Chapter 3

Media Dynamics and the Lessons of History

The “Gutenberg Parenthesis” as Restoration Topos

Thomas Pettitt

At a time when change in media technology is accelerating to the degree that a handbook on media studies prefers to deal not with the media but with media dynamics, a glance at the historical dimension may be a salutary exercise. We are not the first to cope with a media revolution by expatiating on its real or anticipated impact (see Baron 2009 for a lively survey), but, perhaps precisely because of this acceleration, commentators over the past half-century or so have been particularly given to comparing recent or ongoing developments with earlier changes reckoned to be of a similar magnitude.

Renaissance commentary responding to the impact of printing generated a disputed historiography of when, where, and by whom it was discovered; a disputed mythology of its origins (a gift from God for the propagation of the true faith or one of the diabolical arts for which Dr. Faustus sold his soul); and a disputed diagnosis of its results (a blessing that would spread texts or a curse that would corrupt them). And, thanks precisely to the medium whose arrival was the issue of disagreement, contributions to these disputes have survived in ample quantities for media historians to work on (Eisenstein 2011).

Responses to the arrival of the Internet (likewise as recorded in the new medium itself) can match most of this. There are legends that it was invented by the American military; ...

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