Denis Diderot by Louis Michel van Lou 1767

D'Alembert, Diderot & YouTube

Posted June 12, 2017
Share To

In 1751, Denis Diderot, a French philosopher, art critic and writer of the French Enlightenment published the first volume of his Encyclopedia, an attempt to encompass all of human knowledge and make it avaialble to everyone.

Nothning of this scope had ever been attempted before.  

Working with Jean Baptiste le Rond d'Alembert, the two contrived to change the nature of knowledge, essentially opening the hitherto secrets of the world to the general public.

It would take Diderot more than 20 years to complete the work. In doing so, he aroused the ire of the French nobility, the church and just about everyone else.  The aristocracy put enormous pressureon Diderot to discontinue his publications.  

in his Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot, his friend D'Alembert laid out what made the publication of such a work so controversial.  What would happen to the world if every peasant now toiling in the fields were to suddenly learn how to build a mill or operate a loom? Would the peasantry not simply drop their tools and leave the fields of the nobiity to rot? Education, mass education, clearly was a danger.

Today, of course, we look at this kind of agonizing as ridiculous.  Ever household has or once had a complete Encyclopedia like World Book or Britannica which laid, more or less, unopened (save for the 8th grade term paper).  Even if it did contain all the secrets of how to build a water driven mill, few of us were willing to depart from TV watching to make one in the back yard.

Along came the Internet, and of late, along came video instructions on Youtube.

Youtube, as it turns out, is a kind of Encyclopedia of Diderot, but for the 21st Century, and in video.

It has instructional videos on how to do just about anyting and how to build everything.

In March of this year, a Cambodia village peasant with no formal education built his own airplane out of spare parts... and flew it!  He learned everything he needed to know about aeronautics and design from videos he watched on Youtube.

d'Alembert would be astonished, and the nobility and aristocracy of France terrified:  Peasants! Flying!

The advent of video has unleashed on the 21st Century what the printing press (and Diderot) unleashed on the 18th Century - a self educated public.  And clearly, we are but at the beginning of the revolution.  

All the more reason that video literacy is an essential skill... for everyone.  Even if you don't want to build your own plane... or water mill. 


Recent Posts

For most of human history, people lived in a world without news. The concept simply did not exist. The idea of news is really a 19th-century phenomenon, driven first by newspapers, and then by electronic media which brought us radio, then TV and now the web. Now, it seems, we are headed back to a world without news. Not because the technology is not there, but rather because, increasingly, people are no longer interested in news, at least in the way it is packaged now.

What TV News Could Be
February 26, 2024

When television was invented in the 1930s, no one knew what TV news was supposed to look like. The medium had never existed before, and so, like Gutenberg half a millennium, prior, the first creators of TV news had to fall back on a medium with which they were familiar, and that was radio.

Maybe scary stories drive ratings… or maybe they don’t.

Share Page on: