1.2 Co-evolution of Person and Media

At the moment the sperm of our fathers met the ova of our mothers to create the zygote, the single cell which became us, Zog and Anu (our hunter-gatherer ancestors) and you and I were all given the conception-day gift of all the wisdom our species has accumulated over millions of years of survival in a harsh arena plus three score and ten years to add our footnote to this wisdom. An important part of the conception-day gift is a means of storing information (memory) and a means of transmitting information (speech). Since a medium can be considered as any means of storing and transmitting information, Memory and Speech could thus be considered as a first generation of media.

This first generation of media is adequate for a hunter-gatherer society. How did we manage the transitions to an agricultural society, an industrial society, and now an information society? I will argue that, over historical time, we have supplemented this first generation of media with three further generations of media. We have developed means of storing and transmitting information outside our bodies. We learned to store information outside our bodies in print and on film (second generation), to transmit information outside our bodies with telephone and television (third generation), and to both store and transmit information outside our bodies in multimedia and internet (fourth generation).

Carl Sagan distinguishes between extragenetic tools (outside the genetic code but still inside the body) and extrasomatic tools (outside the body) [SAGAN]. Since those tools can be used for the storage of information or the transmission of information, we can represent those four generations of media in the 2x2 matrix depicted in Figure 1-3.

Those four generations of media are discussed, respectively, in Chapter 2 (Generation 1 - Memory and Speech), Chapter 4 (Generation 2 - Print and Film), Chapter 6 (Generation 3 - Telephone and Television), and Chapter 8 (Generation 4 - Multimedia and Internet).

This is a history of media - not a history of media studies. A fine history of media studies has already been written - A History of Communication Theory: A Biographical Approach [ROGERS]. Principle characters in that story would not merit a mention in the history of media, whereas such giants in the history of media as Bell, Marconi, etc. may appear only as footnotes in a history of media studies. Media Studies is an academic discipline, which tends to be highly critical of media - as attested by some titles of books by communication theorists - Bread and Circuses: Theories of Mass Culture as Social Decay [BRANTLINGER], The End of Conversation: The Impact of Mass Media on Modern Society [FERARROTI], Killing the Messenger: 100 Years of Media Criticism [GOLDSTEIN], Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology [POSTMAN 1993].

However, the Toronto School of Media Studies is used here to help provide a context for this history of media. This school seeks to understand what's happening rather than to pronounce on whether it should be happening. The history of media, presented in terms of four generations in Chapters 2, 4, 6, 8, will thus be augmented by descriptions of each shift as we assimilate each generation of media in the interspersed Chapters 3, 5, 7 from the point of view of the Toronto School.

We are currently experiencing a paradigmatic shift in the structure of media with the introduction of the fourth generation. Some perspective on this shift can be gained by examining the first and second shifts with the introduction of the second and third generations of media. Those three shifts are discussed, respectively in Chapter 3 (Shift 1 - Assimilation of Second Generation), Chapter 5 (Shift 2 - Assimilation of Third Generation), and Chapter 7 (Shift 3 - Assimilation of Fourth Generation). We are too close to this current shift to see it clearly. The ubiquitous is paradoxically elusive. The fish will be the last to discover water. Perhaps by stepping back and looking at the big picture, we can see this third shift more clearly by analogy with the first and second shifts. This long view will help us not only to better understand the present but to better project into the future. Chapter 9 (Shift 4 - Back to First Generation?) will argue that the future of media is best viewed in terms of a return to the first generation of media.