On George Gilder’s 1988 Book, “Life After Television”

Revisiting a 1988 book that’s been seminal for me  – George Gilder’s Life After Television: The Coming Transformation of Media and American Life – I wound up posting a review at Amazon.com and Good Reads. Here I flesh it out a bit: gilder1

5.0 out of 5 stars Time to set the record straight . . .

I read all the good media books I can find. I find few. Most can be boiled down to 10 page magazine articles, and even then they won’t amount to much. Nowhere in the past 20 years have I found anything as good as this. It’s a joy to read, the work of an angry, hopeful, creative guy with compelling insights about the corrupted state of American culture and politics in the age of network TV.

Gilder wrote it as a polemic against American plans to ape the Japanese in developing HDTV, a dead-end technology in his view, sexy yet mindless, a sop to the TV networks, especially in light of emerging, intellectually liberating digital technologies.

This book grounded me in the crucial difference between ANALOG and DIGITAL technologies. I won’t even try to summarize its rich account of this difference, but it makes for good reading.  What most interested me then, and stays with me today, is Gilder‘s politicization of this difference: his condemnation of the top-down, “tyrannical” medium of analog radio and TV and his bold prediction of the overthrow of autocratic analog media by the liberating medium of the digital PC, or “teleputer”, as he quaintly called it way back in 1988.

OK, so we have HDTV today and it looks like we’re hooked on it. But we also have the digital PC. And which technology is doing more to open up the minds of a nation dumbed down by network TV?  Look at American politics today – at the election of Barack Obama, for instance  – and tell me if Gilder was right or wrong about the liberating potential of digital media.

Life After Televison is the first book I recommend to aspiring journalists. Second is Marshall McLuhan’s denser and even more rewarding “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man” (1964). Third is Shelley Palmer’s “Television Disrupted: The Transition from Network to Networked TV, 2nd Edition: The Transformation form Network TV to Networked TV” which, while silent on politics, is invaluable for its technical expertise.

Hope this sells a few copies of all three books.

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