Today, the mass media plays a fundamental role in not only forming and reflecting the needs and opinions of people, but also connecting diverse perspectives to individuals and reproducing the self-image of society (Crowley, 2006). When these roles are played back to the past, it is evidently clear that the ‘book’ as the first mass medium instituted some major transformations whose effects helped shape society in ways that inarguably influences our very own thought systems, values, and attitudes. It is the purpose of this paper to evaluate some of the social and historical transformations caused by the book as the first mass medium.
While it is known that the Sumerians were the first to write using words about five thousand years ago, and the codex – a traditional modern form of the book – has been around for about nineteen hundred years, the first known book not written by hand originated from China just around the ninth century AD (A History of the Book, n.d.). Later day technologies have enabled the ‘book’ to be mass-produced and mass-read using various formats and, currently, the convergence of technology has enabled people to read books online. On the social front, the ‘book’ has caused many transformations, especially in availing a medium through which people from diverse cultural backgrounds could read books to share knowledge and improve their literacy levels (Crowley, 2006).
The adage ‘information is power’ has been well documented over the years, and the ‘book’ served well as the first mass medium to disperse knowledge to individuals across diverse geographic locations, thus giving them the power to not only make informed decisions and take control of their lives, but also to have a reference point through which they could effectively find solutions to the everyday problems. This is inline with the fundamental tenets of any form of mass medium. The book, through the reproduction and distribution of standardized knowledge, can also be credited for initializing social coordination (Crowley, 2006).
To reinforce this point, books allowed people and societies to use standardized ways and procedures of doing things that had been developed by ancient thinkers through objective and elaborate means, and therefore instituted social coordination. Also, books brought into the fore the aura of enjoyment and excitement, especially to ardent book readers. On the historical front, it is clear that the discovery of the book as the first mass medium led to the storage and transfer of knowledge that clearly informed the decisions made by political leaders, religious leaders and philosophers of that time.
According to Frost (1998), “…sectarians in north and eastern Africa adopted the codex book as a medium for their literature as is exemplified by the fourth century Gnostic books found at Nag Hammadi” (para. 2). The knowledge that the codex was also principally used by early missionaries and other sectarians to disperse the Christian teachings in areas such as the Balkan Peninsula, Africa, and Asia Minor has also been well documented. This lead to great historical transformations, which saw multitudes of people convert to the Christian doctrine and profess its faith, not because of what could be seen in the physical realm, but because of what was contained in the book (Frost, 1998). Visionary leaders of the past have projected diverse political and social orientations that are unified by what these readers read in the books rather than their own personal perceptions and viewpoints (Frost, 1998). For instance, it can be argued that traditional Russian political leaders such as Joseph Stalin and others were very much influenced by the writings of Karl Marx to an extent that they saw the establishment of a socialist state as the only true way to govern the populace. To date, such historical transformations still influence the political thinking of Russian leaders and the general population.
As such, it can be safely concluded that the ‘book’ as the first mass medium caused profound social and historical transformations.
A History of the Book. (n.d.).
Retrieved October 10 2010 < http://www.e-book.com.au/bookhistory.
htm> Crowley, D. (2007). Communication in History: Technology, Culture, Society 5th Ed. London: Allyn & Bacon Frost, G. (1998). Adoption of the codex book: Parable of a new reading mode. Retrieved October 10 2010 < http://cool.conservation-us.org/coolaic/sg/bpg/annual/v17/bp17-10.html>