PostStuart Banner recommended that I read Spreading the News for my research, and I must say that I have no idea how I missed this book. It is a well-written and fascinating account of the development of the Postal System as a fundamental technology for the development of America through the spread of information to the most remote of locales.
As I was reading this I was struck by his description (repeating something I already knew) of the degree of knowledge about politics common to the citizenry of the early republic. Combining that astute observer of American society Alexis de Tocqueville with statistics about the vast size of the Postal System in America in relation to Europe, Richard R. John makes a convincing case for the importance of paper transmission to American Democracy.
I wonder how the sophistication, involvement, and access to information of modern Americans compares both in relation to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and to modern societies around the world. To what degree are Americans still among the most politically involved worldwide? In what ways is modern journalism more sophisticated than before? How do different media (TV versus print versus the internet) effect how people engage with and understand the journalism presented?
My own personal opinion, based only on anecdotal evidence and not sufficient study, is that print is superior to TV in terms of its ability to engage with an active rather than a passive audience. However, I am very excited by the possibility of the internet to revive interest in written opinion and research.
(2 more blog posts to follow shortly in order to save my eternal soul from hellfire)