As mentioned in a previous essay
, I began this project around twenty years ago to attempt to show how the present transition in media, that began with the invention of electronic computing about 1945
, from primarily print to primarily digital today, may be compared to the transition from manuscript to print that occurred in the mid-15th century. When the personal computer and the Internet first began to impact society as a whole in the 1990s I think making the comparison was a somewhat novel idea, if historical views may be considered novel. Decades later, thinking about these two different transitions in the most general terms, we can say that there are definite similarities and also differences. In the 15th century the transition occurred from oral and manuscript culture to oral, manuscript, and print culture, while in the mid 20th century century the transition occurred from oral, manuscript, print, and analog radio and television and film to the present combination of oral, manuscript, print, and an increasingly digital expression of all media such as print, film, and radio while the analog versions have been retained to a certain limited degree, such as analog long-playing records, and analog amplifiers. Another similarity is that both the mid-15th century and the mid-20th century transitions required about fifty years to occur even though the 20th century is always thought of as advancing far faster than the 15th century.
Given that HistoryofInformation presents the evidence to show the similarities in media transitions and their differences, how much does this really matter? Having thought about this issue for more than twenty years, my conclusion in 2021 is that probably the comparison is a useful historical and educational exercise, but what the comparison primarily demonstrates is the cumulative nature of media. That cumulative nature, in which older forms of media are not entirely replaced by the newer dominant forms, is probably the main conclusion that may be drawn from HistoryofInformation, if one is looking for some kind of overriding historical generalization.
Though I began the HistoryofInformation project to support or deny a generalization, my primary conclusion from all this research is that the details and examples of these very complex subjects tend to be more interesting than the generalizations. As a very diverse collection of historical details and examples built around various themes and concepts, I think HistoryofInformation may be viewed as a kind of virtual museum of information and media designed for users to find details and examples related to their particular interests. Do you agree?
Jeremy M. Norman
April 8, 2021