There is one other thought prompted by re-reading Jane Jacobs’ The Economy of Cities. She has an almost by-the-by section about the changes in the mass media of the day, the switch in readership away from mass circulation national daily newspapers to mass television capturing the national audience and more local, often suburban, newspapers. TV was the disruptive technology of the day, and audience habits changed. The argument Jacobs makes is that the technology wasn’t so much the cause of the transition as the enabler of it. The driving force was the growth of the suburbs, and the social changes that went alongside it.
I don’t know enough US media history to evaluate this properly, but it’s surely a good reminder that technology always, but always interacts with social change. Knowing that’s true in general has been at the heart of my work since the 1990s, but at a time of exciting and rapid technical change (pace Robert Gordon), it’s easy to forget to central role of social change in specific cases. Including the changes happening now in media habits.
The Economy of Cities (Vintage)