New Technologies: The Disruption

In today’s class we covered three media discussed in the first half of the Tim Wu book The Master Switch: telephone, radio, and motion pictures. All three media ushered not so much revolutions in the media industries but disruptions to well-established media. In the case of the telephone, it challenged and ultimately surpassed the telegraph as an instant communications device.

Similarly the radio challenged the telegraph, not only because of its instantaneous communication but also because it obviated the need for wires. But radio wasn’t only a point-to-point communication system, it ushered broadcasting.

Finally, the feature film was a disruption to the standard one-reel film of the nickelodeon era. The Motion Picture Patents Company was perfectly happy keeping films short as it monopolized that form. However the feature film was a whole new form, one that independents embraced and successfully marketed to audiences. That disruption ultimately changed the film industry into a system that is not completely foreign to us today, nearly 100 years after the Independents, such as Adolph Zukor, began marketing and distributing feature films.

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