Saturday, September 4, 2010

Print Capitalism: Giving Power to the People

Until reading the history of international communication, I had never quite linked the word communication with power. Living in a society where it seems that the majority of people have cell phones and Internet access, I can honestly say I take the commodity of communication for granted. However, until the invention of the movable type printing press, the common people had no motivation or opportunity to unify and gain power due to lack of a means of communication.

The transformations associated with the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century by Johann Gutenberg were the most eye opening for me as an example of the determinist theory in action. This technology led to social change and gave power to the people. Benedict Anderson coined the term print capitalism to describe this commercialization of print language. As a result of the availability of thousands of printed books in major European languages, literacy among the people rose while dissolving the use of vernacular speech. This also took some power from the Catholic church by allowing for the Bible to be printed in languages other than Latin. No longer were the people dependent upon priests and nobles to tell them what the scriptures contained.

Print capitalism in this scenario has now allowed for populations to feel like a community, realizing their worth and disseminating information and ideas among each other; all of which leads to nationalism and the building of nation-states.

What's interesting is that while print capitalism gives power to groups of people who ultimately become strong nations, these nations in-turn now have the opportunity to exercise political dominance over others -the rise of colonization and imperialism around the world. These nations built from once oppressed peoples are now strengthening their political, economic and military power by oppressing other less technologically advanced societies around the world.

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