Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets in Tehran and surrounding areas protesting the outcome of the recent elections – with violence resulting in many instances. At the same time, the Revolutionary Guard – Iran’s most powerful military force – has warned online media of a crackdown on their coverage of the country’s election crisis. The “Supreme Leader” has made a “divine assessment” and decided to recount votes – or so we are lead to believe. This Guardian Council is comprised of 12 clerics and lawyers who oversee all law. They are an assertive council whose supreme laws are – well, supreme. It is the perfect marriage of church and state. The elite body answers only to the Supreme Leader. They have threatened websites and bloggers with legal action if any materials are posted that “create tension”.

Tuesday June 9, 2009
All Western journalists and media are now banned from covering the aftermath of the disputed election results in Iran. People in Iran are risking their lives to get information out to the international media. They are using social media networks such as, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to inform the world of the protest that is taking place. On CNN – one of the few conduits of almost unbiased but sometimes still annoying news available in America – Wolf Blitzter is posing the question: “Will technology eventually bring down the establishment in Iran?” The CNN updates are coming in via the Social Media Networks so fast that I can barely keep up.

“URGNT@ ALL jornlsts, Tday 15:30 Prss Conf. in Tehran, Sadr MotrWay, Kave Shomali Blvd, Roshanayi St, Bahar Shomali St. Num. 9 #IranElection” From: Twitter, http://twitter.com/mousavi1388:
[This was one of the final calls for a meeting to conduct a press conference in Tehran.]

The only way for the Iranian people to communicate now is via Twitter – messages are restricted to 140 characters and they are transmitted via text messaging on your phone or BlackBerry. Protest meetings are being organized via Twitter and the opposition figurehead, Hossein Moussavi, continues to communicate with his supporters via this medium. Personal phones and cameras have transformed into news gathering media as Iranians insist that their voices be heard. Cyberspace is galvanizing the world as it watches and waits for the Iranian conflict to play out. For oppressive regimes that desire to maintain the status quo, technology has made their lives extremely annoying. Too much knowledge is dangerous in the hands of the masses. Seven people have died violent deaths.

The Printed Word

“Print Technology created the public. Electric technology created the mass. The public consists of separate individuals walking around with separate fixed points of view. The new technology demands that we abandon the luxury of this posture, this fragmentary outlook.” [1]
– Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage

Women protest in Iran

Women protest in Iran

The concept that the pen is mightier than the sword [coined by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839 in his play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy,] has persisted and is represented by events such as Banned Books Week. [2] And though McLuhan believed that the advent of book technology compartmentalized individuals and allowed men to cultivate isolation, it still led to an electronic revolution that amazingly, McLuhan prophetically predicted with astounding accuracy, though the full impact of mass media technology would not materialize for another thirty years. McLuhan also pronounced that the “new technology” would usher in a world were information is instantaneous and would require civilizations to embrace a new way of being, thinking, and seeing. The computer age is here.

We are constantly reminded of the power of the written word to invoke change and influence civilizations. In the Science Fiction classic, 1984, George Orwell described a totalitarian civilization where anything but absolute adherence to Big Brother was punishable by death. In the collective conscious, the most memorable vision from this story was the prompt burning of any book or written text which was inconvenient to the regime.

When Martin Luther’s teachings were considered heretical, his books were burned in Rome – further testament to the power of the written word to spread and influence thought. Changes in the intellectual and political climate contributed to factors that made the reform movement much more formidable. Because of the accessibility of books to the masses, thought and learning levels soared and the innovation of print allowed the Reformation to utilize and distribute new ideas to the people, in the same way that only the Church had been allowed to distribute religious propaganda in previous centuries. The power of words to invoke and mobilize people is a very real threat. All governments’ exercise measured control over the media.

And lest we forget the pervasive influence of the Catholic Church, I checked online for further information on the “indulgence” and found that since February of this year, dioceses around the world have – quietly – been offering Catholics this spiritual benefit once again. You may now “contribute” your way into Heaven, or you can get an indulgence for someone who is dead – in case the deceased was so abhorrent in life that they now need to be bailed out of purgatory. [3]

It’s amazing to me how an institution that has been riddled with venality and immorality since it’s inception can still maintain such universal control over vast segments of the population.

The Electronic Message
In the same way that the upper classes – including clergy, nobility, and the very wealthy, shunned a new technology that would eventually bring books and information to the average person, there exists now, huge segments in all societies that reject the technology which has brought us social media networks and the computer age. But technology does not go away gently into the good night.

The discord over the Gutenberg press may be different in scope when compared to the current events in Iran, but in both cases the outcome of both technologies is the same; Social media, and the advent of the printed word succeed in mobilizing information and bringing it to the people in a more immediate way – immediately, in the case of Iran. The value of a technology that empowers the people cannot be underestimated.

I would go so far to say that, up to this point, the point where the Iranian elections erupted into violence and revolt, social media networks such as FaceBook and Twitter where considered the domain of young, computer savvy, tech nerds with too much time on their hands. Social media will never be discussed in the same dismissive tone again.

At the dawn of the Renaissance movable type brought the written word to people in all walks of life. It allowed education to flourish and new ideas to influence those who previously had little, or no access to political or intellectual thought. All the while, the old guard considered the new-fangled book printing thing “vulgar”. Change is always a hard sell.

Technology has allowed our thoughts to travel anywhere instantly – in much the same way the Gutenberg press paved the way for a proliferation of ideas and a greater variety of books – thus loosening the hold of the Church and creating a new urban society. Less religious doctrine meant that people were free to explore other areas of interest that would forever alter their vision of the world.

” If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. ” – George Orwell


[1] Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage, 1967 p. 69
[2] http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/bannedbooksweek/basics/index.cfm
[3] The New York Times: For Catholics, a Door to Absolution Is Reopened
By PAUL VITELLO Published: February 10, 2009


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Assignment #1

Just as Paleolithic man began to utilize fire and comprehend its significance to his survival, modern man continues to be shaped by his comprehension [or lack of comprehension] of technology. A shift from nomadic life in the Paleolithic to more sedentary communities in the Neolithic marked the emergence of technologies that permitted early man to exercise more control over his environment.

Lascaux, France: Paleolithic man becomes an artist

Lascaux, France: Paleolithic man becomes an artist

As technology leaps forward and engulfs jobs, people, economies, and shifts our very understanding of life as we know it, so to did technological shifts occur in ancient societies that rendered old systems of knowledge obsolete. It happened over a much longer period of time, but still, the shift from nomad to pastoral settlements required a great depth of understanding of nature and the environment, plus a spiritual connection to Earth that most civilized men today probably couldn’t harness.

Farming arose in multiple locations around the world at more or less the same time – a testament to early man’s ingenuity. “Toward the end of the Upper Paleolithic, between 15,000 and 5,000 BCE, ice from the last ice age began to melt,” [1] thus creating new habitats suitable for domestication of animals and sustaining food-production – as opposed to food-gathering – while massive earthquakes and volcanoes destroyed other habitats that had been in use by Paleolithic man for thousands of years.

With the destruction of any habitat comes the reduction, or extinction of animals that depend on the habitat for survival. Paleolithic societies no doubt suffered a loss of habitat in this period of massive geological upheaval and still survived, but were relegated to the fringes of Neolithic habitation – not too unlike huge populations disenfranchised by the computer revolution sprung full force upon Western civilization in the mid 1990s.

The Painted Gallery at Lascaux

The Painted Gallery at Lascaux

We are now inundated with every form and feature imaginable to streamline our existence and effectively stop us from individual thought process. The trade off in any technological revolution weather urban, industrial, the advent of the car, or our current computer age, is that huge segments of the population fall by the wayside. The standard of living for any society in the throes of chaotic change becomes depressed. Our current economy is in the midst of shake-down that has already resulted in massive job loss and financial ruin for corporations, populations, and individuals.

McLellen and Dorn argue that Neolithic economies saw a similar depressed standard of living as the transition from Paleolithic hunter and gatherers gave way to Neolithic settlements, where much more work was needed to produce crops and care for animals. Suddenly, Neolithic man had no leisure time. He needed to cultivate provisions for an increasing population and for the domestication of animals. Additionally, The origins of class structure saw its roots in Neolithic economies. “… as greater food surpluses and increased exchange led to more complex and wealthier settlements with full-time potters, weavers, masons …. Social stratification kept pace with the growth of surplus production. By the late Neolithic, low-level hierarchal societies appeared … based on kinship, ranking, and the power to accumulate…” [2]

Early Man was about to dispense his egalitarian existence as technology beget trading routes, towns, and the need for centralized hierarchies to control production and consumption. Not far off would be Kings and paupers, the Pharaohs and the pyramid builders, and the middle class and Bernie Madoff.

Farming and raising animals for food ushered in a technological revolution not known before and certainly not available to Paleolithic man. The shift from food-collection in the Paleolithic, to food-production in the Neolithic, has long been heralded as the transformative event that lay the foundation for modern civilization.

Conversely, it has long been questioned why Paleolithic man produced no obvious “technological innovation” for over a million years despite evolving into a modern human some 40,000 years ago. I’m not sure the reason is so cryptic. If the environment is capable of sustaining a small food-gathering society where only stone tools are needed and a nomadic life reaps constant nourishment, then there is no immediate need for technological innovation. “The population of hunters and gatherers remained small enough to exploit the resources of their habitats with reasonable ease.” [3]

I believe that any advancement in technology arises out of necessity. Paleolithic man had no need of new technologies since he was sustained in food-gathering societies with low populations. “His nomadic live style followed food in habitats that could easily support his populations.” [4] Once your immediate subsistence is taken care of and you are able to survive with some level of expectation that your food source will not disappear overnight, you can plan – at least somewhat – far enough in advance to recognize patterns in your environment. You are then in a position to observe your surroundings and cultivate symbolic thought.


Back to back bison in the gallery

Paleolithic man began to observe his environment and consider the fecundity of the Earth, the brilliance of the stars, and the movement of the moon. The cultural ramifications of art began with Paleolithic man. At least 40,000 years ago, he entered darkened caves and with the aid of fire for light, he erected some sort of scaffolding to reach areas – over four meters high – he mixed animal fat with pigments and varying degrees of heat to create yellow, orange, and red, and then he proceeded to transfer his thoughts onto cave walls. That breathtaking result amounts to a technology we will never bear witness to again in our lives. If you put me in a dark cave right now, not only would I panic, the last thing I’d be able to do is create artwork worthy of astonishment.

Thus, in the Upper Paleolithic about 35,000 years ago, man became an artist. The spectacular Stone Age cave art found in present-day Southern France bespeaks a social and conscious ordering of man’s place in the world. Stone Age man was able to depict his universe and think symbolically. His adept manipulation of his survival had afforded him the leisure time to do so. The technology he had at his disposal was adequate enough to sustain and perpetuate his population for over a million years.

It is a shame that the technological advancements of our industrial societies fail to produce more tolerant civilizations. It’s as if we are being lead and blinded at the same time. I’m guessing that as each society paves the way for innovation, chaos and uncertainty follow closely in it’s wake.
[1] http://ephemeris.com/history/prehistoric.html
[2] James E. McClellan lll, & Harold Dorn, Science and Technology in World History 2006, p. 22
[3] James E. McClellan lll, & Harold Dorn, Science and Technology in World History 2006, p. 15
[4] James E. McClellan lll, & Harold Dorn, Science and Technology in World History 2006, p. 15

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