S.D Noam Cook: “Technological Revolutions & the Gutenberg Myth” in Internet Dreams (1997)

This article aims to synthesize the studies of Manovich’s New Media Theory, Cook’s Gutenberg Myth, Robins, Websterand Cantu’s Cybernetics.

Multimedia seems to be common at present time. This involves graphic arts, web design, animation, photography and videography. For a beginner, one may ask what is the tool to be used. But as a technical multimedia artist grows up to become a master to be, the question may be changed to how multimedia evolved and how it influenced the world we lived in.. And this study will demystify the history of Multimedia.

Manovichin his writing on New Media written in2001, he described the transition of tools such as Daguerreotypeto camera and mechanical to digital computer. He emphasized that new media are mathematically grounded which is a major milestone compared to the old media. Currently this very true since both DSLRs and graphic arts are digital and that the former also uses computer to post-process and print photographs.

As to Cook’s Technological Revolution’s and the Gutenberg Myth, one of the greatest innovation was described. This is the printing press with movable type. The problem at that time is that majority of the population is illiterate due to lack of reading materials especially books. Common people rely on monks to read the Bible for them. Production of books is also a tedious and time consuming process because they were handwritten or made of woodcuts. The printing press has a widespread impact. By 1700, mass illiteracy declined upto 70%. Various media followed the printing press. This was followed by printing press with Linotype that allows offset printing, typewriter, Xerox photocopy, personal computer, printer and graphic design software. Printing distribution also evolved from printed to soft copy through the internet, email and cloud services that allows file sharing.

FIGURE 1. Evolution of Word Processing Media


As technology progress, communication and information is improved. However, these are a being monopolized by the dominant class in the society. This can be explained first by the the Theory of Cybernetics. According to Cantu, cybernetics is the Big Bang of information and that it claims that data are interconnected. This is the framework used by Information Technology’s digital trend. Technology today is used from publication to sharing of information and automation of business processes. But before discussing what is cybernetics, learning the different belief systems is a prerequisite.

The three major belief systems are Religion, Science and Government. They tend to monopolize information and public sphere through media. Each belief system may either contradict or support one another. For example, the Vatican’s claim is that the Earth is the center of the universe and that there is only human in the whole galaxy. When Giordano Bruno, contest this dogma by supporting heliocentricity (sun is the center of the universe) and that there are other lives in another galaxy, he was burned at the stake which legal since he moved against the belief system of the church.

FIGURE 2. Belief Systems

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Another example is the Nazis. Adolf Hitler’s philosophy about visual arts is that it must portray reality thus confining especially painting to Naturalism and Realism movement. When the German Expressionist movement protested against this, the Nazis held an exhibition and humiliated the expressionist painting. Some were confiscated while other expressionists working as a professor are expelled like Paul Klee.

According to Robins and Webster, these belief systems use information and communication as a means to control public sphere. And this can be maintained through cohesiveness and integrity of complex structures and policies and control of deviants. This information creates sensation and become center of democratic process of political debate in the public sphere. Public sphere is characterized as:

  • The forum open equally to all citizens, in which matters of general and political interests are debated and ideas are exchanged;
  • Manipulated by corporations and government;
  • Unmanageable and;
  • This can become rational through strengthening communication and information – social engineering which is often influenced by Propaganda.

From these belief systems, deviants from public sphere may intellectually revolt thus creating chaos to the society. And from this chaos, the process will restructure, standardize and become part of the belief system.

FIGURE 3. Deviation & Chaos Theory

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One example is the Apple Macintosh computer. It was released 1984 equipped with the capability to run graphic design software. This indicates the revolution against the Priesthood of IBM which is designed for large computing and corporations. Mac could have been a deviant at those times but has become part of today’s system especially for multimedia.From this trend, we can see howtechnology evolved from supercomputing mainframes to lightweight artistic Mac computers which are now widely used by the public sphere. What even made Mac a remarkable feat of engineering is that of all the hardwaretechnology Titans, it’s the only who partnered with Adobe Inc. for developing graphic design applications thus has led to belief system that Mac computer is for multimedia artist. With the dawn of graphic arts and growing interest of visual artists, educational systems in all forms adjusted to these technologies. Studying graphics arts and animation from crashed coursed matured into school curriculums to a bachelor degree and masters study.

FIGURE 4. Deviation of Minicomputers from IBM Mainframes

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From the three studies, we can observe these similarities:

  • Fusion of technology and visual arts – the capability of mechanical or digital computers to process visual data.
  • Deviation from traditional methodsif in the event that the current systemis unable to sustain the interest of the public sphere. This brings chaos and restructure into a new belief system until such time a new set of deviants again the whole cycle will repeat.
  • Innovation leads to euphoria of public sphere.

1. S. Cook,“Technological Revolutions & the Gutenberg Myth”, 1944
2. K.Robins & Frank Webster “From public sphere to cybernetic state” in Times of Technoculture
3. J.Cantu,”Universo Kubernetes”.
4. R.Hassan & J. Thomas,” The New Media Theory Reader” 2006
5. Printing – 1947 – Printing Press Work and Use; https://youtu.be/Mx8_kt-bLMk
6. Johannes Gutenberg and the Printing Press https://youtu.be/0ojyCDRc8uc

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