14 May 2012

Media Reformation

In the article, How Luther Went Viral, The Economist shows us that what we today view as the grand experiment of social media is actually nothing new. In fact, Martin Luther's Reformation couldn't have happened without the social media mechanisms we currently take for granted (take a second to imagine Martin Luther and the Pope engaged in Twitter beef). But while we acknowledge how today's social media is just another link in the chain, we also have to take into account how the increased accessibility of today's social media makes it unique and also dangerous.

The article states that Luther's initial pamphlets were paid for by "friends to whom he had sent copies". Like any media savvy person of today, Luther sent his views to people with the money and resources to get it out into the world. He's your indie filmmaker who has a connection to Spielberg. But Luther also says that he regrets initially publishing the pamphlets in Latin because he limited his audience. Today, social media helps us move past these roadblocks from the beginning. With the advent of sites like Kickstarter, we can crowdsource funding. President Obama learned this during his first campaign when he raised millions of dollars through grassroots campaigning and small donations as little as $5. Also our technology helps to break down language barriers. A simple trip to Google translate or the click of your mouse can translate anything on the internet.

Furthermore, the ease with which smart devices are becoming available makes it far easier to share real time observations and spread messages. The conversations that were once shared only in the barbershop (or in Luther's time, the tavern) are now written publicly on Facebook walls and shared instantly and infinitely.

Of course the danger of this mass sharing is that the same tools that are being used to inform people about the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement are also being used to tell us about what's happening with Kim Kardashian. And in the case of sharing sites like Tumblr and Pinterest, both politicians and corporations are worried about the unfettered use of copyrighted material. But in the end, what both the Reformation and Facebook has shown us is that you can't kill an idea. In a way, we are globally engaged in our own reformation. We are reforming our ideas of what economy and justice mean and social media is helping to facilitate that conversation in a way that no other form of communication can. So though we are just a link in a chain of history, we are currently shaping that link into something unique.

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