The Ancients and Media Ecology

September 12, 2016

Child culture has to some extent always been an adult societal construct since children are dependent upon adults as this stage. Lydia Maria Child, 1802-1880 wrote in the preface of her The Mother’s Book (1832): “We are told that when Antipater demanded of the Lacedemonians fifty of their children as hostages, they replied that they would rather surrender fifty of the most eminent men in the state, whose principles were already formed, than children to whom the want of early instruction would be a loss altogether irreparable (vii).”

Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) asserted that three inventions were vectors for successive social transformation: the written phonetic alphabet carried humans from tribal to literate society; the printing press carried humans from literate to print society; and the telegraph carried humans from print to today’s increasingly electronic society by progressively arousing different brain patterns over generations that are distinctive to each particular form of dominant communication.


Plato… on writing, in “Phaedrus”: ‘If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls… they will cease to exercise memory because they will rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.’ Design by Meredith Eliassen, 2016.

In the medieval world, there was no separate sphere for children; adults and the young had access to all common conversations that were part of the culture; a seven year old boy only differed from his father in his capacity to engage in love and war. The translation of sounds into letters and new visible symbolic objects radically altered the human consciousness: words could be read repeatedly and when individuals became literate, they could build upon recorded knowledge and advance thinking. When Aldus Manutius (1449-1515) began to mass-produce pocket-sized texts featuring italic type in 1502, this technology allowed humans to easily transport and share ideas. Media ecologists concur that with the print age, a consciousness of childhood as a distinct period of human development first emerged with a moral chiaroscuro of print media where the semantics of childhood was delineated by adult societal constructs of parenthood.


Aldus Manutius (1449-1515) established his printing house in Venice in about 1490. The Aldine Press was a corporate entity; the entrance placard conveyed the proprietor’s eithic: “Talk of nothing but business; and dispatch that business quickly.” Pietro Aretino (1492 -1556) was an Italian author, playwright, poet, satirist and blackmailer who wielded immense influence on contemporary art and politics and developed early pornographic literature. He wrote “We are the buffoons of our children.” Design by Meredith Eliassen, 2016.

Giovanni Francesco Straparola, approximately 1460-1557 (roughly translates to “The Babbler”) is credited with having introduced the genre of fairy tale, including “The Puss in Boots,” into contemporary European literature. He published a collection of popular stories incorporating practical jokes, romances, and fables in the style of the Decameron in Venice in 1550. It passed through sixteen editions in twenty years and was translated into French and German. The frame story is that Francesca Gonzaga, daughter of Ottaviano Sforza, Duke of Milan, escapes the commotions in that city and retires to the island of Murano, near Venice, where surrounded by a number of distinguished ladies and gentlemen, she passes the time in listening to stories related by the company. Thirteen nights are spent in this way, and seventy-four stories are told, when the approach of Lent cuts short the diversion. These stories are of the most varied form and origin and many are borrowed without acknowledgment from other writers including Morlini, Boccaccio, and others. Twenty-nine of the tales are from Straparola; they had never appeared before in European literature, but they were in no sense original to Straparola. His work had no influence on contemporary Italian literature (and was actually banned in areas), and was soon forgotten.

Learn more about media ecologists from the Media Ecologist Association.


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