The Media

Totally Wired

Reviewed by Shelby Coffey III
Sunday, May 1, 2005


How the Media Shapes Your World and

the Way You Live in It

By Thomas de Zengotita. Bloomsbury. 291 pp. $22.95


The Search for Community in a Technological Age

By Michael Bugeja. Oxford Univ. 226 pp. Paperback, $19.95

"Let your mind alone!" wrote New Yorker humorist James Thurber in a broadside against self-help tomes by psyched-out psychologists and other well-meaning oafs. But the mind is, as the Zen masters say, a drunken monkey -- and does not want to be left alone. In an age of endless e-mails, tidy TiVos, cell phones, Blast-faxes, broadband and satellite channels by the hundreds, being left alone is not an option for many in the overdeveloped world.

That sounds dandy at first. But what's the psychic cost? And when do we pay it? Two new books look, in alternately amazed and mournful ways, at the bill for living with what one calls the Seven Habits of Highly Mediated People. (Washington wonks and wonkettes, beware; the enemy is all around and is, in fact, us.) Both authors are serious chroniclers of a bewildering, ever-new techno-world, at once godlike in its reach and addictive in its pleasures and demands.

Mediated , by Harper's magazine contributing editor Thomas de Zengotita, aims to "zap the Zeitgeist." It's a fine roar of a lecture about how the American mind is shaped by (too much) media -- aphoristic and brilliant in spots, way over, under and around the top in others. The dust jacket blurb by the bombastic Norman Mailer is no accident, comrade.

De Zengotita shows why we viewers are endlessly "flattered" by the way the world is brought to us by our many fiber-optic wires. You live, he writes, in "a world of effects" where you can be "a connoisseur of what moves you." "It's all about the options -- and they are all about you. No limits. You are totally free to choose because it really doesn't matter what you choose." Why? Because we live in a world where instant shifts by remote controls, mouse clicks and Verizon 411 make our own identities fluid.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company