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An instructive, if misnamed, volume on emerging technology in the fields of television, telephony, and computers. Owens, an economist, tends to approach his subjects with the issue of cost-effectiveness foremost. He treats his material methodically from both historical and prognostic points of view, covering radio as a precursor to television and making predictions on the success of high-definition television (HDTV). In the case of telephones and televisions, there is a further division into analog and digital subsets, and with television additional stratification between broadcast and cable media. Much of this discussion is quite helpful, and Owen certainly renders the technical jargon far more clearly than a typical owner’s manual for a product does. For instance, he offers an instructive discussion on the origins of the word “broadcast,” employing a comparison with “narrowcast” to underscore the importance of bandwidth to predigital and non-computer-based forms of communication. Similarly, Owens makes strong use of charts and diagrams to elucidate his contentions. His political stance, on those rare occasions when it can be discerned at all, is innocuously laissez-faire, criticizing both monopolies and government-sponsored protection of the industry. However, the study eventually sinks under the weight of too much material crammed into too slim a volume: confusion inevitably results, despite the helpful glossary. More importantly, the issue of convergence between television and the Internet—the very phenomenon that the book’s title suggests is central—comes late in the discussion and is given short shrift. Owen seems somewhat behind the curve, predicting that television/computer convergence is further off than it may actually be, though his points about the requirements for higher computer speeds and greater memory capacity are well taken. Despite its future-oriented hype, more useful as a historical text than a handbook for the 21st century. (53 line illustrations)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-674-87299-1
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999