(I’ve been working on this for a month now and it’s still a bit disjointed. I hope it makes sense.)
Gutenberg introduced moveable type to Europe in about 1450, making knowledge more readily available. However, a Bible could cost the equivalent of a clerk’s wages for three years, and apart from monks, very few people could read.
[One hundred ten years later, the Bible was being printed in English and John Knox was overthrowing the Catholic Church in Scotland.
Another 80 years pass and the Scots, the poorest nation in western Europe, set out to provide basic education – reading, writing, and arithmetic, free to every child. It would be a long time before England and the rest of Europe caught up.
The renaissance was already underway, but after Gutenberg, movable type printing presses sprang up all over Europe, books became a symbol of wealth and education. The Jews of Spain translated the knowledge of the Arab Moors (particularly the sciences – mathematics, astronomy, etc) into Latin which gave a huge boost to the intellectual ferment of the time, but it would still be another four centuries before literacy became common in Europe.
Now, jump forward to the mid 1900s. In the first world, literacy is almost universal, books are inexpensive and the electronic computer has been invented. IBM estimates that the world wide market for computers is about 20.
1981, IBM introduces the personal computer.
Fifteen years later we have internet and email available to the public, and ten years after that an email address is almost as common as a phone number.
The internet is the modern equivalent of the printing press. Blogs, list serves, forums compare to books in the effect they will have on society – but faster, more radical – this is TWO-way – you can talk back. And the opposite – google is reputed to have a deal with the CIA, tracking and saving every gmail post, every search. Yahoo agreed to limit access to certain sites so that they could operate in China. There are changes in text spelling and the way we communicate – IMHO. The spelling of the language and the grammar are going to get simplified – I should say, ‘are getting simplified.’ These are natural progressions. AFAIK, all languages simplify their grammar over time – never the reverse.
But I digress…
Or maybe not.
I can imagine a time when people like me, who think that grammar and spelling matter, who think that there is a beauty in the language, in its idiosyncrasies and idioms, will be considered eccentric*, clinging to old ways that don’t matter. Hell, I’m starting to think that way myself! When I find myself stopping mid-sentence while I try to decide on the correct verb form, I wonder if it really matters. But still, I try to use the conditional tense correctly; I use adverbs; I don’t say, “It is I,” but I justify that by classifying it as idiomatic.
Writing made information available not only to more people, but into the future and from the past. Timebinding. The printing press made information much more widely available.
When books become available and affordable, the value of reading and writing became apparent. Ideas could be spread rapidly. When people could read they could learn more from others and from the past. Things started to change very rapidly (for the times). Can you imagine how exciting it would have been to live during the renaissance? Probably most people just accepted what was happening as the ‘way things are’. I wonder if many were interested in learning how to read faster.
The internet is the printing press of today. It has changed how, and how easily, we can get information. And SHARE information. 20 years ago, I could go to the library and look things up, if I were lucky enough to be near a large enough library, and if I were sufficiently interested. Now I just google it – whatever it is. Depending on my level of interest, and what I find, I can pursue it as far as I want to. I could start a blog, or join a group of people with similar interests, or start such a group if I couldn’t find one I was comfortable with (with which I was comfortable?). I can lurk on the sidelines to get the feel for the local culture, or dive right in. Movements happen. Things get ‘sort of’ organized without any one person or group being the leader.
Look up Clay Shirkey on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe1TZaElTAs
We are living in the beginning of the 2nd renaissance! PAY ATTENTION! We are living in exciting times. There are incredible business opportunities out there – but that completely misses the point. Most people will never realize that we are living in what is probably just about the most amazing period in human history. Really!
Things are happening in a different way now. People with shared interests are helping each other out. For example, one group I follow is about ferocement. One member had a problem with a water tank he’d built. Over several months, several members spent a lot of time analyzing what could have gone wrong. Small samples of the metal and cement powder that were used were sent to people in different parts of the world – India for one. None of these people got anything out of it except the good feeling that comes with giving someone a hand. And it’s a different feeling from the one that comes with making a sale.
The Social Darwinians who believe in survival of the fittest as a way to run a society might not survive the new culture. lol. The competitive edge that humans have, combined with our abilities to communicate through space and time, is the ability to cooperate – and a genetic predisposition to do so. Acts of kindness cause endorphin (similar to morphine) production in the brain in all involved – rippling out – even to people who only hear about it. “Random acts of meaningless kindness.” The internet has made cooperation infinitely easier. Ahhh – feel that endorphin rush!
Examples: Linux, Perl, Wikipedia. Is Britannica still being published? Windows is still strong, but Linux is improving more quickly.
That’s about as far as I’ve taken this idea so far. How will this affect ‘books’ as we currently know them? I have no idea. I think there will be a market for a while. But I strongly believe that big changes are happening and I believe it’s going to be bigger and stranger and different from what any of us can imagine. I’m really excited – I consider myself to be very lucky to live now. I can hardly wait to see what happens next.
(This piece is actually the lead-in to my next piece – on what I like to think will be the ultimate advertising for used bookstores.)
*ECCENTRIC – from Medieval Latin eccentricus, not having the same center – suggesting the idea of being a little unbalanced – certainly not traveling in the right circles!
I would like to close by quoting Edna St. Vincent Milay,
“They drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout,
But love and I had the wit to win;
We drew a circle that shut them in.”
RELATED READING: How the Scotch Invented the Modern World
The Paradigm Conspiracy
No Logo – by Naomi Klein
It might be of interest – and in keeping with the content of this piece, that the original came one evening in bed while reading an old Analog magazine. I had to get up, start the computer and get the basics of it down. I then put it up on a yahoo group about solar heating. It was largely ignored, but two days later I got an email from Frank, a group member in Arizona. He told me to watch the YouTube piece mentioned above. That added another dimension and I had to rewrite the whole thing. Now it’s here, but I doubt if I’m done with it. – Bob