Our world was forever changed when, about 577 years ago, Johann Gutenberg devised an effective way to reproduce printed documents. His invention enabled the printer man to apply controlled mechanical pressure to an inked image in a manner that facilitated efficient multiple printings.
When the printer man repeatedy applied “the press” (more about this later) to those blank pages, the world was changed forever.
Gutenberg’s innovation enabled printers to print multiple editions of documents and books. Our Library of Congress recently displayed a centuries-old Bible that was printed by means of the Gutenberg innovation.
The printing industry progressed rapidly. It wasn’t very long before books and other documents were being churned out all over the world in great numbers.
Books have changed the world.
Our fascination with the stories, literature and information we find in books has revolutionized the way we live. In the late 1800s, the American artist John Frederick Peto painted this image of a pile of books. His picture, recently displayed in our National Gallery of Art, captures the fascination that I find within those printed pages.
The spread of printing throughout the globe induced an information revolution that has affected the way we think about, and do, just about everything. As people became more and more literate, news of the times we live in became a larger and larger factor in the ways people think about the world. People in the modern world use news and contemporary information to inform their decisions, and modify their strategies for living life successfully.
News became such an obsessive element in our modern life that large institutions were built for the purpose of informing people about what’s happening in our world.
Those massive news-spouting institutions now find themselves being cornered into a different role. The big picture of 21st-century information dispersal is being turned on its ear by an unruly multiplicity of online mini-sources. This development is along the lines of what George Orwell called the “brave new world.”
Actually, it’s the wild, wild West out there. What we have now is like a million Okies hightailing it across the internet prairie, every one of us hell-bound to claim our little stake of the cyber-dirt that’s now being divvied up for the media of the masses.
Or “dictatorship of the proletariat”, if that’s what rings your chimes.
It used to be that “The Press” was all those journalists and editors who gathered and published the news on a daily basis.
But not any more. Our meaning of “the press” is now something else entirely, and I’m not sure how to define or describe it.
But I do surmise that our new understanding of “the press” has something to with that collective pressure applied by reporters on public spokespersons.
Here’s an example. Sean Spicer, the new White House Press Secretary, argues with The Press about how many people showed up for the inauguration.
That’s The Press now, and this disconnect between “us” and “them” is the new “news.”
Lastly, as Uncle Walter might have said:
And that’s the way it is, Tuesday, January 24, 2017.