Icon PSY 355

PSY 355 Psychology & Media in the Digital Age

This page was last modified on February 4, 2023

The Development of Media from a Media Ecology Perspective II
The History
                      of Media

Printing, the "Printing Revolution" and the Rise of Print Culture

Gutenberg printing pressJohannes Gensfleish zur Laden zum Gutemberg, -- the inventor of mechanical movable type whom we know as Johannes Gutenberg (ca. 1395-1468) {W} -- lived and worked in Mainz, Germany. Developed in secrecy by approximately 1440, his invention involved three crucial elements (Standage, 2013, p. 50):
1. Individual metal letters (type) which were made out of an alloy of tin and lead and produced in molds

2. An oil-based ink that would stick to the type. Previous inks were water-based. His inks were compounded mostly from carbon, but contained other ingredients, including copper, lead, and titanium.

3. A press which could apply the type to paper with an even pressure. He used a type of screw press which had actually been invented by the Romans in ancient times to squeeze grapes in the making of wine. 
In 1454-1455, Gutenberg began to publish the famous 42-line edition of the bible that bears his name {W}. Scholars believe that he printed about 150-180 copies of this bible (about 50 complete copies are known to still be in existence). His original edition included 75% printed on paper and 25% printed on vellum. A full-size version of this bible contained 1,272 pages. The copy displayed below is owned by the Morgan Library in New York City, is one of three copies in that library, and was printed on paper.
[Gutenberg Bible]
The invention of movable mechanical type was quickly adopted across Europe and spread like wildfire through many of the cities and towns of the continent (see graphic below on left). Within the first 50 years after Gutenberg's invention, there were printing presses in every country and 50 million books had been printed. Further, as the "Printing Revolution" too hold, the number of books which were printed rose at a very steep rate (see graphic below on right).
 Printing in Europe to
                    1500 European Books,

But, the advent of printed books was only the beginning. All sorts of other materials began to be printed. Some of the different types of publications included
  • Philosophical Transactions of the Royal
                          Society 1665Pamphlets (by 1500)
  • Newspapers (1600+) with classified ads (1622+)
  • Scientific journals (1665+ Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society)
  • Periodicals (1711; The Spectator, London, published daily)
  • Magazines (1731; The Gentleman's Magazine, London)
  • "Broadsides" = very large sheet printed on one side, e.g, US Declaration of Independence (1776)
  • The "Penny Press" = newspapers @ 1 cent a copy (1820s)
  • "Penny Dreadfuls" = Serialized fictional paperback books (1830s)
  • Newspapers with paid commercial advertising (1836, La Presse, France)
  • Modern, mass-produced paperback books (1938, US)

The Impact of Printing & Print Culture (Ong, 1982)

Walter Ong and other media ecologists argue that the written word and printing "restructures human consciousness" in a variety of ways. Consider these possible consequences:

  • Writing and, particularly, printing (of both texts and illustrations) emphasize what is visual and seen (rather than auditory and what is heard). What can be seen becomes more trustworthy than what is merely heard. "I want to see it with my own eyes or else I won't believe it"
  • Printed words carry a more independent kind of existence. They are literally out there in space on the printed page (rather than coming from someone's mouth). They seem much less personal (in a way) than what is hand-produced (handwritten). Hence, the printed word and illustrations emphasize objectivity to their readers.
    • The words are out there in space, independent of the one who originally composed the words. Words, indeed, can be arranged and rearranged by the printer in many different ways. These qualities lead to greater separation between the author and what the author has written.
  • Printed texts make information available to a larger public rather than keep that information in the hands of a smaller educated class such as the clergy. Individuals become less dependent upon the clergy and others to tell them what to think since readers can look at printed texts themselves. This fosters a type of belief in the importance of the individual and his/her judgement.
  • The rise of printed text and illustrations allows the rapid and very broad dissemination of knowledge in ways that was not possible earlier. This coincides with and contributed to the rise of the modern scientific mind and methods. The complexity of the world as science embarks upon discovery after discovery can be set down in a permanent record via the printed word and serve as the foundation for new discoveries.
  • The importance of being able to read and write in order to understand the world, how it works, and how to operate within that world as a productive employer or worker creates a strong movement toward expanding literacy much more widely. Even poorer children are encouraged to reach a basic level of literacy.
  • People are freed from the need to follow very conservative pathways since, if knowledge is written down, experimental actions can be easily compared against what happened previously. Further, the consequences of the loss of crucial knowledge by the death of specific "wise men" becomes less of a burden since knowledge can be secured via the written word rather than residing in an individuals' memory. The history of a people, its beliefs, customs, and ways of living increasingly transfer to written formats. They can be "looked up" in books rather than listened to from other persons.

The Advent of the Techno-Digital Age & "Secondary Orality"

Timeline of the Techno-Digital Age

The "Techno-Digital Age" refers to the period beginning in roughly the first half of the 19th century in Europe and North America (US) and continuing through the present time with these characteristics:
  • Inventions (particularly new means of communication) are generally tied to the use of electricity (and steam) as a source of power
    • In the late 18th century, the improvements of James Watt to the steam engine led in the 19th century to the development of the railroad systems of Europe and the United States.
  • Encoding information, data, or messages (music, text, images, etc.) tends to shift from analog to digital formats.
  • The ability to reach larger and larger audiences ("publishing") grows significantly but, with the rise of digital media in the late 20th century, shifts from fewer large corporate organizations to include many smaller publishing entities spread over wider and wider geographical areas ("desk-top" publishing, blogs, websites, e-zines, podcasts, etc.)  
  • The human sensory-perceptual and motor-expressive systems tapped by media in the techno-digital age expands from privately examining/reading mostly static visual material [text, diagrams, and printed images] to include
    • hearing sound and voice once again [telephone, phonographs, records...]
    • experiencing dynamic visual movement [movies, TV, video-gaming...], and
    • using touch and personal bodily movements [employing a computer mouse or touch pad, video-gaming, on-screen responding such as 'texting,' etc.]
    • access to sensory-perceptual information moves beyond the realm of the human senses of hearing and seeing to include the entire electromagnetic spectrum

[Electomagnetic Spectrum]

Large Hadron Collider • Galaxy HD1 @ 13.5
                          billion light years
  • Size and distances open to human experience grow exponentially larger and smaller.
    • Via media such as the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland (see above), we can get access to information at distances exponentially smaller than the width of a proton.
    • Via media such as the Hubble or the James Webb Space Telescope, we can get access to information at distances of at least 13.5 billion light years. See above the sighting of Galaxy HD1. 
  • Speed of communication is not only faster but the issue of distance becomes relatively trivial (at the magnitude of the Earth and its surface). The lag-time between sending and responding to information becomes shorter and shorter.
  • The amount of information that can be stored and retrieved grows exponentially while the cost of data storage becomes exponentially cheaper. Thus storage capacity for human knowledge is virtually unlimited although retrieval capacity lags behind.

"Secondary Orality" (Ong, 1982)

  • Walter Ong argues that new forms of "orality" have returned to large numbers of cultures because of the rise of voice- and sound-based media like television, movies, recordings, and telephones. He calls this the period of "Secondary Orality."
  • What is now different is that oral communication is intermixed with and depends upon individual literacy and textual-written-printed media. Thus, we do not use oral-based media in the same way as individuals previously living in the world of "primary orality." The pressure to speak repetitively, to maintain cultural conservatism, and to value the role of spoken argumentation is far less today than it was a millennium earlier.
  • The sacredness of or predominant role of the printed word tends to be undermined by attention to non-written forms of media. Often, libraries are not seen as grand repositories of knowledge that need to be explored. And, individuals in secondary oral cultures may be unfamiliar with (or even hostile toward) older printed records as sources of knowledge.
  • There tends to be a movement back toward groups membership and group experiences in secondary oral cultures (e.g., entertainment audiences, fan clubs, etc.);  but these groups tend to be larger than found in primary oral cultures.

The Development of Media as a World-Wide Ecological System

In the contemporary world, media more and more forms what can be described as a world-wide ecological system. What does this mean?

Different Natural EnvironmentsEcology in the Natural World. Scolari (2012) describes what we mean by a natural ecology as a biological system (or network) of interdependent organisms belonging to multiple species which are arranged in nested hierarchical fashion & functioning within environments of both biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) components. All natural ecologies are ultimately concerned with the exchange of energy within the system.

Ecology in the Media World. Building on Scolari's (2012) ideas, what might we mean by a media ecology? Let me suggest that such a notion involves a technological (information & communication) system (or network) of interdependent tools and methodologies (a) exhibiting a multiplicity of forms, (b) arranged in nested hierarchical fashion, (c) functioning with environments of both human and non-living physical components and (d) directed toward achieving or advancing human goals broadly conceived, e.g., communication, information acquisition & analysis, entertainment & recreation, etc.

(Digital) media ecologies (systems or networks) would involve at least
  • particular habitats, i.e., the human life world including social life spaces, cultural worlds, and the physical environment
    • teenagers, college students, families, businesses, lonely singles, scientists, hobbyists, creative artists, refugees & immigrants, etc.
  • specific niches, i.e., a medium's job, what it accomplishes, its role in the habitat
    • social exchange, short message communication, music sharing, dating, scholarly communication, artistic production like graphic design or photography, etc.  
  • interfaces between the technological forms & their human users as well as between the different technological forms themselves
    • Screens, microphones, ear phones, speakers, keyboards, track pads, styli (styluses), etc.
    • Wifi & broadband, the Internet & its protocols, routers, ethernet outlets, etc.   
  • a diversity of technological forms (hardware & software)
    • laptop computers, desktop computers, tablet computers, smart phones, etc.
    • Gaming stations, digital cameras, inkjet printers, Bluetooth speakers, etc.
    • Photoshop, Twitter, Facebook, Garage Band, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, etc. 
Some of the questions we can ask ourselves about digital media ecologies include
  • What are the most important particular habitats that I live within at the present time?
  • What niches do I seek out within the media ecologies available to me? What are the most important roles that media play within my life?
  • Do I prefer some types of interfaces over others in the ways I live within my media ecology?
  • What are the most important specific technological forms that I enjoy within my media ecology?

Ong, Walter J. (1982). Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the world. New York, NY: Methuen.

Scolari, Carlos A. (2012). Media ecology: Exploring the metaphor to expand the theory. Communication Theory, 22, 204-225.

Standage, Tom. (2013). Writing on the wall: Social media, the first two thousand years. New York, NY: Bloombsury.
This page was first posted on 2/9/14