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Thursday, May 12, 2005 | The World Wide Web is the Fourth Revolution in the 16,000-odd-year history of media.
The Second Revolution was the printing press, introduced in commercial form by Johann Gutenberg around 1450 A.D. The printing press provided the means to reproduce many copies – and exact copies – of books very quickly, as opposed to the old, “scribal culture” tradition of reproducing a book one copy at a time, which was very slow and very expensive. So the effect of the Second Revolution was to provide the media with volume. Many historians believe the printing press has been the most important invention in the history of humanity.
The Third Revolution was the telegraph, introduced in 1844 by Samuel Morse. The telegraph provided the media with speed. Before 1844, information traveled only as fast as a man on foot, a man on a horse or a man on a steamship or railroad train. In 1844, it became possible to move information from Point A to Point B at more or less the speed of light.
The Fourth Revolution is the Web, which we’ll date from about 1995. The effect of the Web is to turn the direction of information around 180 degrees. In the old, and still dominant, “broadcast culture,” information goes from a central location out to the masses. It has been a very effective technology, but also a very expensive one, and very inefficient.
In the Web age – let’s call it “Incast” – the masses come in to the information. Web information, whether it is print, audio or video, is nothing more than files on a computer, accessible globally to anyone with a phone and a computer. Incast is ridiculously inexpensive and almost totally efficient. It is the first one-to-one marketing model in the history of media. Broadcast is so expensive that not many people become broadcasters. Incast is so cheap that practically anyone can go into the media business. The result is an enormous democratizing effect. The Fourth Revolution is the reason that a publication like Voice of San Diego can exist.
We are now on the crest of the Fourth Revolution, headed at global high speed toward an unseen destination. One result we do know is that eventually, print and television will merge. They already have, sort of. When you watch television news, at the end of a story you are told, “For more on this story, go to our Web site atwww.msnbc.com.” Very soon, the merger will be complete, and your television set will work like a computer, and your remote control will also be a mouse. When you watch a news story on this new television, there will be a link right on the screen. Click on it, and you go to the in-depth, “print” version of the story. Media students already are aware that in the new journalism, they are going to have to write for both print and television: the 90-second version (about 210 words) for television, and the 4,000-word version for print.
The TV version, meanwhile, will “wait,” because it is only a file on a computer, for you to go read the in-depth story, and then click back to the TV news, which will resume where you left it. It is difficult to imagine what that simple change will mean to the media-public relationship. Right now, we are in a primitive stage of the new relationship, like people in the 1890s who suddenly had a telephone they could use. To use it effectively, they almost had to understand how to build one. Same with the Web, which has caused enough hair-pulling to fill a billion pillows. But the Incast business model is strong – only the Fourth Revolution in media history – and it won’t be long before we know more than we do now.
Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at