Books For the Aspiring Media Oracle

Books - remember those?

Despite the contemporary media industry’s ever-deepening series of intellectual hierarchies, today’s emerging industry participants are expected to maintain a broad understanding of the overall continuum. This is not without good reason; due to media’s heavy reliance upon technology, the techniques and processes behind it are largely derivative from prior concepts. So, I make it a habit to ensure I read a decent number of titles each year that address media’s past and its future. In particular, I make sure that I buy the physical published copy. What better way to learn about the media biz than through the very first media ever leveraged by mankind?

These are the titles that I have enjoyed so far over the past 4 months.

The Essential McLuhan

The Essential McLuhan is a tome of post-modern awesomeness from the largely-forgotten Marshall McLuhan. Many of McLuhan’s works remained out of print until they were revived by this 1996 release. Within, many of the man’s most important contributions to media analysis, such as the notions of ‘hot and cold’ media and the dichotomy between oral and visual cultures, are explored in depth with incredible wit and beautiful prose. For newcomers to the digital media world, I cannot recommend this collection highly enough.

What I learned: The basic distribution and production of media has three origination points in its 100+ year history: the theater, AM/FM radio, and the web. Maintaining a well-informed perspective on the past, present, and future of media is as convenient as remembering the simple phrase, the medium is the message. (OK, I learned a lot more than just this, but read the book yourself because nearly every page had me gleaning with new insights and intrigue.)

The Boy Who Could Change the World: The Writings of Aaron Swartz

The Boy Who Could Change the World was recommended in a tweet by Chelsea Manning. For those unaware, Aaron Swartz was a technology and activist wunderkind who did a lot of good for the world before being basically murdered by the United States government. I was very pleased to learn that his blog had been curated and published in this form, because I was a dedicated reader. A co-author of the RSS standard, co-founder of Reddit, and tireless political activist, Aaron Swartz presented the tribulations of our time in an engaging, engineer-friendly prose that was as endearing as it was informative. A nice touch was the inclusion of Aaron’s age at the time of publication of each article. Seeing Age: 16 above a searing, brilliant expose on the curse of moderate politics in the United States was rather delightful.

What I learned: The Wikipedia editor community is one of the strangest organizations on the planet. I had no idea just how much of a sausage factory Wikipedia was!

Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy

Information Rules was a recommendation I’d been meaning to pick up for a few years after I’d originally read about it in an Aaron Swartz article. It is considered one of the classics within the study of the information age’s economics. The basic contention of the book’s authors is that, despite all the massive change perpetuated by the adoption of the web, the underlying principles that lead to success remain the same. Technology has had little impact on the fundamentals behind intellectual property, technological standards, and product pricing, so the text argues that business fundamentals should remain static, too. Though the book is geared towards those who are technological and economics laypeople, the book offers no less insight to engineers, particularly those working for startups.

What I learned: In the digital media industry, technology can be an essential tool or a debilitating scapegoat. In an industry where software and web technologies are disrupting fundamental operational procedures, we should be careful to not allow our business processes to become muddied up as a result.