The New Digital Age by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen. Knopf: 2013 $17.72
The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens by Stephen Apkon and Martin Scorsese. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux: 2013 $18.30
Do not be terrified by the words on the new book’s binding. According to authors Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, the Internet age is an experiment in, wait for it: anarchy. Both the state and its civilians are now armed with formidable tools to facilitate revolution. This is good information to have, especially taken from the autocrat who built the empire that sold the world. The New Digital Age is positive that the future, as it results from various shifting parameters, is a bright one for the Earth. Just ignore homicidal tendencies influenced by cyber warfare and enjoy spying on your friend’s friends’ social media content while some creep is tracking you from a LAN signal.
According to Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Cohen, human interaction skills are changing. The smart phone itself has the power to collapse entire civilizations, the authors emphasize. And we should feel good about this, or so says Google chair Eric Schmidt.
There are so many important factors to consider in futurism, the concept the books is trying to sell. First there is the autonomy of the individual in selecting media content and second there is the result of the ensuing influence of populism on our concept of capitalism. And aside from economy, what shall become of military intelligence? Shall the polis fight the demos armed with the same weapons they are being challenged by? Perhaps the state shall change to safely adapt the morphing minds and technological capabilities of its citizens. Still, perhaps the rest of the world will feel claustrophobic like as if a new technological paradigm was being thrust upon it, as democratic ideology does not always fit its geo-sociological-cum-political target. For instance, China and North Korea are about as keen on Google as the Middle East is accepting of democracy. And this value is basically nil.
The book is a conflict of interest. It gets readers forewarned and almost paranoid about a world where our identities are cloned by robots that may be used by the government, but excites readers about the mass onslaught of new devices that will hasten whatever evolution is resulting from an age of new media. Schmidt’s vision promises warfare. His inventions will change the layout of the battlefield, he promises. These ideas blur the line between commercial monopoly, which is fine if you don’t get caught, (as Bill Gates has proven and rectified via philanthropy), and geopolitical maneuvering that from here on in will endanger the security of the United States – will always be a source of intimidation, frustration and concern in parts of the world.
This is what you can be sure of: the technological tension between privacy and security on the one side, and freedom of expression and individualism on the latter will boggle Americans for years to come.
In the future, all your social media accounts will be linked to one single online profile, Mr. Schmidt assures the readers of The New Digital Age. How will this change our sense of identity? Not quite growing fins, certainly we are adapting to a new Cartesian reality in which we may choose from a slew of media to output and input information and present ourselves in a new cyber reality. These media allow us to manipulate our identity, thanks to companies such as LinkedIn, Google, Twitter and Facebook.
Overall, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen are optimistic about the global future their company thrust into the tributaries of civilization.
The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens is a fantastic new collection of essays by educator and entrepreneur Stephen Apkon. But should it have been a picture book?
It is a work that reads easily as a new libertarian manifesto for the age of new media. It predicts that in the age of new media, the ubiquity of the still picture and motion picture as to be overdosed on over at BuzzFeed, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and others, will force a new generation to undergo an adaptation. Maybe our ability to communicate via language, as we know it will be weakened. But the ability to communicate within itself will definitely morph. Will this make us better or worse at communication? This is going to be grounds for contentious debate.
If the age of new media will create a standard for communication that students have to be held to, is the new adaptation going to be a skill that can be taught pedagogically in a classroom? Will it prove to be a faculty of the new mind? Such a paradox recalls Noam Chomsky and Ivan Pavlov’s debate from the middle of the last century on the acquisition of a second language. Chomsky holds this is a natural skill men are capable of whereas Pavlov insists it must be programmed: a signal must be sent from a disciplinary, parental or educational institution down to the pupil.
Whereas Apkon’s prose digs into new media’s influence on the news and current events, he’s got Martin Scorsese prefacing his thoughts with a brilliant essay. Scorsese prides himself on being a young prodigy of the language of pictures. A storyteller, he tells his best tale on the screen. An artist though, this language cannot be as direct as the practical realism of the news media. For Martin Scorsese, a good narrative must be shown not told. Consider, perhaps, the first half-an-hour or so of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (2008), but prose to explain its powerful affect and effect.
The intersection of pictures and language has perplexed civilization since its foundation. In reporting the truth, they go together like peas and carrots: each accused of being the catalyst of opinion where one is adamantly deemed unnecessary. In the arts however, they work together almost as binaries. Whereas Martin Scorsese waves the banner of cinema for all to see, poets manipulate language to narrate aspects of an idea that written or spoken language can only improve upon. This tension is called by the Latin ut pictura poesis, and maybe Martin Scorsese should include that in the forthcoming edition when it comes.
With a focus on both cinema and photojournalism, Apkon’s work largely borrows from concepts explored by Harvard aesthete, Stanley Cavell and Susan Sontag. This has to do with the themes of subjectivity and film, and identity and cinema. In the chapter entitled “The Evolution of the Audience” the author refers to the Sept. 11, 2012 incident when a film called “The Innocence of Muslims” was released on YouTube, sending the Middle East into a state of anarchy, disorder and anger at the United States. In Libya, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed during the incident. “The crowds were led to believe from Egyptian media reports” writes Apkon, “that the video—uploaded to YouTube, of course, where it could be seen by millions—was a product of Hollywood, produced and directed by a transplanted Israeli, and therefore represented the beliefs of the United States at large as well as the Jews.” Apkon begins the upcoming paragraph with an astounding sentence that surmises about the geopolitical static being examined in the vignette and could easily sum up the era of new media and social-networking such as YouTube, as a whole. “Here we have a case of an ordinary person in obscurity being able to move world events with a camera and a computer.” Apkon is open about how he reads a geopolitical situation, or so it seems. Here, he compares the maker of this film to a German Nazi filmmaker, Leni Rienstahl.
Among the most fascinating and enlightening corridors of this work is the section on subjectivity and photojournalism.
People see what they want to see. Apkon quotes an article from a few years ago in The Atlantic Monthly by James Fallows about contention concerning a photo of Israeli soldiers firing bullets at a Palestinian father with his dead boy in his arms. “What actually happened to Muhammed al-Durrah” he writes “might forever remain a mystery, but one thing that all sides can agree on is the way a video, even a questionable one, put the incident into an exalted position.” As it turns out, the photograph was misinterpreted by the leftwing press.
Recognizing that, no matter what, it is like Susan Sontag writes in the essay On Photography, “There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera.” Apkon’s book awakens us to realize that this is apparently true, and even more so, in the Internet age.