A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet is a highly researched book that views how media has shaped and impacted the world in which we live. From Gutenberg’s press in the 1400s to the crazed social media era we live in today, Asa Briggs and Peter Burke explain how media has shaped and influenced the world.
The world is not disconnected. We are shaped and informed by media. In the 1400s and 1500s, those who mastered the new printing presses were able to shape culture. Today, those who can communicate loudest in the best medium have the ability to shape values that can change a nation. This is the essence of this book.
The world has been profoundly changed by people adopting new forms of media. In the the late 1400s, the very first printing press was brought about by Gutenberg. This invention created a revolution in the European world. The advent of this media, printed materials, distributed those materials faster and changed the spiritual landscape. Men like Luther, Calvin, Tyndale and many more took this new medium and created a cultural and spiritual revolution that is still being felt today. It was media that sparked the European revival known as the Reformation. Through the printing press, the Reformers could get the word of God into people’s hands. They could reproduce their doctrine at a remarkable fashion. Much like President Obama and his political campaign seizing upon social media to promote his agenda and eventually swept him into power, the Reformers capitalized off of the printing press. No longer was information controlled by the Catholic Church, but Gutenberg’s press allowed for the Reformers to produce so much information that it would eventually overwhelm Rome, and allow the Reformer’s a real voice and foothold in European Spirituality.
Even more interesting was the fact that an invention with “almost hallucinatory similarity to Gutenberg’s (p.13)” was invented in Korea. A machine with movable type was invented. However, it did not seem to have the same power as Gutenberg’s in Europe.
This staggering information regarding a similar press in Korea begs one question. Why was a revolution spawned by Gutenberg in Europe while there is very little evidence for a revolution in Korea? Based off this book, and while it is my assertion that media can affect society and culture, it is is neutral. Media has a great power if it is harnessed and used. Having vision for how media can affect a society or a culture is a remarkable tool for a leader to have. It proved true in 2008. The social media campaign that was harnessed by Obama was new. A campaign had never focused on this new medium before, but the gamble paid off for the President. Whether you like his politics or not, everyone must agree that having that foresight brought him to power. The same is true for the Reformers. They saw a new medium that allowed them to present their ideas to the masses. It is evident that media alone does not shape cultural, but media in the right hands can and will shape it.
Looking at these two cases and examining this book leads me to ask myself this question. What forms of media am I ignoring or am not using to its fullest could be used to advance the Gospel? How do I harness those forms to its fullest capacity? Would my church be impacted by the use of new media? What forms of media need to die within my organization as well?
We tend to think of media as being unconnected to life, but this book presents a new idea, at least to me. Media is essential to shaping values, society and culture. Media is as part of life. As leaders, we must recognize this and ask God to help us steward this powerful tool.