It has taken millennia for humanity to produce democratized media. When early humans started drawing on the walls of caves, they created a lasting record of things that mattered. Stationary cave walls gave way to rock and clay tablets, which in turn were supplanted by papyrus and animal-skin documents, including scrolls. Early books—single editions created by scribes—came next, setting the stage for what I think of as Media 1.0: the printing press.
Moveable type and the printing press, taking its early and most famous form as Gutenberg’s Bible, liberated the word of God from the control of the priests. This was humanity’s first profound democratization of media. Printing presses spread the words of individuals to many readers, in books, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines and more. Regimes shook, and some fell. Civilizations changed irrevocably.
When the telegraph first moved information over long distances at the speed of light, we’d hit a new turning point. Call it Media 1.5—the information moved from point to point but not directly to the people. This led to the next epochal shift.
Broadcasting is Media 2.0: mass media traveling long distances instantaneously. The radio brought news and information, plus the sound of the human voice, with an immediacy that led to the rise of both the great and the wicked. Franklin Roosevelt did much to calm a troubled nation with his fireside chats, while Hitler used radio, among other media, to pull his nation into outright savagery.
Television engaged eyes in addition to ears, adding the moving images of film to radio broadcasting’s immediacy. It was a huge shift (Media 2.5), but not as great as what was to come.
The Internet is Media 3.0, combining all that has come before and extending it across the web of connections that includes everything from email to the World Wide Web. It is radically democratized media, in ways that we are only now beginning to understand well. But with this opening of what had been a mostly closed system, possibilities emerge, literally without limit.
And it’s good thing, given what’s happening to traditional media.