Reading Questions for Sept. 2 (Baym, Ong, Peters)

1. Here is another New Yorker cartoon like the ones Nancy Baym discusses. What ideas about new technologies does it express? She argues that discourses around new media are often utopian or dystopian (28). Is this cartoon more utopian or dystopian? (I can see it being utopian in the sense that it imagines computers to be stimulating children’s cognitive and intellectual development; I can see it as dystopian in the way it makes it seem computers are spoiling the innocent play of the child, which is particularly reflected in the implicit confusion of his friend.)

2. Of Baym’s three categories of ways to make sense of new media causality (technological determinism, social construction of technology, and social shaping), which one best describes Ong’s approach to orality and literacy? Is the idea that “writing heightens consciousness” (82) deterministic, and if so does this make it unpersuasive?  Does the slow pace of transition from oral to literate societies (115) make Ong’s determinism less problematic than the kinds of deterministic ideas Baym introduces in relation to computers and the internet?

3. Peters insists (rightly, I think) that we must not confuse new media with digital media (16). He offers instead this formulation: “new media can be understood as emerging communication and information technologies undergoing a historical process of contestation, negotiation, and institutionalization.” (18)  Does the prevalence of talk of new media indicate that digital media present more rupture than earlier periods of media change, which makes us especially attuned to our own historical moment of drastic change? Have digital new media forced a reconsideration of media history as new media history? In other words, is the prevalence of the term new media itself an argument for change over continuity?


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