Pettitt: This is the most speculative part. There is an interesting analogy between what happens in the delivery system, the very material business of transmission, and what happens in the stories they tell, and what happens in the way of thinking reflected in those stories. And the key word is connection—a series of connected performances, a series of connected performers, and that same structure appears in the works themselves, in the stories they tell. And finally, to answer your question—in my view people who experience communication in that way, they will also see the world in terms of connection. For example, their social arrangements: The Middle Ages was not strong on membership of communities. They were not obsessive about inside versus outside. They didn’t emphasize, “I’m a denizen of this town, I’m a citizen of this country, I belong in this nation, behind these frontiers.” They saw themselves rather like Hobbits (Tolkien was a medievalist). Hobbits knew their relatives to the seventh degree: second cousins three times removed, and so on. In the Middle Ages people saw themselves as part of a network of connections. They knew their family trees. They knew with whom they were related. They identified themselves as a node in a network and they saw pathways, connections to other people in their extended family. They also saw themselves in terms depending on their profession. If they were in the Church, they saw themselves in the Church hierarchy as being a priest here, subject to the archdeacon here, subject to the bishop there, and the archbishop and the pope. You could have status by being the servant to a servant to someone important.

Sauerberg: Which is quite interesting because the first book-borne PR campaign was the Reformation in Northern Europe, which spread like wildfire because of the printing technique, which took away hierarchy. And the Counter-Revolution then made use of the same printing technique in order to protest against the Reformation, so you have it here.

Pettitt: And then there’s the Treaty of Westphalia: The Westphalian system of nation states in the early seventeenth century and that’s the same—the nation-state and the dominance of the book are more or less contemporaneous.

DS: Got it. An important idea that is hard to argue against is that the idea of personhood and individualism is contemporaneous with the book as well.

Pettitt: Which comes first is hard to tell.

DS: So before the parenthesis, people saw themselves as some sort of organic whole?

Pettitt: A molecular structure, I don’t know about organic. But the same with social relations. Everybody had a lord above them and a subject below them: and you were the vassal of this lord who was subject to the king. It was based on connections, so I don’t know about organic. Just connective, networking, it was a networked society; the media were networked. The things communicated through the media were built up of networks and peoples notions of the world were in terms of connections and networks. … And then comes the book.

DS: The book is container, a bound thing.

Sauerberg: If you take a look at this room, it’s like a library. I mean you could do without it.

Pettitt: Today exactly they have closed the main entrance of our university library for building purposes and we’re wondering will it matter?

DS: In parenthesis, you’re saying that it’s contemporaneous with the Renaissance and the primacy of the individual and separateness. And it’s about, “I’m me,” and “You are you,” and “We’re Denmark, that’s Germany.” You’re saying that’s all part of the book, right?

Pettitt: It’s not “part of” the book, but it’s a parallel developmemt, which must be connected in some way. Nations didn’t have frontier conflicts. Denmark’s a wonderful example. South of Denmark there are a couple of Duchies that were technically subject to the German empire but the King of Denmark was their Duke, and no one bothered much until suddenly every nation had to have a frontier, and so the Germans and the Danes had several wars about where to draw the frontier.

DS: And that’s because people started thinking in terms of boundaries and containment?

Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014).

Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.