chapter  1
Introduction: Communication – the very idea
Pages 16

New media have historically given rise to utopian as well as dystopian perspectives on the role of communication in society – from Plato’s concern that writing would promote forgetfulness rather than memory and wisdom, via recurring debates about print and broadcast media as instruments of either enlightenment and education or entertainment and escapism, to recent accounts of the internet and other digital media as resources for enhanced public participation in politics, economy, and culture. The very idea of communication has been informed over time by the available media, and by the hopes and fears associated with them. As demonstrated by John Durham Peters (1999) in his agenda-setting history of the idea, communication was only recognized as a general category of human activity following the rise of electronic communication media from the last half of the nineteenth century, beginning with the telegraph.1 These developments encouraged scholars and other commentators to think of diverse practices of social interaction – in the flesh, via wires, and over the air – in terms of their family resemblances. In Peters’ (1999: 6) felicitous formulation, “mass communication came first.” With digitalization, the idea of communication is, once again, in question. For more than a decade, research has been struggling to understand what comes after mass communication.