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Siva Vaidhyanathan - The Impact of Print on Knowledge and Culture
New York, April 2007 
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Martin Luther's theses launching the Reformation can be considered the first object of p2p distribution; spread beyond their original audience without authorization. Vaidhyanathan describes how states quickly moved to control information flows through licensing and other methods. Communication technologies change the way in which identity is lived, deterritorializing the subject from their local physical environment,and open up new visions of the possible.

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00:00:00 Interview with Siva Vaidhyanathan
00:00:05 The printing press was a remarkable democratising technology.
00:00:09 The printing press allowed for immediate unregulated distribution
00:00:15 of some fairly influental documents.
00:00:19 You could actually think of Luther's work as being the original
00:00:23 subject of peer-to-peer distribution.
00:00:26 Luther's theeses were not meant for European-wide distribution, not even German distribution.
00:00:32 They were meant for his parish and group of clergy and yet
00:00:37 immediately people made unauthorized copies and distributed them around Europe.
00:00:41 So that stands as sort of the first example of the dynamic effects
00:00:47 of disruptive communicative technologies.
00:00:50 Within a short period of time both the church and the nation states that were emerging in Europe
00:00:58 gained control over printing to a large degree.
00:01:02 Licensing presses, making sure that distribution was highly regulated and controlled,
00:01:08 and once again capturing the most important parts of information flow.
00:01:15 Of course they didn't do a perfect job,
00:01:18 which is why historical change continued through the next few centuries.
00:01:22 So it wasn't and instantaneous revolution, but one that was certainly
00:01:28 influential enough to leave its mark on the world.
00:01:31 Several things happened after the printing press showed its powerful influence.
00:01:37 First the catholic church certainly did its best to undermine many of
00:01:44 Luther's claims and Calvin's claims.
00:01:47 And did its best to enforce its control over the states over which it was
00:01:54 heavily influential, but also do its best to clean up certain practices, like indulgences and so forth.
00:01:59 But more importantly all of the emerging nation states of Europe
00:02:06 made it very clear that they would control information flows to the best of their ability.
00:02:11 They started processes such as licensing printing presses and licensing printers,
00:02:18 giving specific grants to specific printers for specific books,
00:02:23 which is the sort of early predecessor to copyright.
00:02:26 And by doing this they made sure that the books that flowed throughout society
00:02:31 were authorized - were the authorized editions - but also
00:02:35 were within the control of the state, within control of the king, or the prince.
00:02:40 And that had a tremendous effect on limiting political change or
00:02:46 putting the breaks on political change for a number of centuries.
00:02:49 It didn't stop the ideas from flowing and the principles of open communication
00:02:55 remained as an ideal right through the enlightenment
00:02:58 through the revolutions of the 18th century as well.
00:03:01 The printing press certainly had the effect of disengaging
00:03:06 communication from a specific time and place.
00:03:09 Deterritorializing it, taking a message out of its particular cultural context,
00:03:15 its liveness, and distributing it widely in a way that would render it as pure information.
00:03:24 This had a tremendous effect on how people thought of themselves,
00:03:27 how people thought of the human project.
00:03:33 It gave people the opportunity to actually think of themselves as
00:03:36 members of larger community than the local.
00:03:39 They could think of themselves as french, or german, or european, or as a citizen of the world,
00:03:45 right up through the notion that you could actually have
00:03:51 empathy for someone suffering in China.
00:03:53 And it was really only through the printing press that we could
00:03:56 imagine ourselves in contact with people so far away.
00:04:00 I'm actually fond of a phrase that comes out of a Disney corporate culture called 'imagineering.'
00:04:06 Certain inventions, many inventions in fact, alter our imagination.
00:04:11 They are not just examples of engineering, they're examples of imagineering.
00:04:14 So when you have something like the printing press in your town,
00:04:18 and it's having an affect on daily life, it opens up a series of possibilities that were
00:04:24 not imaginable just the day before.
00:04:28 The rise of network communication, the installation of TCIP/IP,
00:04:31 the notion that through this small box you can be in real-time contact with a friend in Djakarta
00:04:39 no matter where you live, a friend in Vancouver, a friend in Santiago.
00:04:43 That's actually a pretty profound change in consciousness.
00:04:49 It's not a change that has touched billions of people around the world,
00:04:52 but it certainly has touched hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
00:04:55 And certainly altered our expectations.
00:04:59 We expect different things out of our daily lifes, expect different things out of our
00:05:05 commercial relationships, our cultural relationships.
00:05:07 If we are members of diasporic communities we expect to be able to stay in touch with the
00:05:13 cultural changes, the film and music of our origin
00:05:16 If we are members of a political community we expect to be able to forge alliances
00:05:21 with people in Australia and South Africa, as well as Canada, the United States or England.
00:05:26 And that's a remarkable change.
00:05:28 It opens up so many possibilities, it doesn't determine any particular possibility.
00:05:33 So it's a mistake to say that because of network communication, things will be a certain way.
00:05:38 Just as it was a mistake to suggest that the reformation, the enlightenment
00:05:43 and the subsequent revolutions in Europe necessarily followed from the printing press.
00:05:48 The printing press was a condition of that, but it wasn't the sole determination,
00:05:53 determinant of that.
00:05:55 Technologies work in a way that often create unintended consequences in history.
00:06:01 Technologies work in a way most importantly to open up
00:06:05 possibilities that were not imaginable before. That can be profound.
00:06:13 But sometimes it only gets rendered in science-fiction and it doesn't happen in the real world.