Review of Gutenberg the Geek

Gutenberg the GeekGutenberg the Geek by Jeff Jarvis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This short book (more of an essay, really) was sold as an Amazon single. I got it because I have been thinking about the premise that seeing how printing changed the world in the 15th century can help us understand how the Internet is changing our world in the 21st century. Jarvis gets into this by postulating that Gutenberg can be understood as an early version of a Silicon Valley Start-Up. This is an interesting take since I never thought of it in exactly those terms before.

My own thinking has been along the lines of how we communicate is changing. Before printing, communication was essentially limited to one person talking to one other person (or maybe a small group of other people.) After printing we get one person talking to a mass market. As literacy and technology changed the size of that mass market increased, but not the character of the communication model. Radio, television, and movies were simply refinements of this model, but not essentially different. The Internet changed this, and many of the fights we see about copyrights, net neutrality, and even things as mundane as asymmetric bandwidth are just examples of the “broadcast” industries (i.e. print, radio, television, movies) trying to keep their model of the world going and stop the new model of many-to-many communication from coming into being. I think they will fail, but they can do a lot of damage along the way.

Jarvis mention Elizabeth Eisenstein as a resource, and rightly so, but he does not seem to have used her book “The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe”. It is still on my “To be read” list, but I am told it is an important work on this topic.

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