The short impact of a revolution is always over-estimated; the long-term impact tend to be under-estimated, so argues John Naughton in his perceptive and quite fascinating book “From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg”.
Early in the book he immerses the reader in a beguiling thought experiment. Imagine it is the year 1473. It has been 18 years since the invention of movable type by Herr Gutenberg. Europe is all aflutter but the implications of what Gutenberg’s invention will wrought are not clear. A researcher asks you the following:
On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 indicates “not at all likely” and 5 indicates “very likely”, rank the impact of Gutenberg’s invention. It will:
- Undermine the authority of the Church
- Trigger a Protestant reformation
- Enable the rise of modern science
- Create new social classes and professions
- Extend childhood by at least five years
Movable type led to all this and much more. Yet, 18 years after the revolution began, in the year 1472, who could have imagined? The long-term impact of a revolution is always under-estimated.
It’s been 18 years since the Internet revolution began. What will it lead to, what changes will this revolution wrought? That it is a revolution is clear, that it will lead to changes more profound than what the fire, wheel or movable type led to, is also clear.
We are now in the midst of a revolution whose long-term impact will only be clear 100 years from now, if then. Strongly recommend you read this book, whoever you may be or whatever you do.