History is punctuated by certain leaps in civilization–the discovery of fire, the leap from the bronze to the iron ages, or more recently, the industrial revolution. These advances are often surrounded by a huge upheaval of society.  Everyone had a certain way of doing things, and now this new technology or methodology is messing all that up.  The old way is out the window, and the future has suddenly become filled with uncertainty. These periods of transition are scary times.

The printing press – image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The same leaps can be found when we’re talking about how we share information. You could look at the transition from oral tradition to written history, or the construction of the world’s first libraries where information would be stored long-term outside of religious institutions.

The invention of the printing press is a great example–Johannes Gutenberg built a machine that gave the average person access to books. Before that point, 80% of adults in England couldn’t even spell their own names, but the literacy rate would start to increase exponentially: in under 400 years, the literacy rate would double.

Imagine the impact that would have on a society.  If the government says one thing, you can research it yourself.  It’s something we take for granted today, but imagine if you did not have that power.  If your only sources of information were the government and by word of mouth.  The average person would have absolutely no idea what was really going on, even in their own state.

You can spell your own name.  You can write your experiences or read about the experiences of others. It was a huge change for the entire world.

Another great example of a leap in technology that revolutionized the way that information travels?  The invention of the internet.

And now we find ourselves in our own, new brand of social upheaval.  “Facts” are reported that directly contradict each other, subject matter experts in the same area have opposite opinions, and the same statistics lead people to all sorts of different conclusions.  Echo chambers grow in size every day as people flock to like-minded individuals, instead of broadening their horizons.

How can you know what’s what?  At what point are you told what to think, as opposed to coming to conclusions on your own?