Prior to 46 BC, no one in Rome knew what day it was. The calendar was tightly controlled by the priest class. They based it on cycles of the moon, and some years would have fifteen months, others would have eleven. Sometimes different priests would tell you it was a different day depending on how it might serve them. The first of the month would roll around a little more often for landlord priests, and priests in the senate always seemed to meet their deadlines.
Finally, Julius Caesar had had enough. He named 46 BC Annus Ultimatum Confusiosis, the final year of confusion. He took the calendar away from the corrupted priest class, tasked some astronomers to create a new system, and then placed all the information into the hands of the common man.
Suddenly Joeius Blowius on the Appian Way didn’t need to curry favor with a cleric just to find out what day it was. Meetings could be planned far in advance. Annual events became commonplace.
Caesar took what was seen as a massive risk disseminating power over information to the populace, but the Roman economy exploded in the century that followed. Ice cores in Greenland show that lead production would nearly double by 50 AD. It’s difficult to know if the calendar had anything to do with this burst of industry, but the difference between giving a man a fish and teaching him how to Filofax is quite clear.
This sudden distribution of information technology, this abrupt acceleration of society, may have led, in the generations that followed, to Jesus wondering what other ways besides economic the common man could be empowered. As Rome’s imperial madness chewed up human beings into so much fodder for economic growth, a thirst for a deeper truth, the truth about human kindness, was almost inevitable.
A Great Search for Truth was underway.
The second Great Search happened after Johannes “Steve” Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1452. The first book he ever printed was a bible. And he used lettering slugs that mimicked the hand of the monks who for centuries had been performing this sacred practice by hand. This was pretty shrewd. Great gnashings of teeth were heard throughout Europe at the notion that the specialness of bibles may be subjected to the profanity of mass production, so Gutenberg took pains to ease these troubled minds.
The printing press was also decried as the death of memorization. Kids these days would bury their noses in books, never remember a thing, and completely miss out on life.
Literacy, until then a power reserved mostly for the clergy, suddenly had the opportunity to become widespread. Ideas could be disseminated to the populace.
A second Great Search for Truth began to roll.
Shortly thereafter, relatively googly-eyed and therefore sphere obsessed Nicolaus Copernicus published On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, demoting Earth and the human race from the center of the universe and thus touching off an existential crisis from which we never recovered, spawning the Scientific Revolution.
Every explosion of information creates a hunger for truth.
Anytime there is a mass democratization of information, there follows an intense search for deeper reality.
And right now, we are in the midst of the Third Great Search.
The internet, and more specifically having it in our pockets, has led to the most widespread democratization of information in history.
Until the 1980s in the United States, there were three major networks and UHF if you were desperate. Large media corporations and a very established fourth estate issued information in one direction, outward. Citizens were simply receptacles of media.
Now, the polarities have drastically changed. Every citizen is a media outlet. Les Moonves can bicker on Twitter with a thirteen-year-old girl in Secaucus.
The sacredness (so to speak) of Must See TV Thursdays has been drowned out by the profanity of Dicks Out for Harambe.
There’s now a Chrome extension that flags fake news on Facebook. The President-Elect is a compulsive liar and all around d-bag with less regard for truth than a toddler in trouble. FOX News vomits right wing propaganda into America’s bloodstream 24/7. The New York Times ombudsman even sided with angry readers after the headline of an article praising Bernie Sanders’s time in the senate was, during a contentious primary against a candidate their editorial board had endorsed, altered to be less positive.
At first glance this would all suggest that this time the opposite is happening. That amidst the tsunami of data and information the internet has rushed into our lives, we are simply grabbing hold of anything that looks like it can float. But standing among the columnated ruins of our former sources of truth—the Roman priest class, the literate clerics of the middle ages, the tall building media corporations of the 1980s—there is always a generation or two of newly empowered citizens blinking at each other, trying to get oriented. And then, a breakthrough, like Jesus’s revolutionary proposal of loving one another, like Copernicus’s revolutionary proposal that we aren’t the center of the fucking Universe.
And it’s easy, given the current Post-Truth craze, to get cynical… as the Great Lily Tomlin once said, “just when I think I’m being too cynical, I realize I’m not being cynical enough…” but we are in the darkest before the light. We are the third generation in all history to be clobbered by a tsunami of information. We will rise. We will synthesize.