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Supplementary Readings (Unassigned)

None of these pieces is required for successful completion of the course. All of them are simply recommended for the sake of additional background and context.

Anton, Cory.The Practice of Reading Good Books” [A communication scholar explains how reading that’s challenging can be more worthwhile than reading that’s easy.] 

Anton, Cory. Study as a Way of Life” [A communication scholar argues that, whereas learning transforms us, merely accessing information leaves us pretty much as we were before.] 

Anton, Cory: "Clocks, Synchronization, and the Fate of Leisure: A Brief Media Ecological History of Digital Technologies"

Ascher, Marcia, and Robert Ascher. Civilization without Writing: The Incas and the Quipu” [An anthropologist and a mathematician discuss the features and functionality of an ancient record-keeping device called the quipu.]  

Boney, Jr., Roy.The Indomitable Language: How the Cherokee Syllabary Went from Parchment to iPad” [comic strip] 

Boroditskiy, Lera.How Does Our Language Shape the Way We Think?” [A cognitive scientist argues that languages in themselves can influence the thought patterns of their speakers.]  

Bumiller, Elizabeth.We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint.” [In an article from the New York Times, several U.S. military commanders are quoted as disparaging an increasing reliance on PowerPoint within the Armed Forces.]

Bush, Vannevar. "As We May Think." [A "middle-aged army scientist," as in Steven Johnson's turn of phrase, describes the Memex, a hypothetical device which anticipates the (much later) development of hypertext. Also see this article from, explaining the shift whereby Bush, himself an "architect of the military-industrial complex," came to distrust and even oppose the very system he had helped to create.]

Collet, Ellen. The Art of the Police Report” [An author with experience in crime analysis suggests that, in fiction and non-fiction alike, the best writing is often “sneaky,” blending the seemingly objective with the secretly persuasive.] 

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. "The Future of Academic Style: Why Citations Still Matter in the Age of Google" [In a 2016 article announcing a very major revision of the MLA Handbook, a representative from the Modern Language Association explains the rationale underlying contemporary citation formats.]

Langer, Susanne K.Discursive and Presentational Forms” [A philosopher discusses not only the important differences but also the persistent connections between linguistic and non-linguistic symbolism.] 

Langer, Susanne K.Language and Thought” [Distinguishing between signs (or signals) and symbols, a philosopher emphasizes the centrality of symbols for thought and communication.]  

Lee, Dorothy.Are Basic Needs Ultimate?” [An anthropologist suggests that cultural behavior may be driven not so much by "needs" as by values.]

Lee, Dorothy.Being and Value in a Primitive Culture” [An anthropologist describes the Trobriand perspective on time, existence, and change as differing radically from the modern and/or Western perspective.] 

Lee, Dorothy. Symbolization and Value” [An anthropologist observes that symbols inherit meaning from the contexts in which they are used.]

Lee, Dorothy.Personal Significance and Group Structure” [An anthropologist argues that, by respecting individuality yet banishing individualism,  traditional Hopi culture offers its members a sense of personal significance.]

Leonard, Stephen Pax.Death by Monoculture” [A researcher in linguistic anthropology worries that “globalization and consumerism are conspiring to destroy centuries-old cultures and traditions.”]  

Light, Jennifer. "Programming" [In an article originally titled "When Computers Were Women," now reprinted in the edited collection Gender and Technology (2003), an MIT professor explains that the World War II era "ENIAC girls" were among the first computer programmers. Also see this article for Casey Fiesler's (redemptive) remix of the Mattel fiasco —  featuring Barbie — titled I Can Be a Computer Engineer.]

McLuhan, Marshall.Electronic Revolution: Revolutionary Effects of New Media”  

McLuhan, Marshall.Man and Media”  [In an article from 1979, McLuhan introduces — as "a new survival approach" — the framework he has developed on the basis of four "laws" of media.]

McLuhan, Marshall. Predicting Communication via the Internet” [interview]  

McLuhan, Marshall.Violence as a Quest for Identity” [interview]  

Meyer, Robinson.The Decay of Twitter” [In a 2015 article, a technology journalist and editor at The Atlantic applies ideas from Walter Ong to explain why, among users of “social media,” Twitter seems to be losing popularity as compared with Instagram, Vine, and Pinterest.]

Naughton, John. "Take the Long View." [In the first chapter of From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: Disruptive Innovation in the Age of the Internet (2014), Naughton surveys several of the revolutionary – but quite unanticipated – consequences that followed from Gutenberg’s invention. He suggests that the Internet may similarly produce a range of radical, albeit still-unpredictable effects. He also discusses utopianism and dystopianism as present-day reactions to changes in communication technology. ]

Parker, Ian.Absolute PowerPoint.” [This version of the article is unabridged, whereas the version in our textbook has been shortened by several paragraphs.]

Powers, William.A Cooler Self” [In a brief overview, a popular journalist introduces some of Marshall McLuhan's most influential ideas and also encapsulates that theorist's advice for getting "out of" the electronic "maelstrom created by our own ingenuity".]

Powers, William.Little Mirrors” [In a commentary on the relationship between print culture and "inwardness," a popular journalist tells us part of the back story behind Gutenberg's invention.]

Powers, William.The Walden Zone” [In a piece recapitulating some of Thoreau's most famous observations, a popular journalist argues for the continuing relevance of that nineteenth-century author's insights.]

Raths, David. "Is Tech Changing the Way Students Write?" [A writer from Campus Technology magazine surveys a range of college-level educators, reporting their comments on those "tech-fueled" patterns which are increasingly noticeable in students' habits of reading and writing.]

Soules, Marshall. "Harold Adams Innis:  The Bias of Communications and Monopolies of Power."  [A web article from a Canadian Media Ecology site – – introduces the work of Harold Innis, a political economist whose ideas greatly influenced the media theorist Marshall McLuhan.]

Strate, Lance. "Echo and Narcissus." [A media ecology scholar discusses some aspects of the "numbness" that, according to Marshall McLuhan, follows from our adopting each new communication technology in turn. You can also read the relevant mythological passages, from Ovid's Metamorphoses, starting here. In fact, as you'll see at the top of the page, translator A.S. Kline has made the whole book available as a free download]

Tufte, Edward.The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint.” [An expert on information design lays out an extensive, thoroughly supported critique against the widespread use of PowerPoint.]

Tufte, Edward.PowerPoint Is Evil.” [In a piece from Wired magazine, an expert on information design summarizes the reasons for which he considers PowerPoint to be of such limited value as a communication technology.]

Varga, Gabor. "Orality and Literacy: The Development of Philosophy into Logical Thought."

"What Constant Screen Time Does to Kids’ Brains." [In an online discussion at Zocalo Public Square, four commentators debate the advantages and disadvantages of "Internet exposure" from the perspective of child development.]


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