Media Unlimited

Didn't I Already Know This?
New books dissected over email.
March 11 2002 11:22 AM

Media Unlimited

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

Dear Nell,

Advertisement

I'm glad that we're reading this book together, because I need you to stop me if I'm being too much of a jaded old cow.

How could anyone argue with Todd Gitlin? Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives is an exhaustively researched, cogently argued, smoothly written discussion of how media pervades people's everyday existence, from ads that now appear, apparently, above the urinals in men's rooms; to TV channels, sprouting up like mushrooms in the damp; to new and exponentially expanding "technosurprises," like "the screen hanging above an airplane seat, the car that receives e-mail and plays CD's, the watch with Internet access, the digital movie camera that switches on and off at the command of a voice."

Gitlin, a professor of culture, journalism, and sociology at NYU who is so thoroughly steeped in media and culture that you wonder when, in fact, he finds time to write about them, discusses the social and economic origins of this hyper-trend. He discusses how television leads to apathy. He discusses how violent films inure people to violence. He discusses how, in today's media-hungry world, the more you consume, the more you want, and how the more diversions you get, the more diversions you need. He discusses the trivialization of the news and the time-wasting ramifications of the Internet and how the sentences in today's best-selling books are shorter and less punctuated than the sentences in best sellers from the past.

Gitlin cites experts you have heard of and experts you have not. Among the dizzying array of people whose thinking he refers to or whose work he alludes to or whose writing he quotes are, and these are just off the top of my head, Benjamin Franklin, Nietzsche, George Eliot, Proust, Emily Dickinson, Marx, Milan Kundera, Cervantes, Georg Simmel, and Edward Luttwak. That leaves out all the people who are influential in their various fields and who he also quotes, people like "the pioneer French speed theorist Paul Virilio" and "the political scientist Zaki Laidi."

As far as I can tell, everything he says is perfectly true. There is no question that our lives are being overwhelmed by the torrent of images and sounds wafting around out there. I, too, blew out my ears from cranking up my Walkman in my 20's, so that now I have to turn up the car radio several notches higher than my husband, who came from a pre-Walkman era. I, too, am concerned about people's need for diversion, about ever-shorter attention spans, about how I can spend a whole morning surfing the Internet in search of gossip items from places like Jim Romenesko's hall-of-mirrors Media News, so that noon comes along and I have not done a single useful thing, not even opened the mail, and I feel slow and bloated, like an overwatered sponge.

My point being, didn't I already know this? Isn't Gitlin just slinging together, however elegantly, a whole bunch of stuff that people have been reading about, thinking about, and discussing for years? And while we're at it: It was hard, in reading a book that deals in part with the media's unhealthy obsession with itself, not to feel that Media Unlimited, just by existing at all, merely adds to the problem.

But I'd be very pleased to hear another view.

All best,
Sarah

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Natasha Lyonne Is Coming to the Live Culture Gabfest. Are You?

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

Tattoo Parlors Have Become a Great Investment

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM It Wasn’t a Secret A 2013 inspector general report detailed all of the Secret Service’s problems. Nobody cared.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 2 2014 11:16 AM Some McDonald's Monopoly Properties Matter More
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 2 2014 11:07 AM Mapping 1890 Manhattan's Crazy-Quilt of Immigrant Neighborhoods
  Double X
Doublex
Oct. 2 2014 11:34 AM Alabama’s Insane New Abortion Law Putting teenage girls on trial may finally be too much for the Supreme Court.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 10:36 AM How Bad Will Adam Sandler’s Netflix Movies Be?
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM Surge Pricing Is Not Price Gouging
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 2 2014 9:49 AM In Medicine We Trust Should we worry that so many of the doctors treating Ebola in Africa are missionaries?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?