03 December 2011

The Gutenberg Galaxy

The second of Marshall McLuhan's books is The Gutenberg Galaxy. It explores how the advent of the printing press issued in the Modern world view and resulted in the industrial age at its end. It also deals with the breakdown of this world view in the 20th century.

The idea of setting up a machine which in turn could produce a potentially infinite number of identical books had a profound effect on the thinking of the people of the now extinct Modern Age. Not only that, the linear outlay of the words changed how people thought of information. The prior age was primarily oral and saw the world holistically. The Modern period, under the influence of printed books, saw all important information as linear, one thing following the other in order. This view in turn cemented the Medieval idea of the great chain of being, that is, of cause and effect, God being the Prima Causa (the first cause).

Linearity gave prominence to science over story. We still look for truth primarily from science over narrative or history. Linearity furthermore made possible the conceptualizing of standardization of parts to facilitate manufacture of thousands of rifles in the Revolutionary War. It finally issued in the industrial assembly line and the first digital electric communications technology, the telegraph.

However, development of wireless communications (first the telegraph, then radio, then television, and now computerized communications) made the entire Modern world view obsolete. We just haven't got the memo, even now.

In my next post I will write about McLuhan's last and most mentioned book, Understanding Media, which will complete the very important analysis of the time we live in: a new Age of the Machine, which we need to understand in order for it not to destroy us.

My character Angela Fournier is the sort of person who faces today's issues squarely and, young as she is, is beginning to understand what their implications may be. If you are interested, please check out www.strategicpublishinggroup.com/title/Angela1.html


  1. Do you think physical books are gonna die?

  2. I don't think they will die out entirely. Already a reaction is setting in among high school and college students, who see value in a physical book. While it's still hot, many will read books only on ereaders, while many others will but books on their ereader when they travel, but will read physical books at home. Others will prefer physical books, but need the ereaders capacity of changing the font size to whatever (larger) size they need to read comfortably. A few others will read only codexes (physical books). I really think they will be parallel technologies, sort of like movies and TV, or either of those and radio. The cost of producing physical books will have to come down to compete with ebooks as well.