Every January, I take a break from public relations and teach a course titled, “Mass Media: History and Development.” It’s an intense 15 days of three hour-long classes and I love doing it. The subject matter is fascinating.
Working from a couple of books by Professor Irving Fang, we focus on his “six information revolutions,” or the six communication epochs Fang lists as writing, printing, mass media, entertainment, the toolshed home (personal communication tools), and the Internet. Every major advancement in the movement of information has caused a paradigm shift in human experience and brought massive changes to the way we live on this planet.
We also look at the communication theories of Marshall McLuhan, the media researcher and guru who, in the 1960’s, coined the term “global village.” McLuhan saw mass media, particularly television, as the means in which information shared simultaneously heightens human awareness at lightning speed, bringing the world closer together. His phrase, “The medium is the message,” suggested the content of a message has ultimately less meaning than the means of its transmission (a tough concept to ponder). He also predicted the Internet 30 years before it happened. “The next medium,” he wrote in 1962, “whatever it is – it may be the extension of consciousness – will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.” Pretty remarkable stuff!
We can agree that the Internet may be having a more profound effect on humanity than any other information revolution. But, as we’ve discussed in class, its development almost mirrors the 15th century birth of the printing press. Johann Guttenberg’s invention allowed for the permanent recording of history, records and science. It made the sharing of information and learning available to everyone for the first time in human history. We’re doing the same thing now at light speed and everything’s changing again. Fascinating stuff. Your thoughts?