GateKeepers, Gutenberg, And The New Media

There is a war breaking out all over our culture. It is not between Islamists and defenders of the West though that war is real. It is not between Democrats and Republicans though sadly that war appears to be real also. No, it is between the former gatekeepers of information and expression and the new media. You can see this war in the John Kerry versus The Swift Boat Veterans For Truth issue. But you can also see it in many other places beyond politics. You can see it in art and music and religion among others, wherever the old gatekeepers try to hold sway.

Let me give you a few examples. Mike Wretched of the Belmont Club, in his article Battle in the Clouds discusses how the old gatekeepers of news and opinion have approached their recent Waterloo.

The Mainstream Media responded to accusations by Swiftvets that Kerry had misrepresented his combat record in Vietnam by creating their own alternative news object, whose methods were restricted to OutrageAgainstBush( ) and SympathyForKerry( ), with read only properties Responsible and Respectable. They could no longer block the data, but they could still transform it.

Yet for good or ill, the genie is out of the bottle. Before the Gutenberg printing press men knew the contents of the Bible solely through the prism of the professional clergy, who could alone afford the expensively hand copied books and who exclusively interpreted it. But when technology made books widely available, men could read the sacred texts for themselves and form their own opinions. And the world was never the same again. [emphasis added]

Yes, the genie is out of the bottle and we will never go home to the old way of doing things. It all began with Gutenberg. As milblogger (military blogger) Laughing Wolf points out.

Just as the secular and religious nobility were justly frightened by Gutenberg’s press, so too do the Old Media see themselves frightened and threatened by the new press of the Internet…

Just as the press provided each family with a Bible to read and interpret for themselves, the new “press” that is the internet theoretically provides each individual with access to the source of information flow. It reduces the number of gatekeepers effectively to one; and, unlike past technology, there can be multiple sources to view the source. In this way, if one gatekeeper blocks or distorts, then other access will clearly show this.

And this revolution is not just on blogs discussing politics and war; it has spread to the arts. Fred Turner, writing for The New Bohemia said in his article New Media, Old Beauty.

Readers familiar with this site will already be aware that a new artistic ferment is in the air. They know that exciting artists in many forms have emerged in the wake of the decline of modernism into postmodernism, that they have begun to meet and exchange insights across artistic disciplines. They know that the artistic establishment is trying to downplay or co-opt the new consciousness. They know that the new arts possess aesthetic, cultural, and philosophical ideas that render much of the theory and vocabulary of modernism and postmodernism obsolete. They know that the riches of the artistic past are being rediscovered as artists of all kinds teach themselves–or find older mentors to teach them–the classic crafts of drawing, melody, poetic meter, storytelling, dramatic mimesis, humane architecture…

The problem is an old one: the gatekeepers. They kept out the French Impressionists, they kept out the early Romantics, they burned early Renaissance humanists at the stake, they got rid of Jesus and Socrates. How, then, do we break through the barriers that separate the people’s artists from the people?

Fred’s answer is interesting.

But–and here is the point–when the times have called out loudly enough for new media, human technology has often responded with a revolutionary new instrument of communication, free from the coercive control of the gatekeepers, an “underground” “beneath the radar” form of publication and discussion that becomes the carrier of a new culture.

He then goes on to explain that it is not just the new medium that is significant; it is not just the Internet itself.

It took at least a hundred years for the presses of Gutenberg and Caxton to begin to fulfill their promise of radical transformation in society: until then they merely speeded the work of hand copying, and made pornography and sacred Latin texts available for their respective clienteles. Many more years had to pass before such legal, economic, and conceptual instruments as copyright, publishing houses, critical periodicals, bookstores, public libraries, freedom of the press, libel laws and so on would permit the profitable literary mass market that nurtured the works of Dickens, Emerson, Tennyson, the Brontës, Longfellow, Balzac, Hugo, Dostoyevsky, and Hemingway. As with printing, we must invent new institutions and new habits of life to put the internet to its best cultural use.

The whole article is well worth reading for examining the issues surrounding the “new Gutenberg press” that the Internet promises to be. I could go on, talking about MP3s and how they are changing the face of music and how technology and the Internet is allowing bands to spread their music outside of the traditional music companies, but you get the idea, the genie is truly out of the bottle. You are reading this, so of course you understand.

May God bless your day and may all of us who approach this new power remember the words of Peter’s (Spiderman) uncle, “With great power comes great responsibility.”