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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

March 2015



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Is Gutenberg relevant in an age of electrons?–Part II

The Stabilization (Stagnation?) of Truth

Gutenberg is given a lot of credit for making literacy a standard for all people. As Marshall McLuhan wrote: “Gutenberg made everyone a reader, Xerox makes everyone a publisher.”* After all, when only the wealthy could afford books and could hire scholars to read them, why would a common person need to read? But when books became a commodity and available to the masses, then being able to read made sense.

But how did people get information before literacy? Essentially, it was spoken from one person to another. Town criers came to the central square and called out news that had happened weeks or months ago. Preachers quoted the scripture from the pulpit. Decrees and laws were announced. And stories were told.

If you’ve ever played the game of “telephone,” you know what can happen to a message as it is passed from person to person. It can change—in fact, change is almost inevitable. Imagine an age in which all information is passed from person to person verbally. Even in highly disciplined scriptoria where scribes painstakingly copied manuscripts, it was possible to introduce and even to multiply errors.

As a result, doctrine, science, politics, and even history were in a constant state of flux. There was less importance placed on objective facts than on the mythology that surrounded them. It is, after all, the myth that is easiest to recall and repeat. Facts make a poor story. The myth reveals the truth that is hidden in facts.

Gutenberg changed that, for better or worse.

TGRCoverIn The Gutenberg Rubric, a story from the Internet is read to an old man. He responds, “I’ll believe that when I see it in print.” In fact, seeing it in black and white has become the standard for weighing believability. Printing stabilized truth by supplanting it with recorded facts. In the worlds of doctrine, science, politics, and history, the printed word locks us into the minds of our forebears. We must continue to believe the way they believed because “It has been written.”

The advent of Wiki technology on the Internet has shown the possibility of returning to dynamic truth rather than stagnant truth. This has been greeted with cries that it can’t be depended upon. Yet we see more and more instances in which information presented through the editorial province of the community is depended upon more than objective proof from facts. Undeniably, however, the Gutenberg press changed, for good or ill, the way we view truth and facts.

Relevance score in the stabilization of truth: 10.

(The Gutenberg Rubric, a novel by Nathan Everett, will be released on July 28. Order your copy today!)

*I’ve looked all over for the source of this widely quoted statement and only find a reference to “The Weekly Guardian.” If anyone knows the actual source and date, I’d appreciate it!