Key processes that have revolutionized knowledge and expanded the possibilities of social communication

The modern word has experienced broadly speaking, two kinds of revolutions.

There are sudden convulsions that change the course of history irreversibly; political revolutions like the French and the Russian are instances of this.

There are also slower, seismic shifts that underpin social change, which, when comprehended over the course of a century or two, present an undeniable picture of revolutionary transformation.

The first is relatively straightforward: people have discovered new things about the world, and these discoveries have come faster and with more intensity since, say, the sixteenth century, and especially since the Industrial Revolution, than they did before.

The second development is equally profound, but subtler: the ways in which people have come to know the world have been revolutionized

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All of the technological development, of course, is done in the same proportions by everyone. Depending on educational level and access to technology, some may rely on newspapers solely, others may be able to access the Internet, and still others may have to hear of events by word of mouth.

What all this should tell us is that it is important to understand the ways in which we come to know things. Books have a history; so does the Internet, and so – equality crucially does education, the training that shapes the ways in which people see the world, and, through its inclusions and exclusions, decides who gets to know the world in what degree.

The revolutions of modernity have had a constant thread running through them: the expanded awareness of the world on the part of more and more numbers of people, across the world, though usually for complex historical reasons – earlier in the Western world than elsewhere.


This, considered in the long term, constitutes a slow revolution of its own, through not all that slow if we consider the extent of the expansion of human knowledge.

Within this extended long revolution, we can sense an underlying continuity and steady growth of awareness, but we can also sense certain moments when technological discoveries and intellectual breakthroughs rocked society the invention of printing, for instance, or the rise of the Internet.

Certain key processes that have revolutionized knowledge and expanded the possibilities of social communication:

i. First, the protracted spread of systems of education and the achievement of literacy in various parts of the world, which constitutes a necessary basis for the absorption of knowledge


ii. Second, the various ways in which the printed word has been revolutionized since the fifteenth century: the growth of modern printing, the book publishing industry, changes in ways people read, and the growth of newspapers producing regular information about the world.

iii. Third, the growth of audiovisual broadcasting in the twentieth century: radio and television.

iv. Fourth, and finally, the contemporary rise of the Internet, and its possibilities.

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