Question: When publishing changes, so does society. Investigate and compare the impact of two publication technologies, one pre-1900 and one post-2000, on a specific aspect of society (e.g. education, politics, creative industries, science, entertainment, social relationships).
Publishing is, “put simply, to make something known” (Murphie, 2014) and involves the distribution and dissemination of data and information to the public. It has progressed from cave paintings, to the Gutenberg printing press to radio and finally to social media. Today, with the innovation of easy-to-access platforms, anyone with a mobile device and access to the internet can publish something. As media continues to progress and develop at a rapid pace, the channels of publishing and the public alter society’s interactions with its audience, generating and developing social relationships with other publics and virtually.
Every new technological development surpasses the old and society adapts, for example; Facebook replacing Myspace, “if you do stuff on Myspace, you just look sad” (Gillette, 2011). However, becoming more online and less face-to-face doesn’t, as Eisenstein (1979) claims, weaken social bonds, it rather reshapes them creating new ways and new channels to form bonds, such as imagined communities. In particular, it is demonstrated through the pre-1900’s Gutenberg’s printing press and post-2000 social media networks like Twitter and Tumblr, which have enabled social relationships to adapt.
Pre-1900 – Gutenburg’s Printing Press
Publishing has been around since cave drawings and hieroglyphics and it has evolved significantly through time. German goldsmith, Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440-1450 and it was the first European printing machine. Gutenberg created movable type, where ink-coated metal letters are printed onto a portable tile and can be printed onto paper. The printing press machine combined “several different inventions and innovations: block printing, rag paper, oil based ink, interchangeable metal type, and the squeeze press” (Butler, 2007).
Fussell (2001) explains how the printing press created the concept of ‘mass media’ as the machine enabled rapid printing, resulting in printing large amounts of copies in short periods of time; thus generating mass production of books and scholarly texts and the creation of newspapers, magazines books (Fussel, 2001, pp.3). This facilitated social change through the reduced price of books and the weakening barriers of social class. Everyone was able to afford to consume literature and therefore communicate, discuss and share their opinions and ideas, resulting in learning, creating public opinion, social reform and a media revolution to rapidly alter the way society communicates as a whole.
Prior to the invention, books and readings were typically restricted to high class, church and government leaders, expanding the gap between the wealthy and the poor. Once invented, paper and the cost of printing books were expensive, therefore the middle-class gathered at communal places such as coffee houses, where books, magazines and newspapers were easily attainable. Here social relationships were still present despite the fear of losing physical interaction. Individuals were able to converse and access information, which improved the distribution of knowledge, opinion and self-expression.
In Eisenstein’s (1979) ‘The Printing Press as an Agent of Change’, she argues that the printing press was accountable for weakening and damaging social relations through shifting, what was initially “hearing public” into a “reading public” (Eisenstein, 1979, pp.129). Speech and open discussion were the common forms of publishing and the only way to be informed and to learn. This enhanced social relations as people had to gather together to engage in debate, discourse and learning. Eisenstein (1979) claims that “reading publics” weakened social bonds through, “the duplication of identical messages which brought the solitary reader to the fore… the reception of printed messages in any place still required temporary isolation – just as it does in a library reading room even now” (Eisenstein, 1979, pp.132).
However, I believe that in fact, it rather reshaped the social ties through allowing communities and individuals to link in new modernised ways. Individuals were able to branch out from the restrictions of society and research, learn and further push themselves intellectually rather than accepting what they were told. Speech is not 100% accurate and quite restrictive. It relies on real-time listening, hear-say and feedback and is more prone to rumours and falsified information. In comparison, the printed text had the ability to be sent around the world and through time, thus enabling the creation of new social relations and bonds formed over more than physical interaction, such as a pen pal.
I believe that rather than the printing press weakening social relationships it merely creates new channels for publication and greater social interaction. Many believe that the new publishing mediums like social media, will lead to the disintermediation of the traditional platforms. Nevertheless, speech and physical interaction has not disappeared despite the invention of the printing press, simply forged new channels to disseminate and distribute information and data. Carter describes it as, “television didn’t kill radio. It just changed it” (Carter, 2010, pp.1).
Post-2000 – Social Media
Social media is the home to a multitude of individual platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr. These new innovative online technologies support society to be both consumers and producers of information and data, resulting in the greater ability to maintain relationships as they are “for interaction, communication and collaboration between friends,” (Wilson, et al, 2009, pp. 205). In today’s society, information is spread like wildfire. For example, this week a girl took a photo of a cashier at Target called Alex and posted it to her Twitter account. Within the space of six hours, Alex had gained over 500,000 new followers and was trending on Twitter for 2 days with the hashtag ‘#AlexFromTarget’.Yesterday, Alex appeared on the Ellen Show to talk about his surprising fame. This demonstrates the speed of today’s publishing, once something gets posted, it can be viral within seconds.
The following YouTube video epitomises the speed and frenzy of social media publishing in the current society
In particular, Twitter is a linguistic marketplace (Page, 2012, pp.183) and was created in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Noah Glass. Twitter is public, unregulated and immediate and therefore can reach a multitude of audiences in short spaces of time and it has managed to transform relationships from a physical setting to virtual space. It is a 140 character “asymmetric microblogging service” (Gruzd, et al, 2011, pp.1294), where it is not a social requirement to follow back. It can be considered “like a mini publication” as “Twitter affords a new and unprecedented level of access to and from all sides of the publishing world” (Teicher, 2009).
Social media networks, such as Twitter and Tumblr allow for anyone to publish to a much larger audience and create imagined communities and relationships with anyone anywhere. Through the mobility of smartphones and social media, there is a greater ability to maintain relationships whether domestic or international and form bonds with people. Through using hashtags on platforms like Tumblr, users are able to connect to a common imagined community through following and discuss a specific topic. They are able to share a similar interest or engage with each other, for instance users who share similar interest in a television show might follow and engage with the actors or character accounts.
On Twitter they can commune through common searched hashtags or trending hashtags such as ‘#Election2015 or ‘Toy Story 4’ (trending worldwide 7 November). Users can also create social ties with other like-minded users through live tweeting, in reality shows and events, such as The Voice and Eurovision. Users can live tweet their thoughts and opinions on certain things with the set hashtag, for example ‘#GoAustria’. This not just includes the online space, but including the physical television viewers. The typical Twitter imagined community shapes around “high centres that are popular individuals, celebrities, or organisations such as media companies” (Gruzd, et al, 2011, pp. 1313), yet anyone these days can become ‘Twitter famous’, like Alex from Target (see video). Girls all around the world tweeted the hashtag and created memes, fanfiction and vines.
Social media is heavily used now in publishing news and information to spread across the world. Especially Twitter, which has become a predominate feature in today’s events and news and is a platform for publics who want to publish and can discuss commentary, gossip about people or issues and post links to a variety of webpages, such as news and press releases. This particular platform is currently (November 2014) the second most popular social networking tool, after Facebook (Ebizmba.com, 2014) and Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Barrack Obama are the top three twitter accounts (November, 2014 – Twittercounter.com, 2014). Twitter is a perfect example of the publishing concepts aggregation and distribution. Twitter allows people to undertake aggregation through accumulating information on events like sport, such as the State of Origin or news like the Ebola break out or something that has happened in their lives. Their distribution is publishing the tweet for their followers to see either through composing a new tweet or retweeting something.
Twitter’s main trait is the immediacy of information regarding breaking news and news coverage and its lack of obligation for reciprocity. According to the Guardian, “10 per cent of the newspaper’s traffic now comes from social media” (MacMillan, 2013). Users worldwide are able to be informed of situations and events, such as the death of Osama Bin Laden and the earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, through news twitter account such as, CNN Breaking News and The Australian. Twitter is used progressively as a social tool to organise events, varying from common interests to political protests; such as a 5 Seconds of Summer Belgium Fan Meet up and the 2011 Egyptian uprising protests.
This following Pew Research Centre (2013) graph illustrates how news organisations are utilising social media to reach out to their audiences. This allows for engagement and interactivity with their followers, also enabling citizen journalism.
Social media is transforming society from a passive one to an active and engaged society. Before individuals had to accept what was provided in books and scholarly articles to be accurate, these days the individuals themselves can publish whatever they want and discover different opinions and create discussions. Holtz (2006) confirms this idea stating “with the internet, everybody could have his own printing press and become a publisher” (Holtz, 2006, pp. 24). In regards to the uprisings, twitter was used to organise protests against the Egyptian government and consequently changed the Middle-Eastern society. Twitter can be used negatively in this sense, as that “without these mass organising tools, it’s likely that fewer people would have known about the protests…Without them, fewer people might have shown up, and the Egyptian authorities might have more easily dispatched them” (Boyd 2011).
Twitter has changed the way we create, use and distribute content, thus enabling individuals to become their own publishers and share content, similarly to what the Gutenberg Printing Press brought to society. New mediums allows for a greater reach and exchange of information and data for audiences, compared to traditional platforms where it is more selective. Social media encourages individuals to search and generate information, therefore changing the social experience of the individual.
Social media also allows for greater participation within publishing and communicating rather than stopping social relations. It brings the relationships into a virtual and online space, that isn’t restricted by time, distance and space, which at some level; physical publishing is. Social media networks bring immediacy and individuals are able to know what is happening in Syria within 5 minutes, compared to finding out the following day in the newspaper. It creates a more proactive and engaged society.
Ulmer’s Apparatus Theory refers to new technology as a “social machine” (Ulmer, 2004) and illustrates how changes in publishing, in particular through the different mediums, can alter the way individuals think and their relationships. He discusses how there have been three different epochs in apparatus change, changing from orality, literacy and electracy with new media. This relates to the printing press as it formed the literacy apparatus and we are currently “inside a new apparatus” (Ulmer, 2004) with social media taking flight with publishing.
Throughout the years, publishing technologies have shaped the way publics interact with one another and form social relationships, whether through the Gutenberg printing press or social media. With the emergence of Twitter and other social media platforms, social engagement and interaction online has strengthened the societal bonds.
Despite the appearance of dissemination of print, literacy is still alive in publishing. Speech and open discussion and the use of books are still prevalent in today’s society. It has merely reshaped the same content and information to another channel; online. Therefore, the printing technologies have created channels to assist and support social relations rather than weaken them. This is seen through Gutenberg’s printing press and social media allowing relationships across distances of space and time which would be impossible otherwise.
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