Was watching a Stephen Fry programme last night about the Gutenberg printing press. What struck me was the similar language he used to describe the barriers and effect the printing press had compared to how we describe blogs and wikis. There were three main points of similarity:
- The invention of the printing press democratised ownership of information. The power was no longer held by the scribes who uniquely owned the means of production. In the same way, today’s media no longer owns the means of production or the content. Bloggers take up authoritative positions once held by news anchors. BBC News actively courts phone camera images of people who are at the scene before their news crew.
- The scale and pace of change was unbelievably quick. According to the programme, in 50 years over 20 million books were published from a standing start of 0. Some probably had a readership of 1, whereas others (such as the Bible) had a fundamental effect on the culture of the time. Similarly, there has been a massive proliferation of blogs in the last 5 years, many with a readership of one. Yet the popular ones rise to the top and the insignificant fade away
- There was a lot of fear about this revolution in information ownership. The Church, in particular, feared the end of their monopoly on interpretation of the Bible. Yet others recognised that if there was a widely available, universally consistent text (as opposed to messages transmitted verbally which were error prone, and even the scribes making copies were subject to error) this could allow a consistent understanding of faith. In the same way, some organisations fear the new world – Blockbuster, for example, seems fixated on a retail strategy whilst NetFlix, AppleTV, and even iPlayer and BT Vision clearly show the way of the future in on demand.
Could this change the world in the same manner as the printing press? Probably not on the same scale, it seems more of an evolution rathern than revolution, but the similarities were stunning.
Speaking of iPlayer, those within the UK can watch the programme here.