It’s all about empowered people

When I first began writing about things new media, I made the choice to do so from the perspective of people instead of technology. This is because I firmly believe that people are driving technology, not the other way around. You can “understand” technology until the cows come home, but that won’t translate to new business until you closely examine what’s taking place with people.

Ironically, it is the tech company folks who understand this, not the media companies. That’s why they’ve been able to come up with concepts like eBay, Amazon, Google, and a whole host of others, while we’ve continued to play the mass marketing game of days gone by.

I’m back to thinking about this today as I prepare to speak to Phyllis Slocum’s class at the University of North Texas here in Denton. My talk is A Media Lesson for Today from 15th Century Europe. It contains a gem that is most fitting as we watch events of contemporary media history unfold.

“The Church” dominated culture at the time, and they did so through protected knowledge. The priests were the keepers of the Word of God — the source code of the culture — and they used their position to essentially govern. When movable type came along, Gutenberg printed the Bible. And when Wycliffe and others followed with common language translations, the ruling class (The Church) said, “The jewel of the elites is in the hands of the laity.”

The power of knowledge was in the hands of everyday people. Anybody could become a priest. Authority was challenged, and the whole world changed.

It’s interesting to note that one of the first reactions of the church was to propose licenses for those who could print the Bible. This sounds vaguely familiar today as the world of the professional press tries to deal with the exploding world of the Personal Media Revolution — pejoratively dubbed “User-Generated Content” by those of us who can’t handle the fact that the “jewel” is once again in the hands of the laity.

We’ve entered an era in human history when empowered people are changing everything. There’s money to be made in this new world, but the ticket for entry requires, among other things, a willingness to let go of the weighty baggage of the world that preceded it.

The jewel isn’t ours anymore, and, like the Bible and the church, maybe it never was. Our future business goals would be well-served by accepting this simple reality.

Oh, and by the way, the media is just the beginning.

(NOTE: I published an essay on this topic a couple of years ago.)


  1. Great post, Terry!

    Although personally I think Bible-printing licenses correlate more closely to today’s copyright/intellectual property struggles.

    Mentioned your post and discussed that angle at bit at Poynter’s E‑Media Tidbits:


    - Amy Gahran


  1. […] Terry says mainstream media could benefit from a refresher on 15th century history and how the power of the day — the church — responded to mass printing of the Bible. […]

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