Media Unlimited, Revised Edition How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives

Todd Gitlin




Trade Paperback

272 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy

In this look at our electronically glutted, speed-addicted world, Todd Gitlin evokes a reality of relentless sensation, instant transition, and nonstop stimulus, which he argues is anything but progress. He shows how all media, all the time fuels celebrity worship, paranoia, and irony, and how attempts to ward off the onrush become occasion for yet more media. Far from bringing about a "new information age," Gitlin argues, the digital torrent has fostered a society of disposable emotions and casual commitments, and threatens to make democracy a sideshow. In a new afterword, Gitlin takes measure of the most recent wave of inundation in the form of iPods, blogs, and YouTube.

Both a startling analysis and a charged polemic, Media Unlimited reveals the unending stream of manufactured images and sounds as a defining feature of our civilization and a perverse culmination of Western hopes for freedom.


Praise for Media Unlimited, Revised Edition

"A balanced yet biting critique . . . Gitlin is a savvy guide to our increasingly kinetic times—part of the torrent that's worth listening to."—San Francisco Chronicle

"We owe a profound thanks to Todd Gitlin for opening our eyes to a phenomenon that is so omnipresent it can seem invisible. Media is not just what we see on TV, it is the infrastructure in which we live our lives, not just 'content' but environment. Gitlin is our expert environmental guide through this modern wilderness, a place where rivers flow with projected images, forests are thickets of sounds, and the sky is filled with advertisements."—Naomi Klein, author of No Logo

"Here it is: the biggest cultural question of our time. How are we to live in 'the torrent'—the never-ceasing, never-slowing flow of mass-produced words and sounds and images that these days makes up nearly the entirety of human experience? Todd Gitlin traces all the arguments, tests all the responses, and suggests a verdict that is both intelligent and humane."—Thomas Frank, author of One Market Under God

"This is a wise book, well-informed and well-observed. If the media torrent doesn't sweep us all away, it will be in part because Todd Gitlin has so lucidly (and wittily) encouraged us to keep our heads, and use them."—Mark Crispin Miller, author of The Bush Dyslexicon and Boxed In

"At once savvy and impassioned, Todd Gitlin writes with inner-sanctum authority about how our newly ramified systems, computers and media, are transfiguring our accepted sense of the world. He is one of the disciplined, one of the unenchanted: He gets it frighteningly right."—Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies

"Many of us, when reading books of extraordinary acuity, feel the need to put exclamation points in the margins when we've read something that sweeps us up with its brilliance. Gitlin's work always does this, but Media Unlimited might be his most demanding of margin-defacement. Media Unlimited is enthralling; it's actually a page-turner, and its unbroken chain of plain and unavoidable truths make it essential—and, happily, vastly entertaining—reading."—Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

"Admirable . . . Gitlin shares a theologian's sense of the profound, a judge's eye for equity, and an activist's hankering for the microphone . . . The media are no longer just the message or the massage: they are just us."—Newsday

"Gitlin, a longtime student of society and media begins his latest book with the premise that the media are a central part of contemporary everyday life. He speculates that the common error of referring to the media in the singular reflects our experience of what seems to be a seamless entity. The prevalence of media makes it impossible to separate the stream of images, stories, and sounds from daily life. Focusing on the big picture, Gitlin traces the role of media in making life in the modern world bearable. The consequences of living in this artificial world of ‘disposable feelings' is a disengagement from social and political involvement. Gitlin categorizes individual styles of navigating media into those of the fans, the paranoids, the exhibitionists, the ironists, the jammers, the secessionists, and the abolitionists. He does not advocate a particular style, nor does he argue that we can or should return to an earlier time. He simply asks that we step back and reflect on the media as a central condition of our entire way of life."—Judy Solberg, George Washington University Library, Washington, DC, Library Journal

"Gitlin, a professor of journalism and culture, examines why and how it has come about that so much of our time is spent being bombarded by communications, information, and entertainment from a variety of media. Gitlin wants to avoid the typical analysis of the effects of the media on society and, instead, looks at the media as an experience in itself, with no definitive meaning necessarily attached, analyzing the feelings elicited by a stream of information. He concedes that his objective is a gamble, but it pays off. Citing observations by Marx, de Tocqueville, Orwell, and a stream of others, Gitlin offers a short, dizzying history of how we got to the point where we are supersaturated with a torrent of information coming at us at incredible speed. The author explores how we manage and have even begun to resist media saturation, as we step back, take a breath, and consider 'what we want to do about it besides change channels.' Readers interested in contemporary media and culture will enjoy this absorbing book."—Vanessa Bush, Booklist

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

On my bedroom wall hangs a print of Vermeer's The Concert, painted around 1660. A young woman is playing a spinet. A second woman, probably her maid, holds a letter. A cavalier stands between them, his back to us. A landscape is...

Read the full excerpt


  • Todd Gitlin

  • Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University and the author of twelve other books, including The Sixties, Inside Prime Time, The Twilight of Common Dreams, and The Bulldozer and the Big Tent. He lives in New York City.