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Saturday, 10 December 2011

The first mass medium: language

I find this data fascinating because for me it highlights the huge role 'media' (broadly defined) plays in the development of our civilization. For its largest part human evolution was closely associated with an increase in brain size (left figure). This tendency pretty much stopped after about 50,000 years ago, roughly at the time when the emergence of proper language occurs (right figure). The appearance of language is closely associated with what archeologists call 'cultural revolution' because this is the first time that 'culture' (worked stone tools) appear in archeological data. After this point human development (not evolution) progresses exponentially (agriculture, trade, etc.). There is no doubt that language has played a crucial role in launching the rapid development of human civilizations.

Language is a mass medium, and this insight should make us think: what has been the impact of other mass media (printing, broadcasting) to the development of our civilization? Truly new mass media are not born frequently in human history. By definition, mass media are networked innovations (no-one wants to be the first using them). It happens to be the case that, as we speak, a new mass medium is becoming mainstream: the internet. What will be the impact of the rapidly emerging new internet medium on the future? If history is of any guide, the answer is: quite significant.

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