Comics / Spotlight / Knowledge and Scholarship

A Review of Kittler’s History of Communication Media

By Hervé St-Louis
September 27, 2017 - 02:35

Source: Alchetron Credits: Tim Adler
Brief article written for my University of Toronto CCT109 students for their review notes.

Kittler's article is a philosophical argument for a new definition of the history of new media.  Philosophers often make their arguments by breaking up existing theories that were proposed before expanding and demonstrating their own version. This is what Kittler is doing. Do not be confused by the way he approaches his problem. He is referring to a lot of literature which you may not be familiar with to set up the context of the article that he is writing.

Mainly he identifies two problems which make his proposed definition of new media necessary. First, he claims that documentation about the history of media is deficient. There is little information about the form of media, while there may be more about contents.

His second argument is that information system (or Claude Shannon's communication theory) is the preferred way to understand communication today but that this theory does not account for ideas and the human side of communication and focuses exclusively on the process of information using five steps. Refer to this as information theory.

So Kittler proposes a new way to understand media based on the written script starting with written documentation followed with the greater propagation of the written through printing. This is the first block of the history of media.

The second block comes from electronic media transmitted - or what he calls technical media. It starts with the telegraph and other analog technologies and then ends with the computer and digital media which relies on information technologies.

Kittler subtly proposes that the history of media only occurs when it as been recorded (documented). So, for him, music from tam tams, and sounds created from other musical instruments, or human voices would not be part of the history of media. He favours literacy over orality, which is a common perspective held by many scholars. This view was more pervasive in the Enlightenment and the Modern Age (1700 to World War Two) and is less prevalent today (we are in the Post Modern Age or the information economy).

He also omits painting, drawings, and sculpting from his definition of documented media. Kittler thus omits auditory and visual media and focuses on written script alone as the starting point of communication media. A good criticism of Kittler would be these omissions.

Works Cited
Kittler, F. (1996, July 30). The History of Communication Media. Retrieved from CTheory:

Last Updated: August 31, 2023 - 08:12

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