Friday, November 21, 2008

Invention --> Expansion--> Redefinition

Telegraph companies did not invent the phone. Music companies did not envision the future of the mp3. Print media did not invent the internet. Although I haven't read it, that's my understanding of the basic premise behind John Seabrook's Flash of Genius: and Other True Stories of Invention.

It's almost always an arguably unpredictable outlier that sweeps in and changes the world as we know it. When change does occur though, the doors swing open and fear and instability invade. In our world of exponential information flow, the speed of change is only increasing. But take note, my friends. Video did not kill the radio star. Even today, in a world where video is on TV, DVD, video game consoles, and streaming on the internet as the projected lasting vehicle for optimum promotion, radio still exists. And believe it or not, radio play still makes one huge difference.

And so for everyone who says print is on it's last legs, I vehemently refute. New creations in the media world do not kill. Rather, they expand the amount of information that is delivered. The VCR did not stunt the movie market as originally predicted. Instead it spurred the creation of even more movies.

When the printing press came into existence at around 1440 people were afraid of the consequences. Plato's allegorical Thoth in "Phaedrus" warned against recording knowledge in books, saying that the printing press would destroy the oral tradition of knowledge and pedagogy. This was, according to Katheen Tyner, partly because he wanted to maintain control over how people understood and interpreted exactly what they were being told. But isn't losing an element of control something that the once few media voices are afraid of now that information is on a many to many scale?

Despite all the fear oral communication still exists and people still go to the movies. The advent of new methods for delivering media often changes the mission statement of the old medium, but I will argue that it's usually all for the best. Of course there's nothing good about people losing magazine and newspaper jobs, but this is part of the inevitable growing pains of change. Jobs will move and shuffle and products of the printing press may mean new or different things than they once did. These changes aren't bad though. Thoreau will always be Thoreau and good literature will always hold value.

The advent of new communication mediums have changed our society for thousands of years and will continue to do so at only a more ferocious pace. If I step back to look at the big picture though, I have faith. You can call me blindly optimistic but I would argue that, for the most part, we make these changes in our methods of communication because new mediums give us what we desire.

The virtual community of blogs, mp3's and streaming video stands atop many other means of communication. We made the choice to employ these mediums and moved in this direction because people are empowered, informed, and freed by new media literacies. Like the people who constantly improve the iPhone with the creation of new applications based on what was once desired but just barely unattainable, the advent of new means for transmitting information enable us to do more with our lives.

Now the only matter that's left is figuring out how to best adapt to these changes and use the power we wield in ways that improve society. That part begins now, and the most exciting facet of it all is that we're right in the middle of it. This is the new Enlightenment. May it go down in history as a time of beautiful change.


Green River Ordinance
approaches with cinematic songwriting and a grand, easy sound. Blare them or let them play softly in the background as you fall to sleep, but listen to them at some point or another.