Siva Vaidhyanathan - The Impact of Print on Knowledge and Culture
Duration: 00:06:22; Aspect Ratio: 1.738:1; Hue: 10.781; Saturation: 0.075; Lightness: 0.400; Volume: 0.107; Cuts per Minute: 0.471; Words per Minute: 116.239
Martin Luther's theses launching the Reformation can be considered the first object of p2p distribution, of spreading beyond their original audience without authorisation. 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, deterritorialising the subject from their local physical environment, and opening up new visions of the possible. http://footage.stealthisfilm.com/video/12
This interview was recorded for Steal This Film II
. The project tries to bring new people into the leagues of those now prepared to think 'after intellectual property', and think creatively about the future of distribution, production and creativity. This is a film that has no single author. It makers encourage its 'theft', downloading, distribution and screening, and have made the entire film and its footage available for download in HDV format, on their website and on Pirate Bay.
Interview with Siva Vaidhyanathan
Manhattan, New York
Steal This Film II
The printing press was a remarkable
The printing press allowed for
immediate unregulated distribution
of some fairly influental documents.
You could actually think of Luther's work
as being the original
subject of peer-to-peer distribution.
Luther's theeses were not meant for European-wide
distribution, not even German distribution.
They were meant for his parish
and group of clergy and yet
immediately people made unauthorized copies
and distributed them around Europe.
So that stands as sort of
the first example of the dynamic effects
of disruptive communicative technologies.
Within a short period of time both the church
and the nation states that were emerging in Europe
gained control over printing to a large degree.
Licensing presses, making sure that distribution
was highly regulated and controlled,
and once again capturing the most important
parts of information flow.
Of course they didn't do a perfect job,
which is why historical change
continued through the next few centuries.
So it wasn't and instantaneous revolution,
but one that was certainly
influential enough to leave its mark on the world.
Several things happened after the printing press
showed its powerful influence.
First the catholic church certainly
did its best to undermine many of
Luther's claims and Calvin's claims.
And did its best to enforce its control
over the states over which it was
heavily influential, but also do its best
to clean up certain practices, like indulgences and so forth.
But more importantly all of the
emerging nation states of Europe
made it very clear that they would control
information flows to the best of their ability.
They started processes such as licensing
printing presses and licensing printers,
giving specific grants
to specific printers for specific books,
which is the sort of early predecessor to copyright.
And by doing this they made sure
that the books that flowed throughout society
- were the authorized editions - but also
were within the control of the state,
within control of the king, or the prince.
And that had a tremendous effect
on limiting political change or
putting the breaks on political change
for a number of centuries.
It didn't stop the ideas from flowing
and the principles of open communication
remained as an ideal right through the enlightenment
through the revolutions of the 18th century as well.
The printing press certainly had the effect of disengaging
communication from a specific time and place.
taking a message out of its particular cultural context,
its liveness, and distributing it widely
in a way that would render it as pure information.
This had a tremendous effect on
how people thought of themselves,
how people thought of the human project.
It gave people the opportunity
to actually think of themselves as
members of larger community than the local.
They could think of themselves as french,
or german, or european, or as a citizen of the world,
right up through the notion
that you could actually have
empathy for someone suffering in China.
And it was really only through
the printing press that we could
imagine ourselves in contact with people so far away.
I'm actually fond of a phrase that comes out
of a Disney corporate culture called 'imagineering.'
Certain inventions, many inventions in fact,
alter our imagination.
They are not just examples of engineering,
they're examples of imagineering.
So when you have something
like the printing press in your town,
and it's having an affect on daily life,
it opens up a series of possibilities that were
not imaginable just the day before.
The rise of network communication,
the installation of TCIP/IP,
the notion that through this small box
you can be in real-time contact with a friend in Djakarta
no matter where you live, a friend in Vancouver,
a friend in Santiago.
That's actually a pretty profound change in consciousness.
It's not a change that has touched billions
of people around the world,
but it certainly has touched hundreds of thousands
of people around the world.
And certainly altered our expectations.
We expect different things out of our daily lifes,
expect different things out of our
our cultural relationships.
If we are members of diasporic communities
we expect to be able to stay in touch with the
cultural changes, the film and music of our origin
If we are members of a political community
we expect to be able to forge alliances
with people in Australia and South Africa,
as well as Canada, the United States or England.
And that's a remarkable change.
It opens up so many possibilities,
it doesn't determine any particular possibility.
So it's a mistake to say that because of network communication,
things will be a certain way.
Just as it was a mistake to suggest that
the reformation, the enlightenment
and the subsequent revolutions in Europe
necessarily followed from the printing press.
The printing press was a condition of that,
but it wasn't the sole determination,
determinant of that.
Technologies work in a way that often
create unintended consequences in history.
Technologies work in a way
most importantly to open up
possibilities that were not imaginable before.
That can be profound.
But sometimes it only gets rendered in science-fiction
and it doesn't happen in the real world.