Discovering the Relevance of Words
In the 1500’s, the European world was in crisis.
A technological innovation had changed the world right under the noses of those people who held power. A printing press, a machine that could mass produce reading material, had helped encourage a widespread literacy that hadn’t been seen since classical Greece and Rome. This access to information seriously threatened the status quo, and those who owed their fortunes and position to the maintenance of it responded in a way as fervent and violent as the times in which they lived. Their opponents responded in kind, and hundreds of thousands died on the battlefield and off in the name of theological disagreement. Today, we use a euphemism for this time. We call it the Reformation.
I am not a revolutionary. I don’t own a Guy Fawkes mask and I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. But I do believe in the power of information and, by extension, language. One doesn’t need to look far back into our past to see examples of this power. In fact, one doesn’t even need to look to the past to see tyrants use the access to information, or lack thereof, to enslave their people. How many countries in the world restrict internet access to their people for fear of what they might read? I won’t name names, but I could, since no one in those countries would be able to read this anyway. (Don’t worry, Kim Jong Un, I’ll tag you in this post. I know you love a good shout out.)
The point is that I look around and I see us living through a turning point in history, right now. The easy access we have to information would astound our grandparent’s generation, and we might as well be aliens to people from five hundred years ago. Technology is moving faster than the ability to regulate it, and information that could cause discomfort to important people is becoming available to everyone.
I sometimes wonder what historians of the future will call this epoch of human history. They do love to name things.
I don’t want to try and tackle a topic like this from a socio-political standpoint, because I am woefully uninformed. I can’t argue specifics of current events because that would require the kind of research I haven’t done since college. But I will wonder on the role language will play as the story unfolds. Am I crazy, or will school kids in the future memorize key terms printed in bold in their textbooks (or digital tablets. iTexts?), terms like ‘WikiLeaks’ and ‘cell phone surveillance’?
Just the fact that I can write a post like this, drawing parallels between our time and times past based on histories that approach the subject from several different perspectives is pretty amazing. Very rarely in our existence have people been able to trade information this freely, and never on such a massive scale. What’s also amazing is that this doesn’t have to be a one-way communication, the way the Gutenburg Bible and all those pamphlets that circulated in the 1500’s were. You can tell me what you think.
How does this access to information and culture of all kinds affect us going forward?
I know this is a big question. But that just means there’s no wrong answer.