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The Power of Words

Posted on April 12th, 2011 Written on michael's blog

Do you like this?

not a particularly promising future...

Niall Ferguson is my favorite historian.

His newest book, Civilization: The Rest and the West is not going down so well among the more politically correct, or one might say, politically sensitive.

It's a study of why the West grew to such incredible dominance from such an inauspicious start.

As Ferguson says, if you visited London in the year 1411, and then Beijing, the Ottoman Empire and the Mayan Civilization, you would be very hard pressed to see London as the future.  The other three were massive, integrated empires. London was little more than a muddy third world town.

Ferguson lists several reasons why the West suddenly came to dominate the world - and still does, and he gives his starting date as 1500.

I think the core reason behind all of this is the invention of the printing press in Germany in 1452.

That changed everything.

The Chinese, who had invented block printing a long time ago, were unable to transit their language to a world of movable type.  26 character in the West, more than 40,000 in China. It made the Chinese language itself the stumbing block to the printing press. In the Islamic World, the fixation on the 'holiness' of the Koran as written word retarded the introduction of a secular printing press.  So it was left to the West, the backward, largely illiterate West, to capitalize on this invention. And they did.

The printing press led to an explosive growth of new ideas - and on the heels of those ideas, an intellectual and economic revolution the likes of which the world has never seen.  Prior to the printing press, the power of the King had been the measure of the potential of a nation.  Now, for the first time, everyone was unleashed (or at least given the potential to be unleashed) to create and disseminate new ideas.


Today, we are at the precipice of another social revolution in the way in which we communicate

Video is our most powerful tool of exchaning ideas. The average American watches 5 hours of TV a day - buys one book a year.

It is video, not print, that is our lingua franca.

Until now, the power to create ideas in video has been concentrated in the hands of a very few people.

Now, suddenly, as in 1452, that power has passed to millions - billions -

It is an event not unlike the printing press, and like the printing press, it has the potential to carry whoever embraces it to worlds as yet unimagined.




Tags : Niall , Ferguson