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Higher Education

Chapter 2: The History of New Media

You will have a lot of fun in this chapter by taking some of these early technologies and doing a search for them in YouTube. This highlights the fact that YouTube has become one of the largest and most actively-used search engines in the world, and not just for music videos or dogs on skateboards.

Next time you take a picture with your smart phone and upload it to SnapChat, think about this amazing 1937 explanation of how wire photos work. Not only is this explanation incredibly clear, but the explanation is actually useful for understanding just about every other aspect of the conversion of analog media into digital media.

Metcalfe’s Law is mentioned in the context of telegraph (and later telephone) regulation. You can read more about Metcalfe in Wikipedia. You may also want to try doing a search for “Metcalfe’s Law” in Google and click on the “Images” tab right under the search box. This is particularly helpful in this type of inquiry, and I encourage you to try it often.

The chapter makes reference to journalistic short-cuts in an article from a 1891 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. In writing the book, I went back and found that article, something that would have been tedious or impossible not too long ago. Thanks to the scanning of old books and back issues of magazines, however, you can do this pretty easily. If you put the search terms “journalism” “short-cut” and “atlantic monthly” into Google, you’ll not only get links to the original article but also commentary from other people who’ve noticed and read the article, such as Maggie Koerth-Baker’s blog entry entitled “The Sloppy Fast-Paced News Cycle of 1891.”

Sunday Magazine, a British paper, has an interesting piece about early abbreviations (“text speak”) on telegraphs. I found it by typing they keywords “telegraph abbreviations” into Google. It is a good example of doing a bit of your own research on terms and topics you come across in the book. You can find the article here.

Cybernetics is “the science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things,” according to Google’s own search page (and you can imagine why they’d be interested in things like that). The term is explained well at this page from the American Society for Cybernetics. It is a good idea to check out the scholarly society or industry association that governs or studies a technology or trend.

You find plenty about telephone history online as well. The Telephony Museum has an interesting online museum.

Many museums have online sites. You can personalize or localize a research project by finding archival images (e.g., the Vancouver Archives) that have images of historic communication technologies from nearby. Here is a link to telephone operators in Vancouver.

Telephone networks and telegraph networks became catalysts for business regulation—something that began even earlier in the railroad era. If you take Canada’s regulatory body—the CRTC—and add it to a search for a term like “network neutrality” in Google, you’ll get articles such as this one from CBC News.The CBC’s site, like most major news organizations, has its own search engine, which you can use to refine and expand your search.

We have an interview in Chapter 2 with Jeremy Shtern. You might be interested in finding out what he has said recently on that topic (regulation) or other aspects of media and communication in Canada. If you guessed that he might have a Twitter feed, you’d be right.

Try that search on other authors you encounter in the text. An online presence is becoming more and more important for academics and they will provide links to recent articles, books, and conference papers along with various opinions (and even insight into their personal life and hobbies, which isn’t such a bad thing).

In the brief section on film we have a reference to Lev Manovich, one of the best known commentators on new media. You can find more about Manovich in his Twitter feed and also at his home page.

Radio technology and history are other topics that have been explored and explained in a variety of YouTube videos. For one of the best, see “How Does a Radio Work?”. Sponsored by Chevrolet (like the “wire photos” one above), this one comes from 1937, when radio was the dominant mass medium and a focal point for families all over the world. I found this one by typing “how does radio work” into YouTube. This practice of searching for “how does it work?” videos is surprisingly effective on a wide variety of topics.

Sometimes companies like to showcase their founders. Rogers, the broadcasting and mobile phone company based in Toronto, has a web site that pays tribute to its founder Edward S. Rogers.

YouTube is useful for finding audio samples, too. Check out this selection of old radio commercials. Radio advertising—just re-emerging on CBC Radio (controversially, see Pathos and the CBC Radio Ad)—was a major force in the creation of mass markets in the middle of the twentieth century.

Television, how it works, and what the early advertising looked like, is also covered extensively on YouTube. You can find both technical and socio-political analysis. Check out the difference between these two videos:

And because these old videos are so fun, here is another Chevrolet “how it works” video, this time abo ut television.

YouTube is also a repository of many old movie clips and trailers. This one, for the movie Network (1976) provides insight into a critique of the “news as entertainment” trend.

You can also find lectures on just about any topic, like this lecture from Neil Postman on his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985).