A Vincentian “Gutenberg” Moment

by | Mar 28, 2017 | Formation, Social, Social Media

In a recent Stanford Social Innovation Review article, Marina Gorbis writes:

I would argue that we are living through our own Gutenberg moment—a moment of transformation in our fundamental tools for creating, expressing, and sharing information, ideas, and knowledge. And like the invention of the printing press, the rise of digital communication tools will likely lead to multiple revolutions—in how we govern, learn, and organize our economy.

From press to social media

Her insights are on target, given our contemporary socio-political situation.

“In light of today’s spread of “fake news” and debates about post-truth society, I’ve been re-reading the history of the printing press, Johannes Gutenberg’s invention dating back to the mid-1400’s. Probably the most exhaustive exploration of the subject is in Elizabeth Eisenstein’s two-volume book The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. In her writings, Eisenstein refers to the “Unacknowledged Revolution” that followed Gutenberg’s invention, which encompassed not only the Protestant Reformation, but also the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution. Print media allowed the general public to access ideas and information not previously available to them. This in turn led to the growth of public knowledge, and enabled individuals to formulate and share their own thoughts, independent from the church. Hence, new, non-church authorities and influences grew, and the arts and sciences flourished.”

She continues,

“Changes in the information age will be as dramatic as those in the Middle Ages in Europe,” wrote James A. Dewar in a 1998 RAND research paper titled, “The Information Age and the Printing Press: Looking Backward to See Ahead.” At a very deep level, changes in our basic communications tools and technologies alter existing power dynamics; they re-define who has the power of voice, the power to shape our dominant narratives, and the power to influence how we think and act. While acknowledging that we will likely see dramatic social changes, Dewar warns that such changes will result from unintended consequences of technological advances, rather than deliberate technological design, as was the case in the past. “The Protestant Reformation and the shift from an earth-centered to a sun-centered universe were unintended consequences in the printing press era,” he wrote. These unintended consequences will likely re-shape the basic elements of our society and culture.”

Read this lengthy but important article. Then….

Here are some BIG questions:

How do Gorbis’ insights impact how we think about communication in the Vincentian Family?

Are you aware of the amount of “fake” data that you unintentionally circulate on social media?

Are you using social media to positively affect the lives of those who are poor or marginalized?