“That is the revolutionary change we are living through today – this transformation from transmission to communication.” – Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian (2010)
Since the advent of social media, the traditional intermediaries that were once solely responsible for providing the public with news and current affairs are now under threat. Online publishing technologies such as Twitter are revolutionising the way society receives, views and understands information and it could be said that the hierarchy of intermediaries is slowly vanishing. This essay aims to explain how traditional publishing methods are becoming increasingly irrelevant and prove why there should be a bigger focus on smaller, online news communities. The first part of this essay will talk about the traditional methods of journalism and how its role in society has changed. The second part will discuss modern publishing technologies and the way it has replaced traditional media in ways such as in archives and assembling attention.
“And yet the western father of printing has influenced cyberspace as much as anything that followed from his exertions in 15th-century Germany: the computer on which I’m composing this piece offers me 36 different typefaces in an assortment of sizes, from 9- to 72-point. That fact alone signifies a very remarkable form of evolution.” – Geoffrey Moorhouse (2002)
It is hard to believe that there was a time when simple tasks weren’t instantaneous, that each job required effort and was usually time-delayed. Simply, we were without technology for centuries and with the introduction of the printing press that “revolutionised the world” (Eisenstein, 1980), the change had started and is still occurring today in modern society. In traditional societies over the centuries, the distribution and publishing of information was heavily mediated and usually came from one source. With the introduction of the printing press came the challenge to the very authoritive nature of publishing; suddenly, anyone could publish and distribute their own information to the public. This would absolutely change the “way humankind conceived of politics, of religion, of philosophy, of knowledge itself” (Brannan, 2007) and distributed the power of the word (and written word) to the ordinary people in society. An early example of this power shift challenging traditional intermediaries was when Martin Luther published his “95 Theses” in 1517, which sparked the Protestant Reformation; as explained by Ward et al, “the Reformation of the sixteenth century had its birth and growth in a union of spiritual and secular forces such as the world has seldom seen at any other period of its history” (1903). What this tells us is that the “new” publishing technology, the printing press, in this part of history had begun to revolutionise the way society received information, much like Twitter in the modern age. Printing the “95 Theses” gave Luther the chance to publicise and communicate his ideas to a wider public than if it were only a speech or mere thoughts contained within himself. Similar to online publishing outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and blogging sites where thoughts and ideas come together, the spreading of philosophies throughout history is what created the change that revolutionised media and its distribution.
“He [Luther] had none of the humanist enthusiasm for the language and the spirit of the past; what he cared for was the knowledge of human life which classical authors gave him.” – Ward & Prothero (1903)
The new era of printing culture was not only used as a method for revolution, it afforded a lot of conveniences to the public. With particular attention to religious sermons and public orations there was little to no threat of them becoming silent publications and in regards to politics it now allowed them to print parliamentary debates, affecting the way they interacted with each other (Eisenstein, 1980). The printing press brought with it a sense of “freedom” to philosophise, express and communicate new ideas with society. This is entirely similar to that of the Twitter revolution, where users can publish their own thoughts, opinions and facts for anybody to view and interact with. You could also call this a convenience to society as with the era of mobile technology, Twitter can be instantaneously updated from almost anywhere, with both sending and receiving data. Online publishing has completely taken over from traditional, static methods of delivering information and definitely has more power than the word, which is what society relied on before the invention of the printing press.
It becomes obvious after a lot of research that the hierarchy of traditional publishing throughout history is quite similar to the way the few media companies operate and distribute information in society today. Although you would hope there is less slant, opinion and bias in modern journalism than there was centuries ago when the news was filtered and mediated through the Church, it can be argued that there is still not complete impartiality in mainstream news. This issue can be attributed to the constant rise and rise of Twitter, which not only allows for users to publish information in its micro-blogging format, but affords social interactions and engages multiplicities (Marwick & boyd, 2010) which is something that traditional media failed to achieve.
Since the start of the printing press, there has not been such a revolution until the introduction of social media into our everyday life. The networks that we are constantly tuned into are the forms of publishing that we rely on, day in, day out. Although some still prefer newspapers and magazines, many have adapted to new forms of technology that affords the dynamic interactivity and integration society has been working towards. When the printing press was first used, it helped to distribute and record information, much like how social media networks work. Twitter and other blogging sites publish archives easily as they record time and date of the post and all can be easily retrievable in chronological order.
“In the Note, Derrida begins not ‘even at the archive,’ but with the word. He traces it’s meaning from the Greek Arkhe which names ‘at once the commencement and the commandment.’ Through this Note, he explores the authority of archives from the Greek superior magistrates, the archons, and the domiciliation of the archives as physical locations and most importantly outlines the way that archives appear to have authority, physical location and consignation but ultimately ‘shelter itself and, sheltered, to conceal itself.’”- Julie Enszer (2008)
With regards to paper archives, Parikka says “[O]ne needed to obtain permissions, make arrangements, follow strict rules of conduct, and get introduced to the whole system of how the archive is organised” (Parikka, 2013), but due to modern technology including all computers, mobiles and tablet devices, archives are simplistic and easy task. There are no more “obsolete and abandoned” (2013) archive places; instead archives are in our everyday lives and help give our lives order and structure. On Twitter when users converse with each other, the archives of the conversation are structured in time and date order ensuring an easy flow of understanding the information. This same structuring is applied to blogging sites, and even Facebook continually upgrades its features to better their archival system. Wolfgang Ernst’s theory that the most important part of studying media is the “time critical” (Parikka, 2013) aspect is the integral part of archives; the order and structure of the archives are critical of time.
In traditional publishing, before the printing press, when information was carried orally, it was absolutely important to pay attention to the speaker. It could be said that with the advent of printing as a means of publishing the attention span of society has weakened due to the fact that you could just simply go back to the information if its needed again. Since social media has been taking over in society as the main publisher of information, it is evident that our attention spans have been “invited, cajoled, conditioned and broken” (Kinsley, 2010). Society has an insatiable desire to constantly seek out new things, new information, new ideas (Yoffe, 2009) and this is completely affecting our attention spans and the way we function. Twitter, although it is an amalgamation of information, opinion and emotion, provides a means to seek out the desired information. Society has become addicted to knowing everything and this is a luxury only afforded by the networks of social media and new mobile technologies; a world of difference away from the publishing world a few centuries ago.
“For humans, this desire to search is not just about fulfilling our physical needs. Panksepp says that humans can get just as excited about abstract rewards as tangible ones. He says that when we get thrilled about the world of ideas, about making intellectual connections, about divining meaning, it is the seeking circuits that are firing.” – Emily Yoffe (2009)
It can be said that journalism has been completely revolutionised through the advent of social media, especially sites like Twitter, which allows for the publication and distribution of new information and ideas, much like when the printing press began many centuries ago. The hierarchy of the media companies that used to have control over the flow of information into society is slowly diminishing and in its place is a new era of dynamic online interactions. Publishing in the modern world has taken on the best parts of traditional media as well as networking it, such as with Twitter and blogging sites, to ensure that the information is accessible to society. As Rusbridger stated, there has been a change in the transmission to the communication (2010) and the revolution of the publishing world has only just begun.
“As with the early 16th century, it’s our privilege, as a generation, not only to imagine the future of information, but to take the first steps on the road to recrafting the ways in which it is created and spread.” – Alan Rusbridger (2010)
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