- Information Please: Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Machines
Mark Poster's latest critical study of new media, Information Please, posits a new relationship between humans and information machines by placing particular emphasis on the cultural significance of their interactivity rather than the individual characteristics of each. Poster situates his study within a broad range of critical theory, including that of Karl Marx,Martin Heidegger, Michel Foucault, and Jean Baudrillard, among many others, outlining the weaknesses of each with regard to his study of new media and advancing each with his own theoretical adjustments to articulate his progressive claims. Indeed, Poster remains firmly rooted in relevant theory as he carefully explores how the current ubiquity of information machines affects cultural artifacts, human beings, and cultural and political entities, ultimately depicting a moment of potential for either great social progress or, contrarily, further degradation at the hands of capitalism's powerful institutions.
Poster examines an array of cultural symbols, beginning with the appearance of Sesame Street character Bert situated among a montage of Osama bin Laden portraits, as he compellingly analyzes the power of digital media to capture and manipulate information that was once stable in analog form. Poster focuses on the cultural significance of this phenomenon through a series of careful critiques of recent cultural phenomena such as digital licensing, file sharing, identity theft, and globalization. These critiques underscore his ultimate assertion that theoretical models for understanding culture that were established before the rise of new media require rethinking, for they do not account for the decentralized and fluid power of digital media. Finally, Poster urges readers to recognize that digital media have the potential to—and must be employed to—advance the world political and cultural landscapes closer to a truly democratic condition.
Readers will appreciate the ease and accessibility of his prose as Poster "pinpoints" within all the theoretical complexity "the places where cultural theory would benefit from revision and alteration by attention to new relations of humans and information machines" (p. 4). Poster's voice becomes particularly clear and cogent as he builds on his theoretical underpinnings with his own analysis of new media's interactions with culture. Indeed, his skillful delivery style seamlessly extends his complex critique of cultural theory into his compelling analysis of well-chosen cultural events, providing a clear and coherent body of evidence in support of his thesis.
However, despite the skillful complexity and clarity of much of his prose, Poster's own political inclinations occasionally emerge in the text rather unexpectedly, which could alienate some readers. This becomes particularly [End Page 509] apparent in his discussion of "The Information Empire" in section 3, where he begins with a critique of "George W. Bush and his crew in their warmongering, hypernationalist designs" (p. 46). This may be an inevitable consequence of the political emphasis of Poster's study. Nevertheless, it could serve to undermine any sense of objectivity he wants his readers to detect in his study.
A suitable read for anyone interested in new media, cultural studies, or their interactions, Poster's Information Please provides a fresh and germane study of the digitalization of humans and their various cultures by new media and technology. His investigation into the connections between media's historical and future culture-shaping roles answers its title's polite request by providing "information" via Poster's careful analysis of the changing status of information in the digital age. Indeed, those who have appreciated Poster's three previous books will find "version 4.0" a worthy and insightful update to the collection (p. 5). [End Page 510]
Joe Erickson is a Ph.D. candidate in rhetoric and writing at Bowling Green State University, where he also teaches freshman writing.