In a recent interview in Odense, Denmark, Dean Starkman of Columbia Journalism Review spoke with Thomas Pettitt and Lars Ole Sauerberg, of the University of Southern Denmark, who authored the Gutenberg Parenthesis, a theory that the digital age is much like the medieval.
The two scholars theorized "that the digital age, rather than solely a leap into the future, also marks a return to practices and ways of thinking that were central to human societies before Johannes Gutenberg’s 15th century invention changed human literacy and the world."
From the article's introduction:
The era that preceded Gutenberg’s invention, the theory goes, was a time of fluidity and “orality”—speeches, plays, songs, and other communications, including news—that weren’t written down, but instead were ephemeral and uncontained, easily shared, manipulated, and changed by each person who experienced them. The printing press, the authors contend, for the first time on a mass scale introduced the idea of fixity, permanence, and “containment.” Ideas were now impressed on a page and literally “bound” forever—essentially unalterable and thus given a new authority, whether it was deserved or not, that oral communication didn’t have.
The technological change led to nothing less than a change in human experience itself, the scholars say, and paved the way for new ways of looking at the world that emphasized separateness and authority: individualism, nation states, etc. The “parenthesis” idea sees the digital age as bringing about a return to earlier, more fluid, less permanent, more connected, modes of communication, and, indeed, of being.