The Internet: a better printing press

{All posts under the New Media Class category are for a History and Theory of New Media class I am taking during the 2019 Spring Semester at SUNY Empire. Please be aware that all comments must be approved before they are posted}

 When the internet when it became more widespread in the 90s, its main appeal to me was the sheer amount of information stored and so easily accessed.  I’ve spent most of my life haunting book stores and libraries, I know my way around a card catalog.  The internet was a welcome ‘more of the same’, a depository of thought, facts, and knowledge right at my eager fingertips. 

            I certainly don’t want to diminish the impact of the internet.  However, I’d submit that the invention of the printing press was the cause of a greater cultural explosion.  The translation of religious texts, epic poems, and ‘mere’ pamphlets let new ideas into the minds of even the semi-literate.  To quote William S Burroughs, the “Word is a Virus” and the spread of ideas became a problem for century old ruling institutions.

            In order to control the masses, it is necessary for there to be homogenized thought.  Religion can be used as a societal panopticon, wherein the people all voluntarily police each other for heresies and transgressions, being told by the clergy what to look out for.  This is easiest when the religious texts are only read and interpreted by the church officials, who let the people know what to think. Please don’t think I’m attacking religion, religious institutions are just one of many control systems.   

            This system started to erode when the printing press gave the people tracts to read and digest.  A great examination of this can be found in the book “The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a sixteenth century miller” by Carlos Ginzburg. 

The internet has certainly in part filled the same role, when it isn’t just a tool of surveillance capitalism. I would have to say though that the internet is more of a radical augmentation of the cultural revolution started by the printing press.


Burroughs, W. S., Grauerholz, J., Silverberg, I., & Douglas, A. (1998). Word Virus: the William S. Burroughs reader. Grove Press.

Foucault, M. (1995). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York: Vintage Books.

Ginzburg, C. (2013). The cheese and the worms the cosmos of a sixteenth-century Miller. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.