Irving Fang’s six information revolutions (1997) were often accompanied social change. These changes might have occurred quickly via revolution or slowly via gradual societal change, but where there was a desire, new mediums often became the tool for change.
The history of media is also embedded within the context of the period’s politics, economics, and technology. Each technological media advance focused on change over continuity, and prioritized themes of “the public sphere, supply and diffusion of information and the rise of mediated entertainment (Briggs & Burke, 2002, p. 5).” Briggs highlights the media formula of American political scientist Harold Lasswell, who describes communication as “who says what to whom in which channel with what effect” (Briggs & Burke, 2002).
As new forms of media become popular, it becomes difficult to distinguish from good and bad implementations. Scribes rightfully saw the printing press as a threat to their livelihood. Churchmen found that easy access to religious texts allowed those of lower social and cultural orders to study them for themselves, reducing their dependency on religious authorities. Governments had similar concerns about a democratization of knowledge (p. 18). Print and the printing press are sometimes credited as an agent of societal change, but they acted within a greater context of religious freedom, political participation, and knowledge discovery. In these, print was a catalyst, and not an originator of change (Burgess & Green, 2009, p. 22).
The literate public, be they the bourgeoisie middle class, politicians and government, or religious leaders all claimed authority of published material. Censorship became an issue, with civil and religious authorities being concerned with heresy, sedition, pornography, and immorality (p. 42). The rise of printing also coincided with the beginning of a consumer culture and the idea of intellectual property (p .55). The desire of printers to earn more revenue eventually resulted in the printing of other materials such as maps, plays, and images. The purpose of reading began to move beyond information and moral instruction towards entertainment (p. 66). The 17th and 18th centuries were the period of early newspapers, books, and pamphleteers. The 19th century saw the popularity of both muckraking newspapers and rigid Victorianism, telling the literate publics what constituted proper behavior, as well as an emphasis on communication for the common good through public education and public libraries (Fang, 1997, p. 240).
In periods where change is sought, those desiring change will attempt to persuade the masses through communication. If their message is received, and particularly is the message is successful, both the change and medium and media used are communicated to the receivers. Some of those receivers will then adopt those communication tools and tactics for their own purposes (Fang, 1997).
Nearly all new forms of media have been accompanied by media panics (Burgess & Green, 2009), Incumbent media and social, political, and religious leaders have repeatedly targeted social movements through “moral panics” where said movement is perceived as threatening societal values and norms (Cohen, 1972).
Briggs, A., & Burke, P. (2002). A social history of media: From Gutenberg to the Internet. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Press.
Burgess, J., & Green, J. (2009). Youtube: Digital Media and Society Series. Malden, MA: Polity Press.
Cohen, S. (1972). Folk devils and moral panics. London: MacGibbon & Kee.
Fang, I. E. (1997). A history of mass communication: six information revolutions. Boston, MA: Focal Press.