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Friending the PastThe Sense of History in the Digital Age$
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Alan Liu

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226451817

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226452005.001.0001

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Imagining the New Media Encounter

Imagining the New Media Encounter

(p.35) 2 Imagining the New Media Encounter
Friending the Past

Alan Liu

University of Chicago Press

This chapter studies "narratives of new media encounter" (accounts of how individuals and societies react to the introduction of writing, radio, television, the internet, Web 2.0, and so on) to suggest that major historical changes in the sociocultural order are mirrored in narratives of media history. Often, as in the case of Marshall McLuhan's writings, such narratives follow a plot of progressivist media determinism—of necessary change from old media to new media—even as they also reveal the more ambivalent experience of a "contact zone" between civilizations. At once descriptive and interpretive, tales of new media encounter are a foundational form of media theory—a kind of media archaeology of media theory. They show how societies experience history as communication and information media, and communication and information media as history. They register the experience of history as media history. Finishing on the promising example of a recent collection of essays on the digital humanities, the chapter concludes by asking the critical question: what is an imaginatively enriching, rather than deterministic constraining, narrative of new media encounter?

Keywords:   contact zone, digital humanities, Marshall McLuhan, media archaeology, media determinism, media history, media theory, narrative, new media, old media

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