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Nonfiction in Brief

THE ELECTRONIC COMMONWEALTH: The Impact of New Media Technologies on Democratic Politics by Jeffrey B. Abramson, F. Christopher Arterton and Gary R. Orren (Basic Books: $21.95)

July 24, 1988|SONJA BOLLE and SONJA BOLLE

The stated purpose of this book is to make readers aware of the effects of new media technology and the resulting changes in the way we receive information--even in the kind of information we can obtain. It does this by raising good questions about the new technologies (such as computerized news services, televoting, interactive video town meetings) and about the uses we, our politicians and citizen groups, are finding for them.

The nationalizing of political campaigns that has occurred over the whole course of American politics, the authors point out, means that politicians have been until recently less and less able to contradict in California what they said in Connecticut. But the new cable television techniques of "narrowcasting"--tailoring a message to reach only a certain pre-selected audience--means that politicians can more effectively address special-interest groups.

The impact on political campaigns is obvious. In addition to the impact on the election process, the book also considers the significance of new technology for day-to-day government, which can be profoundly affected by communication between interest groups and between interest groups and lawmakers.

The authors have succeeded in posing ethical questions in an unantagonistic manner. They discuss the possibilities for dissimulation in sponsorship of a message, and have devoted a chapter to freedom of speech and the new media. But their message is that new technology does not determine its own use. Any discussion of the new media, they argue, demands that we examine our model of democracy. Noting that television had been in place 15 years before its full influence was felt in the 1968 or 1972 presidential campaigns, the authors urge reflection now, when the new media are still in the developmental stages.

EMPERORS OF ADLAND: Inside the Advertising Revolution by Nancy Millman (Warner Books: $18.95)

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