portal: Libraries and the Academy 3.4 (2003) 699-700
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Making Connections: Communication through the Ages, Charles T. Meadow. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002. xvi, 365 p. $28.95 softcover (ISBN 0-8108-4234-3); $47.50 hardcover (ISBN 0-8108-42335-5)
Charles T. Meadow's Making Connections is a well-written, thoughtful, and richly documented summary of the history of human communication. While not intended to be an academic monograph that explores a specific thesis, Meadow consistently and convincingly shows how "every major change in communication technology tends to bring with it behavioral changes in individuals and society as a whole" (p. 305). Despite changes over time in how we communicate, Meadow theorizes that our fundamental need to communicate persists (p. 321).
Meadow, Professor Emeritus of Information Studies at the University of Toronto, has devoted his scholarly career to studying and documenting information retrieval technology and user behavior. His considerable knowledge and experience in these areas are clearly evident as he skillfully delineates connections between technological advancement and the attendant shifts that have occurred in society. In his chapter on television, for example, Meadow discusses how the idea of transmitting images, especially moving images, simultaneously galvanized scientists and inventors who wanted to solve the problem of image transmission, and alienated "literate" academics who exclusively valued print as a more reliable information medium (p. 225). Meadow suggests that major changes in the ways we communicate generate conversations about the nature of human existence itself and how societies identify meaning and interpret truth. Thus, who develops and maintains communication media may influence how a society perceives itself and the world at large. The author explores this theme from the first chapter to the last, striking a balance between advocating individual responsibility as the safeguard of the commonweal, and avoiding polemics against lightning-rod issues such as censorship and technocracy. In addition, the copious and well-reproduced illustrations provide evidence for, and texture to, his assertions. The presentation and format of [End Page 699] this volume is enviably lucid and well suited to a book targeted to lay readers. Other highlights include a final chapter entitled "One Hundred Dates to Remember," a tidy outline of milestones in communications, and a bibliography impressive in depth and breadth.
While obviously influenced by Marshall McLuhan's thinking on media and society, Meadow's approach has more in common with Thomas Kuhn's insights into shifting paradigms and scientific revolutions. Though this book seeks a wide readership, librarians and information professionals may find Chapter 12, "The Internet and the Information Highway," particularly insightful on the mechanics of information storage and retrieval. Also in this chapter, Meadow discusses the use of computers in instruction and the failure to implement computer-assisted instruction in a significant way. Meadow's brief claims on this matter are provocative but he does not discuss in detail his views on library instruction or information retrieval, which are thoroughly documented elsewhere. Still, this book is a very readable and comprehensive account of the larger historical and social context in which information creation and management occur.
Washington State University