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David Thorburn

David Thorburn is Professor of Literature and Director of the Communications Forum at MIT.

Titles by This Editor

The Aesthetics of Transition

The essays in Rethinking Media Change center on a variety of media forms at moments of disruption and cultural transformation. The editors' introduction sketches an aesthetics of media transition—patterns of development and social dispersion that operate across eras, media forms, and cultures. The book includes case studies of such earlier media as the book, the phonograph, early cinema, and television. It also examines contemporary digital forms, exploring their promise and strangeness. A final section probes aspects of visual culture in such environments as the evolving museum, movie spectaculars, and "the virtual window."

The contributors reject apocalyptic scenarios of media revolution, demonstrating instead that media transition is always a mix of tradition and innovation, an accretive process in which emerging and established systems interact, shift, and collude with one another.

Digital technology is changing our politics. The World Wide Web is already a powerful influence on the public's access to government documents, the tactics and content of political campaigns, the behavior of voters, the efforts of activists to circulate their messages, and the ways in which topics enter the public discourse. The essays collected here capture the richness of current discourse about democracy and cyberspace. Some contributors offer front-line perspectives on the impact of emerging technologies on politics, journalism, and civic experience. What happens, for example, when we increase access to information or expand the arena of free speech? Other contributors place our shifting understanding of citizenship in historical context, suggesting that notions of cyber-democracy and online community must grow out of older models of civic life. Still others consider the global flow of information and test our American conceptions of cyber-democracy against developments in other parts of the world. How, for example, do new media operate in Castro's Cuba, in post-apartheid South Africa, and in the context of multicultural debates on the Pacific Rim? For some contributors, the new technologies endanger our political culture; for others, they promise civic renewal.