By Brian Collins
If you’re reading this, it must mean that I’m still alive…at least in some artificial intelligence form. Welcome to the Museum of Media Literacy as we rapidly approach the 22nd century, and our exhibit on the history of written, performed, and holographic media. Please adjust your corneal lenses so you can “read” the “magazine” or “computer screen” in front of you clearly.
My name is Brian Collins, and I’ll be your tour guide as we take a fascinating look at an aspect of communication that helps us to identify, analyze, and evaluate the different types of media through the centuries, and, perhaps more importantly, understand the impact they have had, and still continue to have, on the messages they're sending.
As a former Show Writer for Walt Disney Imagineering, my job was to write incredible experiences for the company’s theme parks. Many of the techniques I used nearly 100 years ago had not changed since the earliest days of mankind, and many are still being used today. Perhaps the most impactful technique of any is the concept of story.
Brian Collins is the President of the Ensō Education Institute. As a former Walt Disney Imagineer, Brian helped create the magic for virtually all of Disney’s Florida theme parks, writing scripts and spiels for some of the world’s most beloved attractions. At other times in his career, Brian has produced work for a who’s-who list of corporations, as well as small entrepreneurial ventures. A passionate educator, Brian has also served on the faculty as a professor of several schools, including the University of Central Florida. His love and deep understanding of new and emerging technologies, and, most importantly, how they apply to business has helped fuel his unique career. Given that, a “normal” day for Brian might include exploring augmented reality, synthetic environments, blockchain, holograms or some other exotic other “sci-fi” tech that’s out there…or on the way.
Come with me now, as we travel back 150,000 years BCE, and let’s start at the beginning. The very beginning. Everyone step inside. Our ancestor’s caves weren’t really designed for large groups like ours; I hope nobody is claustrophobic. As you look at the walls around you, you’ll see that as humans, our desire to communicate and tell stories has been evident ever since we began walking upright. Even without a highly developed language, these simple drawings and palm prints allowed the ability to communicate with each other, often because our brains could “connect the dots” and turn the 2-dimensional images into rich 3-dimensional experiences within our imagination. This, in effect, was where media literacy began, and from here, continued to evolve.
As the cave walls melt away, I’m now taking you to the shores of the Nile river in Egypt. It was here that one of the ancient forms of communication, hieroglyphics, transitioned from stone tablets and walls onto the precursor of paper, papyrus. Humans created inks to write, and soon, for the first time, our thoughts were able to be recorded easily and archived for posterity. It was also during these ancient times that civilizations began creating alphabets and other personalized ways to communicate via the written word.
With these new communication methods, media literacy also began to evolve. Now, it was becoming much easier to distribute one’s thoughts, impressions, and stories on a much broader scale, and thus leave them open for much wider interpretation. As a matter of fact, we’re still interpreting ancient hieroglyphics and communicative statues left by our predecessors over 2,000 years ago.
Take this small figure I’ve just materialized in front of you. It’s of an Egyptian scribe carved around the time of Haremhab, a military chief who wielded immense power before ruling as a pharaoh from around 1316 to 1302 B.C. As you can see, he is seated cross-legged, holding a papyrus scroll unrolled on his lap. The hieroglyphic inscription engraved on the scroll is easy to interpret--it states his name, Nikare, and his title, scribe, one of the highest offices in ancient Egypt. But as we look closer at the tiny portrait, subtle clues give us more of an idea regarding the intent behind the image: Nikare appears hunched over, as if struggling with the weight of his responsibilities and concerns. We notice slight wrinkles on his face, which is definitely not smiling. This is someone who has lived a long, hard life. He is weary, and it shows in this three-dimensional likeness. At least that is how scholars and Egyptologists have come to interpret it. Speaking of interpretation, let’s all step away from the riverbank, as we’re getting ready to head over to Rome. Did everyone bring their toga?
Okay. It looks like we have everyone with us. Watch your step on the cobblestone streets. With the rise of the Roman Empire, not to mention the major Mayan, Persian, and Asian civilizations, media literacy really started to become “a thing”… although back then, it certainly wasn’t referred to as media literacy. That wouldn’t come until hundreds of years later… but don’t worry, we’ll get there. What IS important is that over the next 1,500 years or so, humanity would expand the level and breadth of communication like never before. It was with this increased activity and dispersion of the written word that understanding what was being conveyed became so much more important, as it was up to you, as the remote reader to interpret.
Think about it. As these major world empires began to grow and flourish, communicating laws, edicts, religious writings, and other stories became more a matter of interpretation the farther they strayed from their source. In addition, there wasn’t really any way to efficiently duplicate the spoken or written word “in multitudo”, so understanding and interpreting what was being communicated, and how, was often lost in translation as the messages began travelling greater distances. This finally started to change, however, in the early 1400’s, with the invention of the printing press.
Just as today’s visual holographic technologies have had a profound impact on communication dissemination, so did Gutenberg’s printing press. As a matter of fact, one can argue that as technology has continued to evolve, so has the process of media literacy. If you don’t agree, you may want to sit down for this next part of the tour, since we’re going to cover a lot of ground as we start to head into the present day. Our first stop—colonial America.
Hear Ye, Hear Ye! Everybody come in close and gather around under this canopy. Sorry for the rainstorm, but I wanted to show you something. It’s June, 1752, and if you look across the way, you’ll see someone you should recognize. That’s right, it’s Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was much more than just a scientist, statesman and a patriot—he was also a proponent of the written word and, almost exactly 20 years earlier than today, he actually founded what many consider to be the Nation’s first public library—the Library Company of Philadelphia. But today, we’ve caught him doing something quite a bit different than reading… he really IS flying a kite in this thunderstorm to do some experiments on electricity. Franklin’s experiments would help greatly in the advancement of science and technology.
From these early, somewhat archaic experiments, civilization would blaze forward and in little more than 150 years, all of the following communication tools and mediums would come to be: the electric telegraph, an improved printing press, typewriters, braille printing, photography, Morse code, fax machines, fiber optics, the telephone, the phonograph, moving pictures, and the radio. If there was ever a need for media literacy, this was it! Interpreting not only written documents, but now entirely new forms of audible and visual communications as well, was becoming even more of a challenge.
Of course, we haven’t even gotten to my favorite part in media literacy history… the computer age. Let’s pay a visit now to 2066 Crist Drive in Los Altos, California. If you would, please stay off the grass—I’m sure the owners would appreciate it. So here we are, and it’s circa 1976. Pretty unimpressive house, huh? As a matter of fact, you’re probably wondering why I brought you here. Well, inside that unassuming garage is none other than Steve Jobs and his close friend, Steve Wozniak… and he’s just about to form Apple Computer. Amazing to think that it’s only been less than 90 years since computers became a “thing” and far less when you think about AR/VR/XR, and all the offshoots available today, in the year 2026, including the holographic implants you’re experiencing now. As a matter of fact, I bet you can feel the mobile device on the palm of your hand or see the computer screen right in front of you. At least it feels like that.
This where the whole concept of media literacy starts to get really interesting. As technology progresses, and even intersects with medicine in the form of implants or engineering, will this make it easier to interpret whatever we read, see, or hear? Or will that make it much easier for messages to be deceitful not only without us knowing it, but without even having the chance to know it. This is one reason, I believe, that any discussion of media literacy needs to be followed closely with a discussion of media ethics.
Something to think about as you continue your visit here at the museum. We will now disengage you from your virtual tour. Thank you again for visiting with us and have a great rest of the day!