Thursday, January 31, 2008

Elizabeth Eisenstein

The Rise of The Reading Public

Elizabeth Lewisohn Eisenstein is an American historian of the French Revolution and early 19th century. She is well known for her work on the history of early printing, writing, on the transistion in media between the era of "manuscript culture" and that of the "print culture", as well as the role of the printinting press in effecting broad cultural change in western civilization.

A closed society

“Consider the strategic options and potential affertereffects of a regime that limits communicative capacities in the hope of minimizing internal social and political risks. In the extreme case-a closed society”-a state afraid of popular participation or subversion may try to seal itself off from the wider world, refuse to invest in literacy and education, ban independent ownership of the means of communication.”. Starr, Pg.8

In a state where communication is substantially controlled by the government, its citizens are practically brainwashed. They do not see the real world; they see the world that politicians want to demonstrate for their own interest. Only one side of the coin is exposed to a society and this can be a problem of a wider scope. The interest of a population in a place where you have no access to facts, only propaganda, leads to ignorance and to the development of an imprecise image of the world. People become the product of trash media. Whatever you here about your neighboring countries and other cultures through means of communications would be irrelevant if presented by the interest of the state exposing the information. Automatically, a population that is deprived from knowing the truth becomes a puppet driven by the mere interest of constitutive choices made by those who have dictatorial power and lack concern towards the mass.

Vague History

Historian Elizabeth Einstein states "The exact nature of the impact which the invention and spread of printing had on western civilization remains subject to interpretation even today." This supports the idea that the study of media seems to be one of the more vague studies. For the most part the readings of very successful historians of media Paul Star and Elizabeth Einstein gives a sense of the history of media having an injflux of confusing causes and effects as well as an influx of blank statements with no further understanding. Einstein and Starr are similar in that they are not technological determinist and by no means would they declare that Gutenberg's printing press completely changed the landscape of media in its early stages but would rather attribute the shaping of media usage to the protestant restoration or the fall of feudalism. Still what can be drawn from the two is that the history of anything is based upon any number of choices as well as the circumstances that exist. For example would Eli Whitney's cotton gin been a big deal if it were not for slavery? As one enters deeper into the history of media he or she will realize that understanding it is no easy task. Generalizations or blank statements will not get one far.

open door to trade

"The demands of long term economic growth ultimately required, therefore,
not simply constitutional limitations on the state,but it active
support in developing knowledege and communication capacities."(Paul Starr, pg 12).

The emerge of media/communication was the beginning of a new era in American society. According to Paul Starr it was not just a technological formation however, it was a benefit for the economy and the government. Mass media was not just the invention of radios, televisions, telegraphs, and now internet but it was an open door for trading and expansion. while it was seen as an open free way, many idealist believed that communication should be privatized.

In the early development of communication those who were educated had the money and ability to explore the new system of communication. For business men and women it was a system of gathering news and informations of what was happening around them and around the world. Even today society still rely heavily on the internet and televisions to keep updated with U.S involvement around the world.


Changes in Design

“ Early choices bias later ones and may lead
institutions along a distinctive path of development, affection a society’s role and position in the world.

--Paul Starr, Introduction, Creation of the Media, p.2

We see inventions develop as time progresses. New designs emerge from old ones, and oftentimes the old models are forgotten. There are many products that used to look one way and change with the time. New ideas have been cultivated and sleeker, more modern designs are used.
The television is a wonderful example of this type of innovation. Televisions were first made to resemble a piece of furniture that a person in the late 19th century would want in their living room. This innovative idea has now evolved into the large flat screen televisions that can hang from the wall or build into our bedroom ceiling today!

“Things that work satisfactorily come to be thought of as right.”
-- Paul Starr, Introduction, Creation of the Media, p.5

We begin to look at the way things were initially invented and notice that they are evolving as time progresses. Technologies we see today were intended to be used for one purpose. However now-a-days the uses of products are also evolving. For example we can now use our phones to watch television!

I look forward to reading Starr text which I expect will touch upon the historical uprising of inventions. It will be amazing to look at how far we have come with the new creative ideas, considering the way that it all began.

The Generative Crisis.

"Wars, economic shocks, and other events may also provoke a generative crisis - one that shakes up older institutions and creates the opening for new choices about previously settled rules and practices. World War I was a generative crisis for communications in many of the countries drawn into conflict......The more a society is tied to the world economy, the more likely constitutive moments will arise from changes in international communication regimes - that is, the norms and policies institutionalized in various kinds of international agreements, such as those governing copyright telecommunications, and the broadcast spectrum." -- Paul Starr, Introduction, Creation Of Media, Page 7.

The world as we know it, whether it may be in a social, economical, or political form, affects the practices of the past which greatly help to change the rules of the future. These changes occur when there is a generative crisis, a crisis that challenges those "old school" rules and makes way for the beginnings of new, exciting, and more advanced ideas and theories. The past helps us to question and to learn about what works and what does not....while life changing events such as wars or economic downspirals show us what what can be changed. World War I is an example of this generative crisis' because it brought together many countries in terms of communication. Since these countries were forced to communicate because of war, this lead to more advanced technology, causing the people of the world to see the news of it all on their radios at home. When society is connected with major social, economic, and political occurances, there is more chance for everything to change. All the things we experience cause us to learn and to change the wrong things so we can make everything easier and better in the future. The generative crisis is an example of that.

Eisensteins' Reading Public

Elizabeth Eisenstein writes in her article the Rise of the Reading Public, how little is known about society before the printing press, as an alternative people handwrote books and used oral recitation or stories to communicate.

Prior to the printing press the world was a scribal culture. That is to say that "For the very texture of scribal culture was so fluctuating, uneven, and multiform that few long range trends can be traced." (pg. 100, Eisenstein). Eisenstein explains what scribal culture means such as having books writen by hand and then reading them to the public. This created a "hybrid half oral, half literate culture" that is difficult to trace back in history. This is a problem because before print the copyist had control over the information being put into the public and there are no long periods of constant culture or routine.

Wealthy elites were literate and had a "bookish" culture says Eisenstein. The elite are always a smaller majority then the commoners and there are major differences between scribal culture and the culture that occurred after Gutenberg's invention of the printing press. The period of time when Gutenberg's invention came into play is called the "incunabula", the age between the 1450's and 1500.
The transition from scribal to printing did not happen over night. Between 1350 and 1500 copyists began using a "putting out" method of copying, also known as the pecia system. Each copyist would only copy a certain section of a book and then the book would move onto another section to be filled in by another copyist. this system worked well and this kind of work was now done at a stationers' shop. A new business arose from the need for written material. In reality the reading public were still the elite until literature began mainstream and useful to the promotion of society.
To say the elite, within that group would be the wealthy and also the merchant class because they are business owners who keep records and need the tool of literacy. The average person during the the 1400's would be a peasant or a farmer. Skilled workers in certain fields would also find literacy useful but the majority of the society would have been illiterate.

The printing press supposedly changed all that was and would be, but how exactly did that happen since there is no mention of this great revolutaionary moment, explains Eisenstein. The development of the printing press and more prevalent reading public suggested that oral gatherings were being substituted by individual "silent scanning"(pg. 102).

The changes that occurred in the city areas, while the rural societies didn't have accessibility to become a reading public until the 19th century. In the rural towns the storyteller was replaced by the one literate person in the village. in the cities modernism was propelled by bible printing. What people went to church to hear about the happenings of the neighborhood they now bought the monthly paper that soon transformed into a weekly and eventually daily paper in the larger cities. These changes occurred with the help of the ending of fuedalism and the begining of capitalism and mercantilism. Some agrue Eisenstein writes, that the printing press weakened community ties, but all will say that individualism flourished everywhere.

The Power of Knowledge

"'Knowledge is Power,' may be read not simply as an endorsement of knowledge but also as a warning of its perils.":Paul Starr, Introduction, Creation of the Media, p.8

Many governments have a strong grip upon the media in order to control the spread of ideas. Starr analyzes that certain societies limit the spread of ideas, in order to dumb down their populous so they are more easily controlled.
Governments that choose to rule by an iron fist, fear the press for it's power to gain momentum and cause change. Countries such as Cuba, China and the former Soviet Union all limited their media and forbade the spread of information that they deem damaging.
But with the rise of the internet, it is becoming harder for governments to control what information their citizens are reading. China, for instance, has blocked its people from using the popular search engine Google , for fear that they might stumble across something their government lied to them about. For the most part the Chinese Google is similar to it's English counterpart, however if a Chinese citizen types "democracy" into the search engine, red flags go up.
Governments that control the media are a filter that screens information and allows only suitable material to be distributed among the mass. This denial of information keeps the citizens in the dark and keeps the government one step ahead of any revolutionaries.

Print Media's Affect on Western Civilization

The Rise of The Reading Public by Elizabeth Eisenstein, was a great in depth look into the origins and influence of print media. Eisenstein is trying to demonstrate that the history of print media is generally the "history of civilization". Eisenstein goes in further by trying to draw from the spread of print and its influence on institutions of the world, (be it political, social, philosophical etc) Past and contemporary. She makes a case that:

"If the printing press exerted some influence upon them, why is this influence so often unnoted".

Eisenstein also argues how do we (in a historical sense) assess the effects that print has had on western civilization (or civilization in general). Eisenstein states that " we still know very little about how access to printed materials affected human behavior". I agree with this statement. How can we prove the significance print media has had on civilization? It would be impossible seein how everyday print media evolves on some level. The affect it once had on society was much more significant in terms of the explosion of other media's such as T.V, Radio, and the internet, but still to this day print is used as the primary learning tool in everyday society whether rich or poor, Catholic or Islamic. This is a tradition that takes us all the way back to the advent of the printing press via Guttenberg.
Another argument that Eisenstein makes in this reading is how many forms of print such as the Bible, "were subject to contradiction.....all the text were liable to get corrupted after being copied over the course of time." That is one of the main reasons why I have strayed away from religion over the years. We as a people have become reliant on text that may or may not be original publications. For example, when reading the bible, one may hold certain truths to be law from the word because as a Catholic you are taught that the Bible is from the word of God and you must live your life according to these teachings. but with that said, if a text is suject to change and be rewritten over time, how can one, as a devoted catholic know that these are the words of God and his true teachings. In all fairness it would be impossible for written works from the beginning of civilization to be fairly recorded over time because it has to be interpreted by every language, generation, culture etc, but to say that would make relgion somewhat of a "Nostalgic" entity which people believe and follow.

In the end, I agree with alot of Eisensteins arguments but with my own personal prospective. Eisenstien views print media's rise as a complex but siginificant part of western civilization. She could not be any more correct in that conclusion. The rise of print is still devoloping everyday and we probably never know its effect on our world.

Labels: ,

Format Wars

In some cases, “people” are under the impression that their opinions and preferences will influence the final outcome when there is a choice to be made not knowing that the choice has been made for them ahead of time.

“At times of decision- constitutive moments, if you will- ideas and culture come into play, as do constellations of power” Starr P.1

Two good examples are the video format wars like the VHS-Betamax of the 70’s and HD DVD- Blu-ray of today. People believe that they have an influence in such decisions when in reality these decisions were finalized in the boardrooms of multi-million dollar corporations having the power a long time ago.

The consumer always pays the price and in the end, the only winners are the stockholders laughing all the way to the bank.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Print Media & the Protestant Reformation

The Harvey J. Graff article states that,
" [Martin Luther] was aware of the sensitive nature of his these and made his challenge patiently through official channels. When no response arrived, he sent handwritten copies of the theses to some friends for clarification. Those copoes were reproduced and circulated, and were even translated into German. They spread widely, and soon all of Germany, and then all of Christendom, had been aroused by Luther's theses." (p.106)
This directly relates to the constitutive choices Paul Starr writes about. Even though the printing press was in use (approx. 1450), it did not cause the Protestant Reformation; other facotrs (constitutive choices) led to the reformation. There would not have been a reformation if there had not been religious unrest, or if Martin Luther's requests to the church had not gone unheard, or if there were not people in power that agreed something needed to be done.

John B Thompson-Freedom of the Press??

John B Thompson-Freedom of the Press?
"There is considerable force in the argument that the struggle for an independent press, capable of reporting and commenting on events with a minimum state of interference and control, played a key role in the development of the modern constitutional state. Some of the early liberal and democratic thinkers, such as Jeremy Bentham, were fervent advocates of the liberty of the press. They saw the free expression of opinion through the organs of independent press as a vital safeguard against the despotic use of state power."

The right of press freedom, the first amendment of the "Constitution!!!!

Due to the reputation of paparazzi as an annoying, aggressive and intrusive, some states, not many and even some countries (particularly within Europe) restrict their activities by passing laws and curfews, and by planning events in which paparazzi are allowed to take photographs. In Germany and France, photographers need the permission of the people in their photographs to even snap one picture. The question of the day is, can these restrictions been seen as not withholding the laws of the First Amendment? I believe by passing laws that restrict their activity in public places does not violate the First Amendment.

In 1997 Princess Diana was being pursued by paparazzi when her car reamed out of control and crashed into the side of a tunnel. This led to the death of both her and Dodi Al-Fayed, her boyfriend. Her death resulted in widespread publicity and demanded calls for legislation to restrain the paparazzi. Especially the ones who chase celebrities in the middle of the night with hopes of catching a photo, which they can sell for large amounts of cash. This is disgusting and so disturbing.

Paparazzi are resented because of their ability to badger Lindsey, Brittany and others for hopes of capturing a glimpse of them at their worst moments and invading their privacy. We are all allowed to have privacy. These photo's depict them to the public in such negative and degrading ways, without anyone understanding what is behind their troubles. Most of these people "paparazzi" are animals and are protected by freedom of speech and of the press granted by the First Amendment. The subjects of their photographs are public figures and therefore are subject to public scrutiny, I do not believe so.

The United States should intervene and pass anti-paparazzi laws. There has to be some kind of control. California’s new law is specific to pictures and recordings of celebrities. "According to the statute, which is codified as California Civil Code section 1708.0, the law creates liability for "physical" and "constructive" invasions of privacy through photographing, videotaping, or recording a person engaging in a "personal or familial activity.

The U.S. Constitution does not openly and plainly provide for a right of privacy or for a general right of personal autonomy, but the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that a right of personal autonomy is implied in the "zones of privacy" created by specific constitutional guarantees. Freedom of the press however, is absolutely addressed in the Constitution. The First Amendment gives the press the right to publish information, thoughts, and opinions without restraint or censorship, but at what price should the models pay and how much should they suffer. Someone needs to be held accountable for their actions.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Information Revolution

Paul Starr writes in the very first sentence of his introduction that the past several decades have become the "information revolution". While I agree that we are in a state on information overload what Starr is really saying is that the information itself depends on the powerful institutions that stand behind the media. What do those institutions want the media to imply to the general public. Starr brings politics into the first paragraph stating,

"The communications media have so direct a bearing on the exercise of power
that their development is impossible to understand without taking politics
fully into account, not simply in the use of the media, but in the making on
constitutive choices about them." Starr pg. 1 of intro

This quote says much about what Starr is setting up for the rest of the book (I imagine) to defend his premise. The way media develops does depend of the culture in which the moment is in. What I find really important is that what information gets put out in the open depends on those constitutive choices that are being made. After all in today's day people are more interested in celebrity gossip then the politics of their own country. That represents something to other countries about the U.S.

SIDE NOTE: Constitutive means;

  1. Having power to establish, appoint or enact.

  2. Making a thing what it is.