Thousands and thousands of channels, but nothing on.
Instead of bemoaning that fact or celebrating it in an explosion of incomprehensible post-pastiche euphoria, Gitlin (Cultural Studies/NYU; The Twilight of Common Dreams, 1995, etc.) sets out to examine the structural role that media proliferation plays in the late-industrial world. Early on, Gitlin promises a grand summation and uses that lofty goal as a means of avoiding tiresome specificity. Unfortunately, the lack of specificity sometimes bleeds into a lack of rigor and relevance (at times one could even say coherence). Basically, there are three essays here, and the connections among them are not always clear. The first, and most interesting, is a witty riff on the media “torrent,” the paradoxical promises it makes, and the deeply embedded role it plays in a consumerist society. The second patchily examines the role of speed in modern society and ties it into the demand for more media: The faster we can process images and information, the richer our lives are (in both senses of the word). The third, more descriptive than analytical, identifies six ad hoc “styles of navigation” that supposedly describe the strategies that people adopt in their interactions with the media torrent. There’s a conclusion that attempts to tie all of this together by throwing around words like “culture” and “democracy,” but it feels tacked on. What one’s left with, then, is a strange combination of provocative thoughts (speed originally meant “to prosper” and only later took on its present meaning; the goal of the modern media is to efface the media’s mediating function by presenting things immediately) and serious navel-gazing (on more than one occasion one gets the sense that we’re reading cleaned-up notes that Gitlin took while watching sports on TV). This inconsistency would be less disappointing if the author weren’t fighting over his chosen piece of analytical turf with a heap of other, more systematically compelling writers, many of whom he happily cites.