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Welcome to our weekly segment on Publics and Publishing. Last week we spoke about the physical book in comparison to the e-book with John Naughton and NPR Correspondent, Lynn Neary. They had contradictory views on the matter, but one thing they agreed upon was that, when publishing changes, so does society.

Today, we are in the midst of a new media revolution, and I’d like to pose the question, how has publishing transformed education? From the invention of the Printing Press in 1440 to the invention of Wikipedia in 2001, I’d like to consider the impact these two publication technologies have had on how we transmit and accumulate knowledge.

When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440, it was widely regarded as the most influential event in the second millennium. It transformed education, politics, science, entertainment, and revolutionised the way people conceived and described the world they lived in. The printing press made it possible for the common person to hold a book in their hands for the first time.

Previously, books had to be copied by hand, which meant that they were extremely expensive and often dominated by political and religious despots. By the close of the 15th century, there were over 250 printing shops scattered all over Europe, producing more than 30,000 different publications, circulating among one hundred million Europeans.

Before the printing press it was only the privileged elites, such as priests and academics who were able to gain access to books. Printing stimulated the literacy of common people and eventually came to have a deep and lasting impact on their private lives. Libraries were able to store greater quantities of information at much lower cost. And by giving all scholars the same text to work from, it made progress in critical scholarship faster and more reliable.

Now let’s fast-forward to the launch of Wikipedia in 2001. Wikipedia has played a major role in the democratisation of knowledge, attracting over 400 million viewers across the globe.

Co-founder, Larry Sanger states that, “professionals are no longer needed for the bare purpose of the mass distribution of information.”

To talk more about Wikipedia and how it is transforming education is Australian writer and teacher on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies, Megan Fairway. Now, Megan, you’ve talked a lot in the past about how publishing is transforming society, can you start by telling us what is happening now?

MEGAN: What we are experiencing is the collapse of the corporate monopoly of publishing and the rise Web 2.0.

David Gauntlett defines Web 2.0 as the advent and rapid maturing of so-called social, or open, media. No one owns these digital spaces and in comparison to traditional media, they are barely regulated.

In Clay Shirky’s book ‘Here Comes Everybody’ he discusses the ways in which the action of a group adds up to something more than just aggregated individual action. He writes about “algorithmic authority,” which describes the process through which unverified information is vetted for its trustworthiness through multiple sources.

Jay Walljasper and Stefan Meretz see the possibility for large numbers of people of diverse ideological stripes coming together to chart a new, more cooperative direction for modern society, known as a commons-based society.

NIKITA: In terms of education, do you think this is having a positive impact?

MEGAN: I think it’s potentially very positive. Web 2.0 is in sharp contrast to 20th century technologies like television, and newspapers, where people had to have what they were given, made for them by media professionals. We are no longer passive consumers, but creators of form and content. Wikipedia is perhaps the single best example of Web 2.0 at work.

NIKITA: Joe Salvo says the Information Age is being taken over by the Systems Age. Can you elaborate?

MEGAN: The Systems Age involves sensing, collecting, and manipulating data in near real-time with little to no human supervision. The ubiquity of computing has meant that archives have become increasingly powerful, as this is what drives our engagement with publishing. Jacques Derrida suggests that archives are always important because they become the basis for what counts within society.

NIKITA: Could this be potentially negative, as the archive essentially determines the archival material?

MEGAN: It becomes necessary when there is so much information.

NIKITA: Information that anyone can contribute. How can we know what is fact and what is fiction?

MEGAN: How can we ever know? Open source software allows us to share our resources. It is our task to focus our attention on what seems valid. Some of the material on Wikipedia is of a higher quality than anything else of its kind precisely because of its radically open model.

NIKITA:According to Thomas Mandel and and Gerard Van der Leun , attention is the hard currency of cyberspace. Do you think children today have shorter attention spans, because of this abundance of information?

MEGAN: Definitely not. Howard Rheingold came up with the term infotention to describe the psycho-social-techno skills we need to find our way online. I think most kids today have this natural ability – to pay continual partial attention. Education is transforming. We are working with a new toolkit and if we tool up, the possibilities are truly exciting.

NIKITA: Thanks Megan. That concludes this week’s segment. Please tune in next week for our report on data friction in climate change.


Dodson, Wes (2009) ‘Dawn of the Systems Age’, Page 3.14 <>

Enszer, Julie R. (2008) Julie R. Enszer (personal blog), ‘Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression by Jacques Derrida’, November 16, < impression-by.html>

Gauntlett, David (2010) Making is Connecting (watch the video) <>

Glaysher, F 1998, Publishing in the Post-Gutenberg Age, viewed 26th May at <>

Heffernan, Virginia (2010) ‘The Attention Span Myth’, New York Times, <>

Jenkins, Henry (2010) ‘Multitasking and Continuous Partial Attention: An Interview with Linda Stone (Part One)’ Confession of an ACA-Fan, <>

Livergood, N 2010, Book Publishing and the Struggle for the American Mind, viewed 26th May 2011 at <>

Meretz, Stefan (2010) ‘Ten Theses about Global Commons Movement’, P2P Foundation, <>

National Public Radio (2010) ‘E-Book Boom Changes Book Selling And Publishing’, December 21, <>

Naughton, John (2010) ‘Publishers take note: the iPad is altering the very concept of a ‘book’ The Guardian, December 19, <>

Rheingold, Howard (2009) ‘Mindful Infotention: Dashboards, Radars, Filters’, SFGate,<>

Walljasper, Jay (2010) ‘The Commons Moment is Now’,,  <>

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