Media the Age of Typography Began With Essay

Excerpt from Essay :


The age of typography began with the Enlightenment and flourished in the New World, and coincided with significant social, political, and economic changes. As Postman (2005) points out in Amusing Ourselves to Death, Protestants with a predilection toward intellectualism made books and reading integral to American life. "The influence of the printed word in every arena of public discourse was insistent and powerful not merely because of the quantity of printed matter but because of its monopoly," (Postman, 2005, p. 41). In other words, print had a monopoly on information, communication, and the exchange of ideas. Print became endowed with a level of political and social significance that it does not have in the digital age, as there are now multiple modes of information exchange. When printed matter was all there was, the very ideals of democracy depended on it.

During the typographic age, content was meaningful as well as rational. Readers and writers were engaged in a dialectic, which stimulated intellectual life. This was even true for religious discourse, which comprised a fairly large portion of writing and intellectualism in pre-Industrial America. All major universities were, after all, founded by religious organizations. The connection between religion and intelligence is much less apparent today than it was several centuries ago. Religion, intellect, and public discourse were all entwined due to the supremacy of print. The manifest content of sermons would have actually been intellectual and thoughtful in tone, unlike the emotional drivel that guides sermons in the age of television (Postman, 2005, p. 56).

Reading itself was like a sacred act during the typographic age (Postman, 2005, p. 61). Without electricity, Americans would devote time and eye strain to reading. The supremacy of print led to the belief in and support of universal education. Although Postman (2005) does not delve too deeply into race and gender implications, it can easily be seen that literacy was a form of political power reserved largely for white males. Slaves were prevented from reading precisely because reading was a form of political empowerment.

Furthermore, the age of print media impacted legal discourse in America. The act of writing is essentially rational and legalistic. Print depends on critical engagement and logical flow. Postman (2005) points out that unlike today, in the typographic age the average literate American would have been able to read legal documents. There was an elevated level of discourse for all readers, because reading was the only means by which to share ideas and advance one's intellect. The typographic age was one that was devoted to logic and reason, yielding a culture that was more thoughtful than it is today. Now, America is an image-centered society that is several steps removed from logic and reason.

Postman traces the origin of the image centered society to the first placement of advertisements in newspapers. Suddenly blocks of space once reserved only for text were taken up by advertisements. Next, the advent of telegraphy transformed intellectual discourse, public life, and cultural norms. Telegraphy changed the nature of discourse. Information was instantaneous, cut into small bits. More importantly for the evolution of media, telegraphy turned information into a "commodity," a "thing" that could be bought, sold, and shared" "irrespective of its meaning," (Postman, 2005, p. 65). This transformation was highly meaningful to American society. Reading was no longer a sacred activity. Information was no longer delivered in long and thoughtful exposition. Brevity became normative, as did the commercialization of information that flourished during the dawn of television.

Telegraphy first showed how information could be commodified and decontextualized, and television would take that pattern to an extreme. Television led to significant changes in language and discourse. For one, television was characterized by "fragmented and discontinuous language," because things have to move fast, even on a presumably intellectual show (Postman, 2005, p. 90). Second, television pre-empted thinking because "thinking does not play well on television," (Postman, 2005, p. 90). There is nothing to "see" when a person thinks, and seeing is the primary objective of television. As Postman (2005) puts it, television demands performance art even of intellectual items. This reality has had a deep impact on politics. Politicians need to come across well on television; they need to be like actors. It does not matter what a person says or how thoughtful or rational they are. What matters is their ability to entertain and…

Sources Used in Document:


Dewey, C. (2014). What makes some internet memes immortal. The Washington Post. 10 Nov, 2014. Retrieved online:

Postman, N. (2005). Amusing Ourselves to Death. New York: Penguin.

Sternberg, J. (2013). Technology today: What would Neil Postman think? Retrieved online:

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