The Web is the New Phone

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“We talk too much about television as an antecedent to the Web, and not enough about the telephone… In America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940, the sociologist Claude S. Fischer argues that our customary mode of discussing new technologies leads us astray by casting the technology as the protagonist and the human user as a victim.

“We should not inquire into the telephone’s ‘impacts’ or ‘effects,’ Fischer writes: ‘That is the wrong language, a mechanical language that implies that human actions are impelled by external forces when they are really the outcomes of actors making purposeful choices under constraints.’

“This is good advice for Web critics, too. Like the telephone before it, the Web will be defined by the choices people make as they use it, constrained by — but not determined by — the nature of the technology.

“The most significant choice we have been making, collectively, ever since the popularization of Internet access in the mid-1990s, has been to favor two-way interpersonal communication over the passive reception of broadcast-style messages.”

From Scott Rosenberg’s history of blogging, Say Everything, excerpted here. [The Rumpus is going to publish an interview with Rosenberg before the end of August.]


Jeremy Hatch is a writer, musician, and professional bookseller leading a cheerful, aimless life in San Francisco. He is the Junior Literary Editor of the Rumpus and has a blog which he updates once in a while. More from this author →