A Social History of The Media by Asa Briggs and Peter Burke is a fairly comprehensive overview and insight in to the world of media from “Gutenberg to the Internet.” It walks through the historical artifacts, timelines, key persons, advancements, and setbacks from the mid fourteen hundred’s to the twenty-first century. Although, “It was only in the 1920’s that people began to speak of “the media’…” its presence and effect has been felt and ultimately shaped our world for almost six hundred years.
The book reads more like an historical text. It begins with mid fourteen hundreds with the famous Gutenberg press and takes us in the twenty-first century with the explosion of the Internet. It’s a journey that begins with paper and ink that gives freedom of information to all. However, it ultimately ends with taking away the first freedom only to give in its place digital, which gives the most freedom man has ever experienced. Even in countries where media freedom does not exist, its squeezes its way in like water through the cracks of a foundation to ultimately burst the floodgates. The crazy thing is, we are seeing it everyday in high definition. From “Wiki leaks” to scandalous celebrity viral videos, to the toppling of governments it is all from media. And to think the definition or realization of its presence has only existed for less that One hundred years.
For me the book was more than an historical journey of how and why something like media began. Although, I find the history fascinating and exhilerating. As well, I also love the fact that media has always been “social”. Meaning it has and is by the people, of the people, and for the people. Although its form has changed from paper to digital, its purpose and essence has not, delivery of information has not.
The main idea that this book proposed, that I had never pondered, was how media has been affected from outside elements that are not seemingly related. The question is usually how or why has media changed or affected something or someone. But this book looked at the opposite perspective. In chapters four, five, and six is where most of the affect is discussed. From railways (transportation) and industry to shipping, communication, and entertainment, these five areas have most affected media. Interestingly enough, most of the change has happened in the last one hundred years. All of these areas are connected in that one opens the door for the other. Because railways were the gateway to change in media, the Novell headquarter offices in Silicon Valley were decorated with “paintings of great American locomotives.” This showing the connection and affect from media past and present. Media usually drives change, but this book shows the opposite.
One last statement that I found odd but strangely agreeable was found during the print revolution (mid 1400’s to late 1700’s): “in contrast (to the fast expansion and acceptance of media), print was slow to penetrate Russia and the Orthodox Christian world…” This was in part due to illiteracy that was common of many church attendees of the era. I find it agreeable and of no surprise because it seems that the church always seems to lag in advancement, even of its cause (the Good News). However, the church should be championing a new opportunity to further its mission (Good News), but is hindered not by the message but by methodology. Once again external affects upon media.