The Influencing Machine
by Brooke Gladstone, Josh Neufeld
W.W. Norton, May 2011
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“We get the media we deserve,” declares NPR’s Brooke Gladstone in her excellent The Influencing Machine, an insightful graphic manifesto that sits comfortably alongside Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business and Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, both of whom make cameo appearances.
Gladstone, aided by Josh Neufeld’s seamless visuals, makes a compelling case that the ills that plague media today—mass and social—are nothing new, that “we’ve been here before: the incivility, the inanities, the obsessions, the broken business models. In fact, it’s been far worse and the Republic survives.”
What follows is a broad, contextual overview of the history of media, recounted with a healthy sense of humor, and a refreshing undertone of optimism. eg: Near the end of the book, in two pages, she covers Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity, Lanier’s skepticism, Planet of the Apes and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs—and it all makes sense!
“Graphic non-fiction” is a tricky format to pull off and not to everyone’s taste, but Neufeld does a great job complementing Gladstone without letting the medium overshadow her message, and any student of media, formally or arm-chair, should read The Influencing Machine without hesitation.
[Check out this cool animated trailer by Benjamin Arthur.]
Kudos to W.W. Norton for taking a chance on such an innovative book, though it’s rather disappointing that the publisher of Frank Rose’s excellent The Art of Immersion has zero online presence for it. A missed opportunity, but one that should be easily (and quickly) rectified.
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