigh Dickinson University Press

ISBN-13: 9781611474398

The shift from orality to literacy that began with the invention of the phonetic alphabet, and which went into high-gear with Gutenberg’s printing press more than 500 years ago, helped make the modern world. Some commentators have argued that this shift from orality to literacy marked a much broader, cultural shift of cataclysmic proportions. Today, with everything from e-mail to blogs, iPods and podcasts, through Google, Yahoo, eBay, and with cutting-edge smart phones, we find ourselves developing relationships with these newest communication tools that aren’t simply allowing us to communicate faster, farther and with more ease than ever before. We aren’t just moving around ideas, data, and information at unimaginable speed and scale. Our interminglings and fusions with digital communication technologies are also altering both individual and group consciousness in fundamental ways—how we form and sustain relationships, how we think and perceive, what it means to see and to feel. We are remaking human identity once more, and manufacturing a new kind of culture along the way. The processes bound up in our digination may well be consequential to the trajectory of human evolution.

That time-honored trope: the notion that technology is not the problem, rather, it’s how people use technology that’s the problem is shown to be wanting. Highlighting Marshall McLuhan’s “tetrads” or laws of media as a primary tool of analysis, R.C. MacDougall argues in line with other media ecologists that it’s not so much how we use certain tools that matters, it’s that we use them. More than any other technological form perhaps, communication technologies play particularly powerful and systemic roles in our culture, or any culture for that matter. Late adopters and even abstainers are not exempt from the psychological, social and cultural effects (and side-effects) of modern digital communication technology. While there are certainly varying degrees of immersion—that is to say, while some of us live in the high-rise downtown district, some at the city limits, and still others out in the proverbial “woods"—we all live in Digination today.
Digination's core premise is that technology impacts everyone in many ways—socially, culturally, politically, and psychologically. Life in a digital nation is not simply a reality where humans utilize technology. Conversely, technology is an agent that affects people both individually and collectively as a society. Through a media ecologist's lens, MacDougall (Curry College) weaves theory, empirical data, and his own perspective into an account of technology and its influence on humankind. The volume, part of the publisher's "Communication Studies" series, is divided into 11 chapters. The author begins with an examination of the contributions of media theorist Marshall McLuhan, whose influence is evident throughout the work. The core of the book consists of seven chapters, each focusing on an individual technology. E-mail, blogs, search engines, personal music devices, podcasts, laptops, and eBay take their turn as subjects in this examination. Finally, an appendix of McLuhan tetrads or charts that visually represent the societal effects of individual technologies closes the book. An interesting, timely analysis of the human relationship with the machine. Summing Up: Recommended.