The sketch at right isn’t mine. But I think that the introduction of Design and Design Thinking into American middle schools will be every bit as powerful and (r)evolutionary as this device invented in Germany in the late 1440s.
Everybody assumes that Gutenberg’s press was the thing that kicked off the Reformation. But people forget that Germany was really thinking hard and long about revolt against the Church before Martin Luther came along.
When Gutenberg developed his press in Mainz, the city was in the middle of a decade-year revolt against their sovereign overlord, Archbishop Otto.
When the Archbishop retook the city in 1463, he expelled all the printers, including the penniless Gutenberg, and his now-bankrupted partner Jacob Furst. Without money, neither man could control the technology. Their apprentices claimed to be journeymen printers, and the journeymen claimed to be masters. By 1470, those men and their successors had opened printing shops all over Germany, and trained their successors.
The technology metastasized. And it was anti-clerical from the beginning. These guys had had to start from scratch, under difficult circumstances, against a reactionary and threatening government with more interest in protecting the wealthy than upholding the rights of the common people.
The technology of the internet is undergoing the same kind of revolution now. And the Occupy Wall Street movement is only the tip of the power-shift.
Be cautious what you call up.
(Hat Tip to Dave Gray for making the image available on his Flickr feed. Click through and give him some good vibes; he’s a major design mentor of mine.
Information technology and revolution.
This isn’t the first time in history that new information technologies have sparked revolution. It’s a recurring pattern.
Before the printing press, books were hand-written manuscripts available only to the clergy and the wealthy. The mostly-illiterate public relied on those in power to interpret humankind’s body of knowledge. Any communication between ordinary people relied on word of mouth and was mostly limited to short distances. In short, information was distributed in pockets and silos.
The printing press gave people a way to share information in a peer-to-peer way, bypassing the traditional power structures. The rapid information sharing that followed, via books, pamphlets, newspapers and scientific journals, effectively ended the Middle Ages and sparked the Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and ultimately the political revolutions that resulted in the first constitutional democracies.
Today the web is having a similarly profound effect, allowing people to bypass traditional media channels and power structures to communicate with each other directly. Once again, information and ideas which were contained in pockets and silos are spreading far and wide. Once again, innovation is accelerating. Once again, mass peer-to-peer communication is enabling and empowering social, intellectual and political revolutions.
Peer-to-peer information technologies like the printing press and the web unleash powerful revolutionary forces. But revolutions begin in the streets. They often go unnoticed or ridiculed in their early stages. It took 100 years of bible-printing before Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenburg. It was another hundred years before the first scientific journals were printed, and another hundred before the American Revolution broke out in 1775. It took more than ten years for colonial dissent to simmer before the American Revolution broke out into open war.