I am writing a series of blog posts about ongoing developments in digital technology and social media that are, at the moment, transforming previously established segments of the arts and cultural industry. As someone who has written about similar transformations in the 19th and 20th centuries, in publishing and print, I think it is important to bring a historical perspective to these issues and concerns. Although it is not always obvious or evident, all communications technologies, all media, are social and socially transformative. The printing press, mass-produced books, pamphlets, magazines, and other technologies that have involved the expansion of literacy, education, and knowledge are part of what British cultural historian Raymond Williams called the “Long Revolution” precisely because they also profoundly changed and were, in turned, changed by politics, commerce and culture.
He wrote in the introduction to his book of the same name:
We cannot understand the process of change in which we are involved if we limit ourselves to thinking of the democratic, industrial, and cultural revolutions as separate processes. Our way of life, from the shape of our communities to the organization and content of education, and from the structure of the the family to the status of art and entertainment, is being profoundly affected by the progress and interaction of democracy and industry, and by the extension of communications. This deeper cultural revolution is a large part of our most significant living experience, and is being interpreted and indeed fought out, in very complex ways, in the world of arts and ideas. It is when we try to correlate change of this kind with the changes covered by the disciplines of politics, economics, and communications that we discover some of the most difficult but also some of the most human questions.