The Message is the Medium

Online, All the Time, for Everyone:
The Message is the Medium
A book about why people go online and what they find there

What is online and how electronic resources are being used today by average, normal people. First and foremost, it argues, the medium is not the message. From the perspective of the user, it is the message which is critical. If you're ill and need a new medication, do you care if notice of a new drug's power comes to you by telephone, in the newspaper, through the medical journals, or by tom-tom? Of course not. What is important is the data itself, and the hope that it brings. This book begins with the assumption that all online resources, including the Internet, need to be understood from the perspective of the user in his or her search for answers to the questions that affect their lives.

This perspective leads to a radical redefinition of online resources, and a new approach to understanding the "Information Highway." It is not another "how-to" guide, although it contains both practical and instructional data. Rather, it offers a general tutorial explaining the system-at-large from the perspective of the user, and the data he or she needs to resolve problems and crises. It thus provides a simple, powerful, and unique explanation of these resources as a whole: what they are and what they do for the individual. All chapters are illustrated with examples.

Included are chapters on the Internet, search methodologies, data evaluation, commercial services (for example, CompuServe) and use of all resources for medical research, ethical decision making, eldercare, use by children, sexuality online, financial planning, and other issues.

The book's common sense perspective advances a unique and contrarian position:

The message is the medium. What drives online expansion is its content, the ability to message with enormous specificity and directness to people, groups, and digital library resources. Popular acceptance of these technologies is driven not by the medium's attraction, but by the quality and content of data it allows users to send and receive.

The Internet is not the Information Highway, any more than New England is the United States. The Internet is a region of online services, a confederation of UseNet, academic resources, mail services, etc.

Data is not information. The online universe contains little information. What is available is data from which information can be constructed. At best, the whole can be thought of as a "databahn," linking potential sources, not a road to certainty.

Online access is not revolutionary, but evolutionary. It grows from a cultural and technologic history. It is the end point of years of change. This means that in learning to use these tools we can build on what is known, rather than attempting to learn something entirely new.

The evolution is technical. The personal computer joins older technologies in a way which is intuitive and comprehensible. Digital systems combine the immediacy of the telephone, the permanence and specificity of written mail, and the richness of old fashioned libraries.

The evolution is cultural. Digital data storage is the end point in a long, history which began with the printing revolution of the 18th century. From then until now, the goal has been to provide normal people with ever better data. This has meant decreasing, at each stage, the mediation of expert "gatekeepers" and inexpert officials. Thus the online evolution speaks to the historical struggle by normal people for ever greater public access to unbiased and unmediated data.

Order Information

Available from Praeger Books, a division of Greenwood Publishing Group
Ordered through bookstores, or directly from the publisher (1-800-225-5800).