The Unforseen Consequences of Innovation


Youtube started with him.

When Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1452, he was hoping for a quick kill.

He was deep in debt and his idea was to print bibles faster and cheaper than Monks could write them by hand. In the world of books, no one could conceive of much beyond bibles in the way of content, as that had been all that there was.

Were you a venture capitalist in Germany in the mid 15th Century, you might have invested in Gutenberg – faster, cheaper bibles, flood the market, drive out the Monks.

But the imact of Gutenberg’s technology was not about cheaper bibles – it instead unleashed an entirely unforseen intellectual revolution: it gave anyone with an idea the ability to publish. Anything.

This was something even Gutenberg had never forseen – a world suddenly awash in radical new ideas. It was truly revolutionary.

Today we live in a world created by Gutenberg’s moment. The first Amendment of our Constitution does not say, ‘you have the right to vote’; it says, Congress shall make no law abridging a free press. We understand that a free society is based upon a free and open press.

But that document was written 1789. Today, we no longer live in a world of print. We live in a world dominated by television and video. Up until now, the ‘video press’ was not free. It was controlled by CBS, ABC, Fox – the Vaticans of our age. (If you think otherwise, take a tape you shot down to CBS and ask them to ‘publish’ it).

Small cameras, laptop edits, video online – these are the Gutenberg’s printing presses of the 21st century. They give anyone the ability to publish… anything… in video.

The consequences of this are vast, and probably as difficult to forsee as The New York Times was to 15th century Germans.

The printing press ultimately shattered the supremacy of the Catholic Church, terminated the limitless power of Kings and brought down Medieval Europe and replaced it with the Era of Enlightenment.

The Gutenbergian revolution we are now about to undergo will have similar consequences, except now the victims will be major media corporations and probably a number of governments around the world. Politics, society, economics will never the be same. Like those who experienced the impact of the printing press on Europe, we are headed for a far messier but more interesting world.


One response to “The Unforseen Consequences of Innovation

  1. Pingback: Ideas Man 2 Cheaper Bibles «

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