The digital dilemma: making the most of the digital communication technology and pedagogy.

Author:Hundley, Heather L.
Position:Book Review
 
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Shyles, L. (Ed.). (2003). Deciphering cyberspace: Making the most of the digital communication technology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 415 pages.

Mosco, V. (2004). The digital sublime: Myth, power, and cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 218 pages.

Burnett, R. (2004). How images think. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 253 pages.

In an age of fast-advancing technology, it is difficult to keep up with the newest, latest, and greatest. This is especially true for media scholars saddled with the same busy workload as those teaching nonmedia courses, but who must also cope with the difficult task of teaching about and with ever-changing digital technologies at typically underfunded universities. It seems that as soon as equipment for and books on cyberspace, digital culture, and technology are published, they are outdated. For instance, in Modern Radio Production, Hausman, Benoit, and O'Donnell (2000) stated that one of the drawbacks of compact disc technology is that discs "can be used for playback only" (p. 58) and, thus, could not be copied like their ancestor, the cassette tape. However, by 2000, CD burners were already on the market, and students were already downloading and burning their own CDs. Thus, their personal experience was at variance with the state of affairs asserted in their textbook. Hausman et al.'s next edition updated this development, but the failure to keep up with new developments is emblematic of publishing in the field of new technology, especially in providing cutting-edge instructional content.

Not only does technology outpace the book publishing process, so does technological implementation, especially in the context of pedagogy. For example, although Bell and Kennedy's The Cybercultures Reader was published in 2000, all its articles were drawn from previously published works. This reliance on secondhand material makes it all the more difficult to teach about cutting-edge environments in digital cultures.

Indeed, the technological explosion creates a fertile field for authors and publishers alike, but the problem of currency persists. Perhaps this conundrum is what motivated Leonard Shyles, Vincent Mosco, and Ron Burnett to author and/or edit Deciphering Cyberspace, The Digital Sublime, and How Images Think, respectively. This essay begins with Shyles's book pertaining to the technical components and uses of cyberspace, then examines in Mosco's book the myths and realities of cyberspace, and concludes with a review of digital images in Ron Burnett's book, How Images Think.

Deciphering Cyberspace

Shyles offers a rich foundation that effectively addresses and demystifies the digital dilemma. In fact, one may argue that Shyles's work resists being outdated too soon by the way it handles its content, transcending the vogue of new bells and whistles to focus on enduring principles.

Specifically, Shyles's collection presents a techno-historical overview of the development of media systems (Part 1). Part 2 involves digital markets vis-a-vis consumption, applications, and pedagogical issues pertaining to new technology. Part 3, the final section, presents an overview of legal issues for private and business interests. The book is couched in terms that transcend some of the problems of media development that result in nearly immediate outdatedness, and for this reason Deciphering Cyberspace will be worth reading and assigning as a classroom text for a comparatively long time.

Part 1 (three chapters) eloquently presents an historical overview of media technology. The...

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