Back in 1981, need I say before I was born, MTV aired its first music video, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” by the Buggles. Selecting this video for the debut of MTV was so appropriate, but was it true? Did the invention of music videos really kill the radio stars? You can argue this both ways. Yes, the implementation of video into the music art industry did have an affect on who became more popular and why. No longer were artists judged on the way they sounded, but also on how they looked, and unfortunately their dance moves too. But, did MTV kill the radio, I say no! There are still many people out there today that still listen to the radio, and who don’t watch MTV. Most likely because every time you tune the tube to MTV these days, you get a fist pumping scene from the “Jersey Shore,” not the good old music videos that they founded themselves on, this is now a different channel of MTV all together.
So you may ask, how does this relate to print? Well, sit back and think what technology was invented recently that is commonly graced with the term, “print killer.” If you thought about the computer, you would be right. So the same question stands, has the computer and its vast array of applications trumped the printing industry? For this I say no again. For computers have not smashed print down to the thin flat sheets they are printed on, it has actually given printed materials the ability to come alive. Many applications that have transitioned from print to digital, more often than not, have the same characteristics on screen as their printed version. The only difference being that they are easier to search on a computer. A beautiful marriage of print and computer is Google Books, and more specifically Ngram Viewer.
Google Books was created back in 2004. This was a project obviously run by Google to convert printed books into searchable text. Many of the older books that have expired their copyright protections are available online in full text for reading. But, this is not the cool part. All the books scanned in and indexed by Google are searched and mined for data. So what does this data present us with? Well when you put the numbers together you get the picture. They have scanned over 15 million books, containing over 500 billion words from publications dating from the 1500s to today. A shard if you will of our humanity documented in books (Print), which are able to be searched online (Computers). Enter in the application Ngram Viewer, and you have a really cool way to see when certain things or events happen throughout history. So to prove a point, let’s do a search for print and computers from 1940 through 2008.
What we find is that computers were just begging to be written about in 1945, surpassed print in 1985 through 1987 and then quickly fell under print thereafter. The data is there, it can’t be disputed, and computers didn’t kill print. Print is not just words on paper; print is any spoken language displayed on a medium we can read. It’s up to the user how he or she wants to interact with the words. Computers print and we can now print computers. There is no end to either of these technologies, for both will hold a place in our hearts because they are so different.
Have some fun with Ngram Viewer — what marvelous conclusions will you come to with this new found data set?
Inspiration from – What we learned from 5 million books – TED
Author: John Mehl
Photo credit – Momoko-Kawase