William McGaughey is author of “Five Epochs of Civilization”, a book published in 2000 which organizes world history according to communication technology. This book was reviewed in leading newspapers and other publications around the world. In 2011, McGaughey was program chair of the 50th anniversary conference of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations, held at Tulane University in New Orleans. He is also proprietor of the web site http://www.worldhistorysite.com.
The impact of communication technology on public experienceby William McGaughey
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There is a huge difference between preliterate cultures and those that have writing. Written language is either a device for remembering important events or for allowing such events to be forgotten, depending upon one’s point of view. What we do know is that when a society first acquires written language, there is such an outburst of creative thinking that the classic expressions of philosophy, literature, and religion date from that period.
The transition from a culture of handwritten manuscripts to a culture of printed literature also brings a great change. First, there is an enormous increase in the quantity of writings, reducing their cost and making them available to the masses. Second, the mass-produced writing warrants greater attention and care. If an author’s exact words will be preserved and be widely disseminated, that person can attract a broad following. Artists, writers, and composers of music become celebrities in this culture.
When people turn from print culture to a pop culture based on electronic recordings, then the performer of music, actors and actresses in films, and professional athletes dethrone the cultural heroes of the earlier period. The public is interested in that special personal vitality that star performers have. Intellectual prowess becomes less important.
It’s hard to say how the computer will change public values. Maybe pop culture will follow Facebook in promoting personal connectedness. The greatest changes may be yet to come.
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