Yesterday I mentioned Empire and Communications by Harold Innis. A number of people asked how to get it and at this point it appears you need to go to a university library (I think it's worth it to do so, since the book is a seminal piece on the relationship between technology and culture). In trying see if the book can be purchased, the search engines took me to Is there a Mesh Size Problem with the Internet – a lecture given by philosopher John Scott in 1999 at Memorial University. He clearly had the same reaction to Innis’ work as I did:
… [The] Internet is going to force us to take some needed, but overdue, institutional and political steps to address something like what eye doctors call an “accommodation” problem. When our eyes do not adjust quickly enough, or fully enough, or appropriately to the changing objects in our field of view the doctors tell us we have an “accommodation” problem.
We have been accommodating changes in language-technologies in different and dramatic ways since the beginning of recorded history. Changes associated with the internet's vices and virtues are no different, except that the orders of magnitude seem considerably increased. The Internet changes the ways we record, send, and receive messages and will radically continue to change where and how we live, just as past messaging innovations have.
This is nothing new. Harold Innis was saying it in the ’40s ’50s and ’60s. His Empire and Communications was published in 1950. He chronicled there the impact on Egyptian culture of the introduction of the new technology, papyrus. The development of law in Hammurabi's Babylon flowed largely, he suggests, from the introduction there of a consistently efficient system of writing; and the growth of reflective, democratic institutions in Greece grew out of its institutionalized oral language patterns. Then the “Word” went on to build the Cathedral towns of Europe and their associated political structures over the first thousand years of Christianity…. Until these structures were swept away when the Word found a more fluid and portable home in Guttenberg's movable type… which has shaped the public and private institutions accommodating our lives until very recently. It was Guttenberg, you will remember, on whom McLuhan focussed when he first took Innis’ message to the media in the early ’60s and later.
So we should hardly be surprised that the internet has so now changed how and where we live, work, shop, get medical, financial (and all kinds of other intimate) advice and services – and even vote – without leaving our homes. And our homes can now be located almost wherever our fancies (and the mortgage companies) dictate. There is nothing new about the inevitability of change medium-based change. But it makes us a bit breathless, nonetheless, about whether we have choices over the kinds of accommodations we are going to have to make, or even any way to identify them before they wall us into new, and perhaps, very frightening kinds of places.
By the way, Empire and communication (University of Toronto Press [1950, 1972]) does not represent a crude technological determinism – it was a series of lectures presented at Oxford (as I recall) at the end of Dr. Innis’ life, and is one of the most erudite works on human history, culture and technology I have read.