It is amazing to think a few blocks of wood would lead to the destruction of one of the most powerful organisations in history, but it did. Before the invention of the (European) printing press in 1440*, the creation of books had pretty much been the preserve of the Catholic Church and this, well, it gave them a hell of a lot of power. Not a lot of people owned books in the Middle Ages at the height of the Churches control. They were expensive and rare because they took so much time – and expertise – to make, the result of which being if the Catholic Church said “do this otherwise you will spend the rest of all eternity going hot and cold“, the general populace did it, because no one** had the chance to read the Bible closely enough to question it and no one wanted to risk being very hot or very cold. But then – tadaa! – the printing press arrived and more and more people got their own Bible. Plus, now it was in a language they could understand instead of one that had died out around the same time as the Roman Empire. Yay! And it turned out the general populace didn’t always agree with the Catholic Church’s way of seeing things. It also turned out the printing press had given them a voice more easily heard. So religious dissenters began printing off leaflets full of ideas about the “actual” meaning of the Bible. And people read them. And then, as they say, the rest is history (I recommend a quick A-level in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries if you’re not sure what happened next. A quick clue: Protestants, America, divorce. Wikipedia will probably do too). All this proved information is power, as is the ability to communicate, a lesson still held in high regard by dictators today. Control of the media must be number one or two on any would-be dictators list of “things to do”. (China has kept the media on a tight leash since 1949 and Mugabe certainly understands the need to keep journalists under his regimes thumb.) But how do you keep the media under control when anyone can be the media? With information more freely available than ever before, how long can these dictators really hold sway? If a few blocks of wood hundreds of years ago could bring down an organisation on the scale of which and with control of which we have not seen since, what is to stop this new media revolution having a similar effect? All you need nowadays is a mobile phone and an internet connection and within seconds, the whole world could see what you’re seeing. When the media could be anyone in the crowd, what do you do about it? Of course, the Chinese government are trying to control the internet (google.cn is censored) but surely, even the Chinese government, as big as it is, couldn’t censor the whole internet? After all, there are more than 108 million websites and growing. It would take a hell of a lot of time to check them all. So what’s to say this media revolution couldn’t have as profound and long lasting an effect as the media revolution in the 15th century? As the saying goes: history has a way of repeating itself. *The first printing presses were made in China 400 years earlier. ** Apart from the elite and church officials and, frankly, they seemed pretty happy with the power they had already and weren’t overly willing to upset the balance.

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