Giving Compass’ Take:
• This Stanford Social Innovation Review post discusses the history of the printing press, its inventor Johannes Gutenberg and how the rise of the digital revolution will shape the future of civil society.
• What can funders do to make sure those who will be most affected by advancements in technology and communications have a voice in shaping such innovations?
In light of today’s spread of “fake news” and debates about post-truth society, I’ve been re-reading the history of the printing press, Johannes Gutenberg’s invention dating back to the mid-1400’s. Probably the most exhaustive exploration of the subject is in Elizabeth Eisenstein’s two-volume book The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. In her writings, Eisenstein refers to the “Unacknowledged Revolution” that followed Gutenberg’s invention, which encompassed not only the Protestant Reformation, but also the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution. Print media allowed the general public to access ideas and information not previously available to them. This in turn led to the growth of public knowledge, and enabled individuals to formulate and share their own thoughts, independent from the church. Hence, new, non-church authorities and influences grew, and the arts and sciences flourished.
I would argue that we are living through our own Gutenberg moment — a moment of transformation in our fundamental tools for creating, expressing, and sharing information, ideas, and knowledge. And like the invention of the printing press, the rise of digital communication tools will likely lead to multiple revolutions — in how we govern, learn, and organize our economy. “Changes in the information age will be as dramatic as those in the Middle Ages in Europe,” wrote James A. Dewar in a 1998 RAND research paper titled, “The Information Age and the Printing Press: Looking Backward to See Ahead.” At a very deep level, changes in our basic communications tools and technologies alter existing power dynamics; they re-define who has the power of voice, the power to shape our dominant narratives, and the power to influence how we think and act.
Read the full article about digital communications and civil society by Marina Gorbis at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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