According to Carl J. Couch, the history of human society is one of successive, sometimes overlapping, information technologies used to process the various symbolic representations that inform social contexts. Unlike earlier “media” theorists who ignored social context in order to concentrate on the information technologies themselves, Couch implements a consistent theory of interpersonal and intergroup relations to describe the essential interface between information technologies and the social contexts in which they are used.
Couch emphasizes the formative capacities of information technologies across historical epochs and cultures, and places them within the major institutional relations of various societies. He views social orders as reflexively shaped by the information technologies that participants use, and as susceptible to mass brutality and oppression due to oligarchic control though he hopes technology will remain humane.
The original edition of this manuscript was nearly complete at the time of Couch’s death and was brought to completion by two of his closest associates. Now after two decades, during which its impact is indisputable, it has been updated for a new generation of students and scholars. Additions include discussions on books in the digital age, social media, mobile telephones, recordings, participatory culture, and more.