Making Connections is required reading for anyone seeking a clearer understanding of the old and new "mediated environments" in which human culture has been nurtured. It will be useful in courses in the social sciences, communications, history, anthropology, and marketing, and for the general reader who wants tools for cutting through the technological confusion which surrounds us.
Making Connections, as the title implies, is about the impact of communications systems on human history. But, on another level, this book is about helping the reader to "connect the dots," to form an image of what appears to the layman and expert alike to be an unfathomable telecommunications landscape.
Most of us can agree on one point: the pace of technological change, especially the convergence of media upon which we rely for indirect images of reality, is so fast that even professional viewers of that landscape have a difficult time describing what they see, no less what they think is on the horizon.
Through illustration, Meadow makes the case that evolving communications systems generate structure and this structure becomes the milieu, the growth medium, if you will, in which society and the individuals who populate it grow.
Meadow's lucid descriptions of complex information theory bring to the layman and professional reader alike, a new level of explanation that is both witty and wise, in which such concepts as the relationship between information and uncertainty, for example, become not only understandable, but available for application to everyday situations. Meadow's discussion of the complex interrelationship among symbols (data), information, and knowledge is professionally sound and very accessible to the layman. He also makes a valuable distinction between what we think of as "information overload," and the over abundance of potential information -- a distinction that addresses a rampant misconception about the true nature of information.
Meadow supports his discussions throughout the book with many verbal and visual illustrations. For example, in his discussion of language, he juxtaposes mathematical symbols and musical notation to show how these systems instantly bring to mind images of the reality they represent, no matter how abstract. Those trained to use these symbols, mathematicians and musicians in this case, can bring to bear their understanding of these symbolic systems and the rules of inference they imply, in order to get "meaning" from the text.
The book is chock full of very useful diagrams, charts, and historic photographs that illuminate the parallel evolution of human communication and the hard and, if you will, soft technology upon which it resets. The book also provides an excellent chronology of 100 dates to remember, around which teachers and students alike might easily build a semester or two of in-depth analysis.
Meadow 's distinguished career as an information scientist comes through in the authenticity of his writing. His modesty about his own contributions to this new science (he was one of the pioneers who worked on the development of ARPANet, the progenitor of the Internet) makes his writing all the more credible and valuable. As he notes, "One point some modern readers may find surprising is the role of government, and the military, in particular, in supporting both science and invention..." He should know first hand!
In his concluding section, he comments that, "The importance of technology comes from effect, not anything inherent in the technology." A simple, but pregnant statement, which directs us to appreciate the social and historic structure that communications (and transportation) technologies have, mostly with our full compliance, if not acceptance, imposed on human history. Meadow 's conclusions also address two major changes clearly in progress: the disencumbering of ourselves from wired communication and the convergence of media, facilitated by the central role of computer technology in new telecommunications systems. Cellular telephones, for example, are only possible because of computer technology.
Meadow also addresses the impact of the globalization of information infrastructure on the power of elites, especially in totalitarian regimes, which each day have less control over the flow of information within their societies. He warns us of some potentially dysfunctional effects of globalization, including the creation of demand in LDC's which cannot afford the mass consumerism rampantly on display in western media, and the real and present threat to indigenous cultures from the intrusion of global message systems into their mindscapes.
This book, however, is neither a utopian view of the past and future contributions of communications systems to society, nor a dystopian diatribe against the evils of new information technologies. Rather, it is a balanced, considered, witty, and wise view of who we are as communicators, how we got here, and where we might be headed.
Making Connections is a must read for all of us who want to be informed citizens capable of exercising our political franchise intelligently, not an easy task in an environment that is saturated with redundant mediated messages. Meadow suggests the map of the future be drawn on the canvas of our history that has grown out of our ability to extend our senses through communications technology.
Read this book if you, like the rest of us, need such a map.