Response to Downey’s Technology and Communication in American History
Downey’s Technology and Communication in American History explores the impact communication technology has had on society in the United States, and how politics, economics, and the needs of any specific culture have all played a role in the development and regulation of these technologies.
One of the aspects of this book that resonated most with me is the descriptions of the patterns that connect all new ways of communicating. The beginnings of invention always start with the need for a new technology, this leads to its creation, and then (with regards to communication technology) the linking of humans through this new network. Afterwards there is always the battle between government and corporation to figure out how to manipulate and/or control the new way of communicating. It is the same story over and over again. Just new tech.
Downey states that technological innovations such as the internet do not terminate older versions of communication and technology, they are just “merely the latest variation of an old theme” (Downey, 1). Meaning that no matter what the new form of information transmission (be it railroad, telegraph, radio, or the internet) it always adds to the already existing field and does not eliminate old tech.
I like the way Downey continually mentions the patterns of history throughout his work. An example being when he discusses the video games and their novelty in the 1970s and how this mimicked the response to the dime nickelodeons of the early 1900s “first appearing . . . in restaurants and taverns” (Downey, 53). Which made me realize that throughout all of our brainstorming as a class, we never explored the impact of video games on or society in the realm of communication. It would have been great to do an assignment solely focused on the video game and its influence.
I think that Downey’s work mimics one of our previous readings by James Gleick, The Information: A History, A theory, a Flood. The authors of these books like to take a step back and explore the larger scale of the history in which they are discussing. I appreciate this because it is exactly the way I wish to learn about a topic.
Downey, Gregory J. Technology and Communication in American History. American Historical Association, 2011.
Gleick, James. The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood. New York: Random House, 2011.