Brooke Gladstone, co-host of the excellent NPR-syndicated "On the Media," has teamed up with illustrator Josh Neufeld to produce a fantastic nonfiction comic book called The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media. This is one of those books that feels like the author has been working up to it for her whole life, distilling all her varied experience and insight into one mind-opening, thought-provoking, and incredibly timely volume.
Influencing Machine begins with a history of the news, starting with Mayan scribes, Herodotus, and Julius Caesar's Acta Diurna (the original syndicated newsheet and the first widely distributed sensationalist tabloid), and then to the Anglo-American history of news, propaganda, bias, lies, censorship, bravery, principle, and truth. This fascinating history serves to introduce the major thesis of Influencing Machine: that the "media machine" that cynically distorts in order to serve the rich and powerful is a delusion. The reality is that the "media agenda" is an emergent phenomenon that arises spontaneously from commercial constraints, human frailty, state interference, and cognitive blindspots.
Gladstone's history of the best and worst of journalism is a prelude to an analysis of the present day, and the peculiar moment we inhabit, as partisan news -- once the dominant form of publishing, but long discredited and dormant -- begins to arise, just as the Internet is changing the way that news is gathered, reported, and analyzed and paid for. Gladstone makes a good case for the idea that total upheaval is actually pretty normal in the world of news, and even if this total upheaval is a bit more total than all the other ones, the apocalyptic story of the death of journalism is overstated, as is the evil nature of the Internet as a sapper of critical thought and sustained attention.
Touching on everything from the impossibility of impartiality to the practical way to address bias, from copyright law to business models, from sensationalism to complicit silence, Gladstone and Neufeld's Influencing Machine is an absolutely spectacular read: serious without being weighty, accessible without being thin. It's one of those graphic nonfiction volumes, like Understanding Comics, that shows just how well suited comics are to explaining and exploring serious subjects.
The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media
In 2012, Kim Stanley Robinson published 2312, imagining how the world and its neighbors might look in 300 years, loosely coupled with the seminal Red Mars books, a futuristically pastoral novel about the way that technology can celebrate the glories of nature; in 2015, Robinson followed it up with Aurora, the best book I read that year, which used 2312’s futures to demolish the idea that we can treat space colonization (and other muscular technological projects) as Plan B for climate change — a belief that is very comforting to those who don’t or can’t imagine transforming capitalism into a political system that doesn’t demolish the planet. Now, with New York 2140, Robinson starts to connect the dots between these different futures with a bold, exhilarating story of life in a permanent climate crisis, where most people come together in adversity, but where a small rump of greedy, powerful people get in their way.
Last December, I published my review of Andrew “bunnie” Huang’s astoundingly great book The Hardware Hacker: Adventures in Making and Breaking Hardware — without realizing that the book’s release had been delayed because the published decided to do some very fancy and cool stuff with the printing process.
It’s been fifteen years since the first edition of educator Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes was published; now in its third edition — updated with current, timely material about social media and other fast-moving subjects, as well as reflections from girls who were raised on the techniques in the previous editions — the book is a compassionate, aware, and intensely practical guide to navigating the toxic, gendered lives of young girls in a diverse, politicized world.
The Raspberry Pi Foundation has done outstanding work packing a fully capable desktop computer into a package the size of a deck cards—especially one that only costs $35. But if you already have a working laptop, why should you care? Oh, how much you have to learn. Besides operating well as a compact digital media hub, […]
Custom coffee vessels are the perfect piece of office flair, but it’s just a matter of time before your VOTE FOR PEDRO mug will start to lose its relevant wit. Why not have a new one every day, with whatever silly nonsense you want sticking off the sides? You can save big on your novelty […]
The Lightning port has thus far resisted the cruel fate that befell the headphone jack, and despite rumors that it may be disappearing come iPhone 8, for the present and foreseeable future, Lightning cables are a hot commodity for iPhone users. As such, we must make do in this strange time in which long, glorified […]