Why is it, for example, that the move from polytheism to monotheism failed when attempted by the pharaoh Ikhnaton, yet took solid root among the Hebrews who were taken out of Egypt by Moses only about 150 years later? Levinson argues that communication technology played a key role: The awkward Egyptian hieroglyphics failed to carry the ideology as well as the Hebrew alphabetic system. From there, Levinson examines the early social changes that became possible because of what the author calls "the first digital medium"--the alphabet. He considers how the Reformation, economic and political movements, and the scientific revolution were largely enabled by the printing press. He then discusses the influence of photographic communications and electronic technology such as the telegraph, the telephone, and broadcasting.
Levinson devotes the second half of the book to our present digital revolution, from word processing to the Internet and beyond. One of his key points is that new technology doesn't necessarily displace the old so much as it expands it. Therefore, he doesn't see any end to using paper anytime soon. However, he sees great need for changes in the way we view creative rights. He proposes what he calls an"electronic watermark" for intellectual property--a universal patent number that will be embedded in intellectual property and will notify users in any medium of the property's creators. Levinson puts forth his ideas in a manner that is both formal and engaging. He has a knack for making his reader feel intelligent and respected--and never more so than when he looks at issues of ethics and a speculative future.