When Thug the caveman first scrawled an image of himself on a wall of stone, we can imagine the prehistoric critics — “Arg! Ick dannae throg!” Which, roughly translated, imparts that the cave art lacked passion, and what’s more Thug would be better off spearing dinner. Little did the critics know that someday we might define the dawn of recorded history by Thug’s efforts.
When, in the Middle Ages Gutenberg created the printing press, the voices of his critics echo still… “What’s the use! The people cannot read! And if they could they would not understand without us to tell them what it means!” Which suggests that Johannes’ critics may have had some idea how the printed page would usurp their power, though even they could not know how profoundly it would change the world to come.
When Bell uttered his first words through his electrical speech machine, his critics were dumbfounded… “Who would you talk to? And won’t you disturb their dinner?!” True enough, dinner would never be the same. What’s more, dinner would never be the same wherever you might go, as one day everyone over the age of 12 would have a phone in his or her pocket.
When Zworykin [or Philo T. Farnsworth] patented his kinescope, his critics were confused. They argued amongst themselves whether the thrust of their criticism would be the tried and true, “It’ll never work” or the more obscure, “Mid-season replacements will confuse your audience.” In either case, they surely couldn’t imagine a live broadcast of man taking his first steps on the moon, or Ally McBeal’s dancing baby.
When Berners-Lee made the Internet accessible to everyone, the critics on Wall Street were frantic. “Buy!” they screamed. And then, “Sell! Sell!” Which suggests that critics haven’t changed all that much through the ages… they still don’t understand the creation of a medium any more today than they understood it in Thug’s time. Or Gutenberg’s. Or Bell’s. Or Zworykin’s.
A medium has the capacity to not only change our thinking, but to change how we think… how we communicate, experience, and understand. And to tell the truth, we still don’t know what the implications of the Internet and the Web really are. This much is fairly certain, though — we’re not finished. We’re only just begun.