Transmission Revolutions

So, we have defined information to our satisfaction. Good.

Now we got to think about the  way that we have moved this stuff around in the past because there are some similarities to the way we use information today. The three main transmission methods in the past were oral, writing and print. All of them were revolutions.

The oral method was a big jump for us. We started to use sequences of sounds to represent ideas or things to others. The evolution of the voicebox was crucial here, physically. This method was learned by the whole community. It was shared. No point chatting away if the other person cannot understand the language, or the code, but when everyone is in on the concept, it transmits information pretty well. Information travelled slowly though, from person to person. It had to be memorised in order to be reliable. It had to be performed in order to transmit the correct tones and subtleties. But it worked, and it still works today.

Writing appeared in a number of geographical centres at the same time, along with agriculture. Unlike, oral information, the written word was fixed. There was less debate with what exactly the information was, as there was a record of it. Writing went hand in hand with new complicated systems such as beaurocracy. As a transmission method it allowed information to travel over time and space. Writing also introduced new storage forms, from symbols scratched on walls to pen marks on paper.

Printing, in this part of the world, exploded in the 17th century with the invention of the Gutenburg Press. It was quick, it was cheap (compared to hiring your average scribe) and it kickstarted information literacy in a big way. People got access to info in a way that just was not possible before. This is still important today.

Probably the most important aspect of all these transmission methods is that each of them  interacted with peoples behaviour to create economic characteristics. This is where information revolutions become really important. The cost of storage changed. The cost of transmission changed. The cost of production changed. It appears that the internet is having much the same effect today and we don’t know which way it will play out yet, but if we watch how the technical characteristics interact with social behaviours, we may get a clue.


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