Media genealogy

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As media Genealogy is known in the media theory developments and causalities in the development of media . As a rule, a very broad concept of media is used, which is not limited to the mass media . The term genealogy refers to a non-linear theory of history . The history of media deals with the history of the origin and development of communication media in general .


There is broad agreement in the rough structure of the media sequence:

Beginning with the development of language , the cultural development of mankind begins in the media sense; this epoch is primarily characterized by orality and is closely related , for example, to the orally transmitted myth and the traditional image . Knowledge is passed on orally, an experienced person dies in the community, a store of knowledge disappears ( structural amnesia ).

This epoch was replaced in the ancient world by the invention of writing around 3500 BC. BC, which introduces the phase of literacy and thus the written tradition. In addition to written criticism (especially by Socrates and Plato ), the transition from myth to logos takes place here in ancient Greece and philosophy emerges. For the first time, texts are broken down into discrete units ( letters ) without any individual semantic meaning. Knowledge can be stored on an interpersonal basis, becomes spatially mobile due to the possibility of transport and is temporally stable due to the independence of people. With the written fixation the possibility of addressing begins, i.e. H. the assignment of authorship to an identifiable author. This phase ranges from ancient times to the Middle Ages, where knowledge is manually reproduced in scriptoria and stored in libraries for a limited readership .

This epoch was replaced - at least in Europe - with the invention of printing with movable type around 1440 (" Gutenberg galaxy "), which ushered in the modern age and the differentiation of the various sciences. Texts are broken down into mechanically recombined discrete units ( types ) and permanently stored in the publication system of a typograph . A process of general literacy begins, knowledge is becoming cheaper, more accessible, more precisely addressable and referenced; there is a further “democratization” of knowledge. Knowledge can be mechanically reproduced en masse, which is accelerated further from around 1810 onwards by rotary printing and continuous paper.

According to a largely unanimous reading, we are currently in a fundamental phase of upheaval, which is known as the Turing Galaxy , the age of technical images or simply the electronic computer age . The alphabetical monopoly is abolished and the writing systems differentiate themselves with the possibility of mechanical storage of serial data. The work of art is technically reproducible, the texts, which have long since been broken down into discrete units, are materially decoupled by technical transmission technologies such as telegraph and telephone and can be exchanged largely without delay over great distances; this process led via the intercontinental telephone network to the global data network of the Internet . The digitization finally leveled the issue of media breaks and allows the media integration in hypertext and multimedia .

Media genealogy according to Flusser

Vilém Flusser's media genealogy is based on a five-stage historical phase model (“a model of cultural history and the alienation of man from the concrete”, Ins Universum der Technische Bilder , p. 10), which is characterized by increasing abstraction and decreasing dimensionality :

First stage: concrete experience - four-dimensionality .

Flusser assigns the first level to the “natural man” who lives in a four-dimensional environment of immediate and “concrete experience”. At this stage, humans have no tangible subject - object - perception . There is no tangible connection between space and time . Humans and animals are “in a four-dimensional space-time, which concerns humans and animals. It is the level of concrete experience ”(In the Universe of Technical Images , p. 10).

Second stage: using and making objects - three-dimensionality .

The second stage (around 2,000,000 to 40,000 BC) relates to human interest in objects, that is, in a three-dimensional environment; In this phase there is a change from four to three dimensionality. Due to a subject-object separation, people learn to use or produce objects: “It is the level of grasping and handling” ( Ins Universum der Technische Bilder , p. 10 f.). "The human condition is objective, problematic and must be transformed, 'informed'" ( Standpunkte , p. 73).
The "tools in the usual sense are extensions of human organs" ( For a philosophy of photography , p. 22); So this is roughly equivalent to what Marshall McLuhan as "extensions of man" , d. H. Media.

Third stage: traditional images - two-dimensionality .

In the third stage, the two-dimensional environment becomes formative for the culture: traditional images that are vivid and imaginary slide between people and their living environment. To be able to interpret the natural world, he uses painting. In this phase, Homo sapiens “pushed an imaginary, two-dimensional mediation zone between himself as a subject and the objective circumstance” ( Ins Universum der Technische Bilder , p. 11). “We had to learn to abstract the depth from the objects and to hold the abstracted surfaces on surfaces [...]. The meaning of the pictures is magical. As a result, the fact can only be grasped magically through the images ” ( Standpunkte , p. 74).

Fourth stage: Invention of linear writing - one-dimensionality .

From around 2000 BC Linear texts such as Homer's epics or the Bible increasingly shaped culture. This type of communication technology for information, in which comprehension is made possible by means of concepts , creates a one-dimensional environment. This phase thus includes a further mediation zone between people and objects; the linear texts are invented and take on the mediation of messages : “It is the level of understanding, of narration, the historical level” (In the Universe of Technical Images , p. 11). "This linear world of text abstracts the width from the picture surface and transforms the picture scenes into processes" ( Standpunkte , p. 74).

Fifth stage: invention of technical images - zero dimensionality .

Today's society is on the way to a post-alphabetical phase of zero-dimensional technical images, the universe of technical images , in which the texts lose their function. Linear texts have become inadequate and inaccessible. Thus, technical, punctual images slowly take over the function of the texts, to (transfer) information: "It is the level of calculation and computation" (In the universe of technical images , p. 11). “The length begins to be abstracted from the line and what remains are zero dimensional point elements. These elements are incomprehensible (cannot be grasped with the hands), inconceivable (cannot be seen with eyes) and incomprehensible (cannot be grasped with fingers). But they are calculable [...]. And as soon as these elements have been calculated, they can be computed into secondary images. These secondary images are intended to make the granular world of concepts that has become incomprehensible again imaginable ” ( Standpunkte , p. 74).

Media genealogy according to Innis

In the 1940s, the economist and later media theorist from the so-called Canadian school , Harold A. Innis , conceived a universal historical study of the influences and effects of communication media on the forms of social organization. He considers, in particular, the emergence of knowledge monopolies ( monopolies of knowledge ) and their institutionalization (see. Also discourse analysis ).

He introduced the notion that media are historically and systematically related to one another in media theory . Innis divided the epochs of human history according to the nature of their means of communication ; one could also speak of a kind of “ leading medium ” of the respective epochs.

Media genealogy according to McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan (1911–1980) built on Innis' theory and designed his media genealogy in his work " The Gutenberg Galaxy ". In it he subdivides four epochs of human history, each of which is replaced by the introduction of a new medium.

1. Oral tribal culture: knowledge transmission and communication take place orally - rule of the ear. 2. Literal manuscript culture: through the introduction of phonetic writing, reading is aloud, all senses are involved. 3. Gutenberg era: through the invention of the printing press - rule of the eye and linear thinking. 4. Age of Electricity / Marconi Age: through the invention of the wireless telegraph - harmonious inclusion of all senses: tactility .

Media genealogy according to Ong and Havelock


  • “The writing utensils work with our thoughts.” Friedrich Nietzsche in his 1882 correspondence .

See also


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