DaVinci, Video, Printing press, Gutenberg, iPhone, Walter Isaacson
Design for a flying machine Codex Atlanticus f.858r is a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci.

The Other Da Vinci Code

Posted October 27, 2017
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I am reading Walter Isaacson's terrific new biography of Leonardo da Vinci.

Walter Isaacson has a long history now of writing great biographies, from Steve Jobs to Einstein to Benjamin Franklin. All three of them could be marked as 'genius', but as Isaacson points out, what made them particularly interesting was that they merged art and science, design and technology.

daVinci is very much of the same genre.

Isaacson prefaces the book by saying that he was able to garner the most information about da Vinci (and his greatest insights) from being able to read da Vinci's notebooks. He was a prolific writer.

Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452, the same year that Guttenberg printed his first bible.

The two are inextricably bound together. They both mark the end of the Dark Ages and the Birth of the Renaissance.

The printing press made it possible to share information for the first time. But more than that, it put the ability to create the information that was being shared in everyone's hands.

This month marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Cathedral at Wittenberg. But Luther did more than nail his complaints to the door (though that makes for a dramatic story). What Luther actually did, and what made his ideas have such an enormous impact, was that he also printed and published.

Nailing the Theses to the door at Wittenberg, his ideas might have been seen by a tiny handful of people. But published, his ideas spread across Europe. People did not have to come to Wittenberg to hear him speak, the did not have to come to the Cathedral to read his ideas. They needed only to get their hands on his books.  

Luther turned Wittenberg into the first printing capital of Europe. Others would follow.

By the time da Vinci was in his 30s, printing was to Europe what the Internet was to America in the 1990s - and exploding industry.

Da Vinci settled in Florence, which was the financial and intellectual capital of Europe at the time. Isaacson notes that 30 percent of Florence was literate, the highest rate of literacy in Europe.

That made Florence a veritable hot-house for new ideas, for a nexus of a revolution in science, art, architecture, engineering and so much more.


Until the printing press almost no one was literate. Why? Why would you be? If you needed to write something, you hired a scribe.

The printing press changed everything.

It made literacy essential - the ability to express and share your ideas.

That was 500 years ago.

Today, we are all print literate, but we no longer live in a world of print. Increasingly, the world is dominated by video, and much as in Florence in the late 15th Century, that revolution is also just beginning. 

Until very recently, the idea of being 'video literate' was also unnecessary. If you needed a video, you went out and hired a production company, a producer, a director, much as people once hired scribes.

That was complex and expensive.

And stupid.

The iPhone does for video what the printing press did for print. It makes it possible for anyone to produce video on their own, any time they want it, and to share it with the world.

To share their ideas.

Just like the printing press.

There is more to expressing your ideas in video than just turning on a camera and pointing it at something. Video, like print, is a language.

Those in the 15th Century who took the time to learn to read and write, and share their ideas, placed themselves on the cutting edge of the Renaissance Revolution.  It was an essential skill.

Those in the 21st Century who take the time to learn to shoot and produce perfect video also place themselves on the cutting edge of the 21st Century tech revolution.

The Da Vinci Code, the real one, not the Dan Brown one, is easy to crack.

It's about being literate in the dominant technology of the time. 


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