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In God we trust – all others pay cash (part 2)

June 7, 2010

In a previous post, I kicked off a series that’s going to consider the impact social media might be having on society and culture by way of comparison to an earlier phenomenon: the shift to a monetary economy (sometimes referred to as the profit economy) in Europe during the Medieval period.

My goal here isn’t to provide an in-depth analysis of the European economy during the tenth and eleventh centuries (let’s leave that to the experts), but rather to talk very briefly around some of the most compelling points, the ones that to my mind provide a good backdrop for thinking about the possible impact the widespread adoption of social media might have on our society and culture.

The first thing to consider about the shift to a monetary economy is how transparent it was. It concerned buying and selling, activities that folks took part in day in and day out, over and over again…so the shift quickly became ingrained in the fabric of everyday life without too much direct notice of what was going on.

The second thing is to consider how a change that would seem to be concerned primarily with a very immediate activity (i.e., the way you pay for goods and services) had extended cultural implications as well. The rise of new forms of Christianity (represented by mendicant orders such as Franciscans and Dominicans), shifts in urbanization, and even some of the foundations of the Industrial Revolution can be traced back to this shift.

Finally, consider how a change in one area of human activity (economics) affected other activities (especially religion). We’ve seen this in other posts around how changes to print media impacted the ways ancient Christians and Jews practiced their religions.

Transparency, immediate vs. extended impact, and the jump from one area of activity to others–I see all of these in play as part of the rapid adoption of social media over the last five years. In the next post, we’ll take a look at these in some detail.

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