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The Appearance of Solidity: Media and Culture in the Electric Age

The Late and Early Days of the Internet

To trace the influence of the internet on human society we have to go back to a seminal moment in the manufacture of human artifacts, and then look at how that cultural exchange system became corrupted by mercantile interests. Around three and a third million years ago Australopithecus (more precisely Australopithecus afarensis or Kenyanthropus platyops) began to chip stones.[1] We know little about these early hominids beyond some of their physical attributes, but we presume they were intellectually motivated to modify a rock—the most enduring material in their environment and therefore all that remains of their cultural artifacts—in order to chip a sharp edge onto it. Why they required a sharpened rock it is impossible to know, but if they were anything like we are now, we may imagine that they wanted to smash something.

Technological innovation appeared to stall at that level for a million years. No doubt much of this apparent stagnation has to do with the fact that most materials that we could have modified, such as bone and wood, would not have easily survived the decay of the intervening years. Without proof to the contrary, we leap to the easy conclusion that our ancestors were occupied with a few stones and otherwise were merely sitting in the sun. Perhaps our neighbours were getting canny about the sharp rocks we were lobbing in their direction and the Stone Age arms race stalled at fractured rock.

In the Olduvai Gorge, however, we learned to smash river cobbles together and make even more dangerous double-edged weapons as well as craft what might be the earliest artistic expression. We hefted these crudely modified stones for a million years or more until they were further refined and became the hand axes of Homo Habilis. These were then inherited by Homo Erectus who took the innovation out of Africa as we carried the fire we had mastered into the woodlands of what would be called Europe and India, and the plains of what would come to be Turkey and China. Trekking far and wide over the planet, Homo Habilis left modified stones all over Europe, Africa, Asia (it is worthwhile noting that the cave art of India dates from more than three hundred and fifty thousand years before the present[2]), and perhaps Indonesia.[3] We refined those tools even more as our physique thickened into Neanderthal and Denisovan and the cold of the glacial period made different demands on human culture. We chipped blades as Neanderthals in early Europe and used the chips as scrapers, even while we pondered the newer primates who followed our tracks.

Since only stone tools were hardy enough to survive the ravages of deep time, we have little beyond those cryptic indicators to explain how we transmitted cultural knowledge. We can guess that we communicated with others, even if it were only by gesture, and therefore passed on the knowledge of how to manufacture our tools. Studies of language diversity have led some to claim that language use is at least two hundred thousand years old,[4] and certainly there are ways other than the spoken word to communicate cultural information. Human history might well be littered with the stories of people who lived their entire lives communicating solely by gesture and roughly drawn shapes on the cave floor.

Fifty thousand years ago Neanderthals were burying their dead, as we found at La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France,[6] and we have evidence of altruism at the same site in the form of an elderly man’s skeleton. He could not have survived for so long after his injuries if he didn’t have someone to care for him.[7] Somehow, we also passed on the knowledge of how to make rope, if we rely on the mute implications of a thirty thousand year old fragment of twisted fibre.[8] Twenty-five thousand years ago we were explaining how to make pottery,[9] apparently, and later generations added ever more elaborate innovations to the craft.

For our purposes, what is most important about these supposed interactions was the cottage nature of their industry. Each tool was one of a kind that was manufactured for its user, supposedly, and involved no other cultural mediation in either its production or use. When the archeological record begins to show signs of art, this unmediated cultural transfer becomes even more clear. At five hundred thousand years old, the zig-zag etching made by an early Homo Erectus scratching a shell with a shark tooth[10] is one of the first candidates for artistic expression, and it is hard to believe it could have been done for commercial purposes.

Thirty-five thousand years ago, at Sulawesi, Indonesia, we began to generate even more involved art.[11] On cave walls just like those at Lascaux, we painted vivid depictions of the animals we saw around us. At nearly the same time we produced Venus figurines—such as the Venus of Hohle Fels[12]—and other depictions of the female form with the hips and breasts greatly exaggerated, as well as a flute made from the bones of a bird.[13]

Even though the production of art is different in kind from that of stone tools, the lack of mediating forces controlling their manufacture remains the same. Before the modern world of endless commercial duplication, each item was made for a specific purpose. They were produced by one person for themselves or another, and even if they were meant for commerce or trade, the interaction was still dependent on a direct relationship between the producer and the consumer.

When writing began, five thousand years ago in Sumer, it was mainly for the keeping of records.[14] Once the amount of grain in the granaries was counted, and the king had collected his taxes, the scribes turned to other pursuits. They began to write the stories that we had likely been telling each other over the cooking fires for tens of thousands of years.

It is worth returning to those early stories. The oral tradition is very distinct from the way that written culture gets enacted. In this competitive system (in the sense that human memory is a porous container) only the most interesting stories survive to be passed down. If an element of a story were found to be boring, it would soon be trimmed from the original tale. For similar reasons, the oral storyteller modifies the traditional story in reference to their audience. They ensure both their listeners’ attention and edification. Thus, the story is always relevant and, like the tools that were produced at the same time, made for the particular listener squatting at their feet. Just as the recipient of the stone tool sat in front of the person doing the chipping, directing their hand this way or that, the audience’s participation in the oral tale informed the resultant story.

The stories did not always change with the teller or their audience, however. In some cases the intact nature of the information in the story was important, so mechanisms were put in place to ensure accurate knowledge transfer. In the Australian Aborigine tradition, the songlines or dreaming tracks enable their singer to navigate by repeating the words of the song. The songlines described landmarks, such as waterholes, creeks, and cliffs. In many cases they could travel vast distances across tribal boundaries as the songs, their languages changing as they crossed into other territories, led them through the deserts of Australia’s interior along the ancient system of songlines.[15] The rise and fall of the song’s melody describes the nature of the land as the singer passes, so listening to the song is the same as walking on the songline and observing the landscape.

Because the oral tradition is so flexible, some important information could have become lost without a mechanism to ensure an exact delivery of the tale. The Australian Aborigine songline tradition ensured that the stories were accurate by employing a system of intergenerational fact checking. As the stories were / are told, three generations are expressly attentive for errors. They confirm that the story being told is the one that had been passed down, and thus ensure that the stories keep their information intact. Patrick Nunn and Nicholas Reid[16] argue that the story cycles retained explicit information about the same postglacial sea level rise that was later confirmed by the empirical corroboration of marine geographers. Similarly, North American indigenous stories about Glooscap seem to recall a time when the interior of the continent was flooded by glaciers, when the megafauna beaver still walked the land, and the St Lawrence River burst the ice dam that had confined it since the glacial period.[17]

The production of human media in that tradition could be consistent, but our stories became even more fixed and independent of their audience once we began to write them down. Then they became the final word on the story rather than an iteration of it. When we recall this time we have quite accurate images of Medieval monks laboriously transcribing the written word. They were encouraged to copy as faithfully as possible, but idiosyncrasies naturally crept in as one monk’s spelling errors were duplicated in the work copied, or another flamboyant hand became hard for subsequent generations to interpret and reproduce.[18]

Essentially, these acts of cultural transmission were still no different than oral storytelling, the manufacture of cave art, and the stone tools they imitated. They were still a cottage industry, in which one copy was made, more or less accurately, for a particular person or library. The person who engaged the monk to copy a manuscript was not essentially different in their intent than the slouching caveperson who approached the best stone knapper in the collection of huts they may not have been able to call a village. One person wanted something, and paid another to produce it. Their relationship was direct and interactive.

This relationship changes for all time with the invention of the Gutenberg press. Although the press was developed by the Chinese four hundred years earlier,[19] and used in Korea a hundred years earlier,[20] in the western tradition the press begins with Johannes Gutenberg around 1440. He made moulds for movable type, modified press technology to make the printing press, and soon was producing texts at a hundred or a thousand times the speed of copying by hand. Sixty years later the press in Europe had printed more than twenty million books, and within a hundred years that had increased tenfold.[21]

Few understate the influence the printing press has had upon European society. Marshall McLuhan made much of the medium in his The Medium is the Message and his evaluation was taken up by later theorists. The most important single innovation the press enabled, however, is the systematic collusion of cultural interests with mercantile concerns. We may observe how this worked by reference to one of the most common early texts to come from the Gutenberg press. That text was not, as is widely touted, the Gutenberg Bible. Instead, the church printed indulgences by the thousands, for this was a much more lucrative enterprise.[22]

Indulgences were increasingly sold in the middle ages by professional pardoners who were collecting for a specific project. In many cases, and this is what Chaucer is parodying in his Canterbury Tales,[23] the pardoners promised respite from eternal damnation in return for money and the church fathers were quick to take advantage of the system. Soon they were funding the Crusades and constructing cathedrals by selling paper for spiritual gain in the next life. For our purposes, the indulgences are an interesting test case that shows financial concerns were already controlling the production of artifacts. They were sold to people as tickets into heaven, or at least for a shorter stay in purgatory, and thus brought millions into the church coffers. This trade was lucrative enough that it was a cause of much controversy at the time. There were literally thousands of forgeries passed from misunderstanding hand to hand in the hovels, although, if we are to be honest about it, the entire practice was a forgery. Thus, mercantile interests, albeit those of the church, were responsible for the early dissemination of cultural artifacts. Importantly, these were not the artifacts chosen by the people, but rather those chosen for them by the church’s greed.

This collaboration with a mercantile pecuniary world and the production of goods, between profit and producer and consumer, meant that for the first time the cultural transmission of knowledge was mediated by interests that were principally concerned with profit. Unlike what people imagine about the Gutenberg bible, the church’s interest in the indulgences was not for the purposes of broad scale proselyting, but rather was purely mercantile. The church, more in favour of financial gain than souls, engaged the new press to print indulgences that it encouraged the largely illiterate peasantry to buy. Thus the new press was not printing what people wanted, but rather what mercenary interests decided would make more money. Despite how well the more lucrative indulgences sold, Gutenberg persisted with his bible, notwithstanding that he was nearly bankrupt. There was little money in bibles. The Gutenberg bible itself was a cause célèbre only for Gutenberg, and he rallied so little interest for the project that his creditor and former partner, Fust, forced him to sell his portion. After Gutenberg lost his part in the business he continued on alone in what he evidently saw as a sacred, if largely disregarded mission.

We may compare this commercial interaction with the Medieval manuscript copied by a monk. The monk who has been engaged in a barter style interactive economy to produce the text for his customer is in a relationship that is similar to the storytellers of the oral tradition who interacted directly with their audience. The stone knapper made tools for themselves or others that he or she knew, and the Venus figurines—whether they represent gods or ritual objects—were produced by one person for another. With the industrial duplication of cultural artifacts, suddenly there are rows of Venus figurines, as it were, and the producers now needed an infrastructure to store, market and sell them to an audience. They could not afford, in the economy of scale of such enterprises, to concern themselves with what the individual buyer might want, so instead they only made one item that they came to convince us we needed. In the absence of options, the indulgence which declares twenty shillings will absolve you of all sins instantly becomes a bestseller.

Luckily for the edification of the public, other people took up the press and used it to produce books. And, as others have observed, the duplication of text could not help but have an effect on society. Literacy in the population grew by leaps and bounds and those who a hundred years earlier would have kneeled before the priest to learn what he believed god intended could now look it up themselves. Perhaps no one could have foreseen how this would change society, so we cannot blame the church for being blindsided.

Within eighty years of the press’ first productions, the Reformation began with Martin Luther nailing “The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg in 1517.[24] All those who read them were informed about clerical abuses, and he followed them with over three hundred thousand copies of dozens of broadsheets condemning the church. These led to the development of the newspaper. Not satisfied that he had wrested the church away from the high priests of commerce which he thought infested it, Luther translated the Bible into vernacular German. This made the text more accessible to the growing body of literate people and had a huge impact on the church and German culture. Soon a standard version of the German language was under evaluation, and theoretical discussions about translation became important.

Even in the early medieval period, when the production of the cultural artifact was not meant to be for one person alone, such as paintings in a church nave, they were still produced by one person. The artist did not take credit for their work, for it either belonged to the glory of god, or more likely, to the patron who had paid for its production. Once book printing became a more commercial enterprise, however, copyright laws were passed to protect what we now would call intellectual property rights. These were not the rights of those who produced the work, but rather in the mercenary atmosphere of business tangled with the cultural artifact, it was meant to protect those who produced the copies. At the same time, as this accusation was also made against Luther, the printing press was criticized for allowing the dissemination of incorrect, or in some cases politically inconvenient, information.

In this atmosphere of commercial production, it is worth reiterating that the majority of texts that are sold are not what the consumer really wants. They buy them because of the relative paucity of options. But we’d be dissembling if we claimed that the majority of literate people at the time only wished to read the papal indulgences, the Gutenberg bible, grammar guides and Luther’s many broadsheets. Instead, the church was producing the indulgences for their own interests, the bible was for the betterment of humanity according to Gutenberg’s proselytizing nature, and the grammar guides were meant to regularize the riot of spellings and structures that had always been in the language but were becoming more vexing now that they were creeping into the written text. Each of these interests were not our interests, and that, albeit with various permutations, continued to be a problem until the rise of the internet.

In the early eighteen century, while copyright was still a convenient fiction that allowed the presses to make more money, writers like Jonathan Swift, of Gulliver’s Travels fame, produced works of fiction and political broadsheets without remuneration entering into his part of the agreement. No writers at the time gave up their day jobs to live from selling books because only the presses made money from the industry. They accepted the fodder of the prose from the writers, who gave it up in order to disseminate their message, but quite early on the work of art for the glory of god and the church’s avaricious benefit was replaced by a similar relationship between the press and the author. Because copyright existed to protect those who were making the money, and the authors were accustomed to donating their work for the common good, it was only the increasingly arcane and complex commercial interests who actually made a living from cultural production.

This marks a huge shift away from the cottage industry of our past. As individuals we were still producing cultural artifacts, but in the case of writing at least, the books quickly moved out of our control to be manhandled and transformed by an entire industry which existed merely to serve its own interests. If the publishers did not believe a book would sell, they deigned to produce it. They cared little if a public cried for a certain type of text; unless they saw a sure market, the text would not be printed. They cared even less for the one who created the work to begin with. The dissemination, distribution, and sale of culture suddenly becomes much more important than its production.

If we compare this shift in production to the context of the cave, it was as if a crowd of cave people stood between us and the producer of the stone tool. In this new system, we had to pay each of them a toll as they passed the tool from hand to hand and finally to us. Now there are thousands of stone tool chippers, all making the same stone tool, but dozens of kilometres away a vast infrastructure dictates when and how we will receive our tool, how much it will cost, and most damningly, which tool we will receive. Because in the world of mass manufacture items must necessarily be standardized, no one gets quite the tool they wish for but instead something that is close enough[25] according to those who sell the tool. As disconnected as we are from the process of production, we cannot even shout directions over the heads of the intermediaries in order to ensure our tool is made somewhat to our specifications. This is cave paintings as stencils, Venus figurines with the individuality of Barbies, and poorly made tools that never quite fit the hand. The readers of books coming from the Gutenberg press are confined in their choices to a narrow shelf of options. They may vote with their money, but in a population starved for text and few texts to choose from, their abdication from the system is scarcely meaningful.

Applied to text, this system becomes a collection of controls over culture, and financially motivated gatekeepers who dictate what we want to read. The publishers cannot risk, in their competitive world, a book no one will buy, so they take less and less risks on the idiosyncratic work. Creativity is stifled in the system, or seeks other outlets, such as self-publishing. The texts which are produced are bland enough to ensure a broad market and many millions of hopeful writers are turned away unless they can provide evidence that a market exists for their work. The cottage industry that necessarily had a market has shifted to a vast juggernaut that peers through spreadsheets and tallies, trying to ascertain not what we want, but what they can give us that is good enough that we will buy it in bulk.

This system survived virtually intact for hundreds of years. Writers began to be poorly compensated, although many of them toil in the off hours at jobs they dare not quit, and the publishing houses became huge. As cultural artifacts become easier to duplicate, such as paintings made into prints by multinational companies, magic lantern shows transformed into films and then finally digitally duplicated copies, the performances of live musicians captured on wax cylinders, vinyl records, magnetic tape and then ferric plastic, the companies that control what is heard, watched, and read, proliferate in power and ubiquity.

As they grow they become more rigid about what can be produced and enjoyed by the audience. Once a musician proves themselves, by touring live venues, they are grudgingly allowed in on the lower floors of the industry, which transforms them in order to take advantage of any popularity they might have. The final arbiters of taste, the production companies, dictate the parameters of art. With only the bottom line as their yardstick, they control what music is produced, videos made, books read, and art gazed upon.

We thought of ourselves at the time as overwhelmed by an incredible diversity, as, in the 1970s, we switched from one television station to the other only to see shows of remarkable similarity on both channels. The movies we watch are generally the same that play in the major studio-owned theatres, and wishing to pack their bars with drinkers, owners of stages only allow those who adequately represent the music made popular on major labels. Humans command incredible artistic diversity, but it is so far outside the regular consumer’s control that we have almost no say in what we consume. As the system becomes better organized, staff psychologists are brought in to help with advertising, and market research tries to ascertain what most people will buy. This is not what we want, remember, but rather what will make the mercantile interests the most money.

The great boon of the Gutenberg press, literacy and access to information, was betrayed once the business interests managed to get their hands on the process. Therefore, it’s worthwhile to look closer at the operations of business. We cannot expect the owners of the press to work for free, and everyone understood that when the rock chipper asked for two potatoes in exchange for his stone tool. It only took him one and a half potatoes to locate the stone and make the tool, but he also needs to feed his family. What makes his case very different than the business interests and their industrial-scale duplication is that he is not trying to build a huge mansion on every cliff that overhangs the river. He’s not trying to control several villages of stone-knapping slaves. He merely wants to make a living. The bottomless voracity of modern, post-Gutenberg business would seem hopelessly alien to him. What business wants is to steal.

At its core, the ideals of business are about theft, although this is legal and may even be socially sanctioned, depending on the society. The business owner in the corporate model steals in two ways. Whoever is producing the widget they sell, whether they are the artist or the proletariat on the factory floor, is not getting the wealth that their labour generates. If their work produces a hundred dollars a day and the business owner gives them a hundred, then soon he or she is bankrupt. Everyone understands this. But we also understand that if their labour earns a hundred dollars a day and the business owner gives them ten, then the business owner is pocketing the remainder.

There are many rationales for this behaviour, such as the owner built the factory, put up the money initially, and had the idea, but at the core of it he is stealing ninety percent of what Marx called the worker’s surplus labour.[26] For building the factory and putting up the money, we can understand they might be owed some amount of remuneration. Maybe even the idea is worth something, although in their minds the ideas of others rarely are. Where we differ is that they believe they are owed ninety dollars out of a hundred for the labour of each of their workers. They need to maintain their own house and family, but we know they do not need to so gouge them that their workers live in shacks and dress in rags while the owner drives a Mercedes and lives in a mansion. In other words, they steal a great deal of the wealth of their labourer in order that they may enjoy it themselves. They do not use that wealth to pay for a factory, or to invest more money in other enterprises. They use that surplus to live, some would say, undeservedly well.

The other way that the business owner makes money is when they sell the widget. When they sell an item for ten dollars that they know took one dollar to produce, they are stealing from their consumer. It boots little to call upon clichés like fair market value or whatever the market will bear. Consumers buy it because they are surrounded by other gouging business and have little choice. The difference between the consumer’s satisfaction with the price and the actual item is usually made up for by advertising—in the case of fashion and consumer items—and desperation, in the case of food or fuel.

This form of theft is also legal, and similar arguments arise when you discuss it with those who believe the economy is more important than the people it ostensibly serves. They might claim that advertising costs money, as well as market research and building the infrastructure of transport and sales. Of course, their argument is undermined by the fact that the business interests take this into account and ensure that their expenses are far below their actual income. The bottom line is more important than delivering a service, and profit is the only motivator.

Of course there are alternatives to this way of thinking of the production of goods, such as cooperatives, in which production is owned in common and profits all. There were hundreds of stone chippers in our early history who sharpened tools for their neighbours in exchange for the common good. Meat from a hunt which used their tool benefitted them, and their attention to tool sharpening was commensurate with the meat brought home. The seeds were planted when they contributed the hoe, and they received the benefit of the garden. Unsurprisingly, corporate interests do not operate this way, but we will set that aside for another day.

The discussion above in which we learned that business interests control both the production and dissemination of goods and services is necessarily related to how similar structures control the production of culture. With their left hand in the pocket of the musician, writer and filmmaker, and their right hand in the pocket of the consumer, the middleman that is business ensures that cultural artifacts pass through its many layered selection process, and each layer has a toll.

Perhaps this is most evident in radio from the thirties to the fifties and television from the sixties to the seventies. With only a few channels to choose from, the viewer was rarely torn between one similar show and another. The characters and situations were bland imitations of an idealized life that few of the viewers shared but which business concerns had decided they would watch. The viewers had no say, and, even after the use of Nielsen ratings and studio audiences, little say in what was being produced. The studios decided what they could get past the government and industry censors and what they believed people would watch. In that way it was no different than the selling of indulgences in the fifteenth century, although the heaven we bought our way into was merely the continuous cycle of consumerism and advertising. The television told us little about who were are and in many cases—think of couples sleeping in separate beds in the fifties and sixties—were blandly inaccurate in their portrayals. Innovation in programming was slow in such a system, and only after many years did the political topics of the day begin to be casually addressed.

The growing literacy of the post-Gutenberg era grew even more prevalent in the twentieth century until, with the advent of the internet, the frustrated and previously ignored producer of art, silenced for six hundred years of cultural production, picked up their sharpened rock, their delicate mammoth ivory carving, the charcoal and ochre they used on the cave wall, and began to voice their interests and concerns.

The potential of the early internet, which was merely a system of making sure the send-bombs messages arrived at the missile silos in the American Midwest in the case of a Soviet attack[27] was first recognized by academics. They began to share ideas on networks connecting universities, and soon email was born. With this form of instantaneous communication, hypertext and browsers capable of parsing HTML quickly followed. Soon people were online browsing through the long lists of the precursors of search engines, and more innovation opened that potential information source, allowed the user to produce information, modify it into forms other than text, and then interact with it.

Beginning with BBS boards, and then moving to blogs, YouTube channels, Bandcamp, and file sharing sites and software, the internet user of today has not exactly cut out the mercantile interests in the production of their cultural artifacts, but they largely ignore their presence. The financial sector was beside itself with excitement in the dot.com era, hoping that somehow all the traffic through websites could be turned to profit. Domain names sold in the thousands, as investors fantasized that such ephemeral objects would become valuable.

They were initially excited by the thrilling possibilities of ecommerce—so much money for so little investment—but in their growing frustration that huge amounts of data were not passing through their hands, they tried several strategies. They strengthened copyright law so file sharing would become more difficult,[28] and they tried to encourage people offering information and media for free to monetize it through advertising and therefore become part of an economy they could capitalize on.[29] They are also pushing for bandwidth limiting and fighting net neutrality, so commercial sites would appear first in our searches and load better when we choose them.[30]

Desperately scrambling to control an economy of sharing, the mercantile interests have fallen back on their ancient tactics. You may produce media, they tell the makers of cat videos on YouTube and Facebook, but you should have to go through us as your arbiters of quality to ensure it is worth watching. They struggle to set up monetized channels, but increasingly the slippery consumer, who is resentful that they’ve been duped for centuries, escapes their grasp to read and view what they want instead of what they are told they should like.

With information defining the new economy, it is no wonder that the business interests have found a way to capitalize on data. When millions of people worldwide click on a trailer for an upcoming movie, the major studios knew how heavily to fund the advertising, and when the millions of people who fill out the seemingly frivolous Buzzfeed surveys, or use Facebook to laboriously build lists of their favorite books, what characters they would be in the Harry Potter universe, and how often they cry or have suicidal thoughts, that information is gathered for the huge analysis engines that struggle to utilize the intemperate and ungrateful consumer.

Abandoning the traditional media as quickly as new forms appear, such as Netflix, Instagram, and Snapchat, the consumer has become mercurial and difficult to predict, however. Gathering information on a million market trends in a desperate effort to catch up to the eloping bride of the consumer with the groom of self-produced media, the wallflower concerns of business are being left behind on the dance floor of the tech industry. By strangling bandwidth, increasing the charges for internet connectivity, and manipulating the price of computers and smart phones, the fat face of bloated business is greedily peering through the sweet shop window at the stream of data passing him by. Since the Gutenberg age he has been accustomed to pinching the stream closed until only a trickle escaped his fingers to satiate the audience. Now he is left scrambling to install a fee for one service or another, pasting ads over everything we want to see, or hiding data behind paywalls and then enticing us to purchase access by clickbait and misleading viral advertising.

We live in interesting times, as the curse goes, in that the behemoth that is the commercial culture machine is blind and staggering, and we can finally wrest control away from its greedy fist. On YouTube, Blogspot, Snapchat, and Instagram, we are walking toward our neighbour’s house with a potato in hand ready to trade it for whatever tool our neighbour can make. In internet terms, we use cheap, easily operated digital cameras to record police brutality and our pets, and on Twitter we keep the world abreast of our diet as well as a battle happening before us. We still must pay the commercial interests for the riverside rocks, but we have finally realized that we don’t need them to decide what we want to read, watch, and listen to.

Surrounded by the artists we haven’t heard from for millennia, we avidly scour the internet for videos and podcasts which would never be commercial successes, that wouldn’t have stood a chance in the corporate world of taste management, but delight us with their inventiveness. Lost in the plethora of selected and sanitized texts, we had forgotten how creative we were. We are only slowly waking up, and unless the corporate systems change their business model, they will not be part of the future any more than they were the pre-Gutenberg past.



[1] Harmand, Sonia et al. “3.3-million-year-old stone tools from Lomekwi 3, West Turkana, Kenya” Nature. vol. 521, 21 May 2015, pp. 310–315.

[2] Bednarik, R. G. “The Oldest Known Rock Art in the World.” Anthropologie, vol. 39, no. 2-3, 2001., pp. 89-97. Harrod, James B. “Palaeoart at Two Million Years Ago? A Review of the Evidence.” Arts, vol. 3, no. 1, 2014., pp. 135-155.

[3] See Russell Ciochon’s “The Mystery Ape of Pleistocene Asia.” (Nature, vol. 459, no. 7249, 2009., pp. 910-1.), Ewen Callaway’s “Tales of the Hobbit.” (Nature, vol. 514, no. 7523, 2014., pp. 422-426.), and perhaps, if seeking an alternate explanation, especially V. Vancata’s “A Preliminary Analysis of Long Bone Measurements of Homo Floresiensis: Bone Robusticity, Body Size, Proportions and Encephalisation.” Anthropologie, vol. 43, no. 2-3, 2005., pp. 273-282.

[4] Knight, Chris and Michael Studdert-Kennedy, James Hurford The Evolutionary Emergence of Language: Social Function and the Origins of Linguistic Form. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

[5] Armstrong, David F. “The Gestural Theory of Language Origins.” Sign Language Studies, vol. 8, no. 3, 2008., pp. 289-314.

[6] Rendu, William et al. “Evidence supporting an intentional Neandertal burial at La Chapelle-aux-Saints” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. vol 111, no. 1, Sept 2013, pp. 81-86.

[7] In 1908 A. and J. Bouyssonie, and L. Bardon found a fossilized skull discovered in La Chapelle-aux-Saints. It is estimated to be about 60,000 years old. Interestingly, for our purposes, the specimen was severely arthritic and had lost all his teeth, with evidence of healing. For him to have survived long enough to heal implies that his food was processed for him, and thus this is cited as one of the earliest examples of Neanderthal altruism. See Bouyssonie, A., J. Bouyssonie and L. Bardon. “Découverte d’un squelette humain moustérien à La Bouffia de la Chapelle-aux-Saints” (Corr`eze)’, L’Anthropologie. vol. 19, no. 513, 1908, pp. 18.

[8] Kvavadze, Eliso, et al. “30,000-year-old wild flax fibers.” Science 325.5946 (2009): 1359.

[9] Vandiver, P.B., Soffer, O., Klima, B., and Svoboda, J., “The Origins of Ceramic Technology at Dolni Vestonice, Czechoslovakia.” Science, Vol 246. (November 1989): 1002-1008.

[10] Joordens, Josephine C. A. “Homo erectus at Trinil on Java used Shells for Tool Production and Engraving” Nature. 518, (February 2015): 228–231.

[11] Aubert, M et al “Pleistocene cave art from Sulawesi, IndonesiaNature. 514, (October 2014): 223–227.

[12] Conard, Nicholas J. “A Female Figurine from the Basal Aurignacian of Hohle Fels Cave in Southwestern GermanyNature. 459, (14 May 2009): 248-252.

[13] Higham, Thomas. Laura Basell, Roger Jacobi, Rachel Wood, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Nicholas J. Conard “Τesting models for the beginnings of the Aurignacian and the advent of figurative art and music: The radiocarbon chronology of Geißenklösterle” Journal of Human Evolution. Vol 62:6, (June 2012): 664-676.

[14] Hayes, John L. A Manual of Sumerian Grammar and Texts. Malibu, California: Undena Publications, 1990.

[15] Norris, Ray P. and Bill Yidumduma Harney. “Songlines and Navigation in Wardaman and other Australian Aboriginal Cultures” Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage. Vol 17:2 (April 2014).

[16] Patrick D. Nunn, Nicholas J. Reid. “Aboriginal Memories of Inundation of the Australian Coast Dating from More than 7000 Years Ago” Australian Geographer. 2015.

[17] Bruchac, Margaret M. “Earthshapers and Placemakers: Algonkian Indian Stories and the Landscape” in H. Martin Wobst and Claire Smith Ed. Indigenous Archaeologies: Decolonizing Theory and Practice. London: Routledge Press, 2005.

[18] Lord, Victoria. “The Medieval Scribe and the Art of Writing” http://www.ultimatehistoryproject.com/the-medieval-scribe.html

[19] Tsien, Tsuen-Hsuin and Joseph Needham. “Paper and Printing. Science and Civilisation in ChinaCambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

[20] Briggs, Asa and Burke, Peter A Social History of the Media: from Gutenberg to the Internet. Cambridge: Polity, 2002.

[21] Febvre, Lucien; Henri-Jean Martin. The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450-1800. London: New Left Books, 1976.

[22] See Kai-Michael Sprenger, ‘“Volumus tamen, quod expressio fiat ante finem mensis Mai presentis”. Sollte Gutenberg 1452 im Auftrag Nicolaus von Kues’ Ablaßbriefe drucken’, Gutenberg-Jahrbuch, 74 (1999), 42-57.

[23] Duino, Russell. “The Tortured Pardoner” The English Journal. National Council of Teachers of English: 1957, and Betty Kantor’s “The Sin of Pride in ‘The Pardoner’s Tales’” Stanford, Stanford UP, 1971, and Stephan A. Khinoy’s “Inside Chaucer’s Pardoner?” The Chaucer Review 1972.

[24] Brecht, Martin. “Sein Weg zur Reformation 1483–1521” Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation 1483–1521. 1985.

[25] We might remember Vashti’s unrequited feeling for a bed of different dimensions that the machine, because of standardization, cannot supply without a massive retooling of its production (E. M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops”).

[26] “The specific economic form, in which unpaid surplus-labour is pumped out of direct producers, determines the relationship of rulers and ruled, as it grows directly out of production itself and, in turn, reacts upon it as a determining element. Upon this, however, is founded the entire formation of the economic community which grows up out of the production relations themselves, thereby simultaneously its specific political form” (Karl Marx, Das Kapital Vol. 3).

[27] “ARPANET – The First Internet” http://www.livinginternet.com/i/ii_arpanet.htm For more information see Publications in the “On Distributed Communications” Series, an 11-volume series of reports from 1964.

[28] Klosek, Jacqueline. “United States: Combating Piracy and Protecting Privacy: A European Perspective”. October 2008.

[29] ALECU, Felician. “Monetizing Digital Assets.” Oeconomics of Knowledge, vol. 5, no. 2, 2013., pp. 2.

[30] See Ionela Baltatescu’s “The Economics of Net Neutrality: Policy Issues.” Knowledge Horizons. Economics, vol. 6, no. 2, 2014., pp. 114-118. and Joshua S. Gans’ “Weak Versus Strong Net Neutrality.” Journal of Regulatory Economics, vol. 47, no. 2, 2015., pp. 183-200.

 
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