Now Entering The Second Dark Age?

Clay Shirky, generally a web optimist, worries about the end of print:

I think we are headed into a long trough of decline in accountability journalism, because the old models are breaking faster than the new models can be put into place. To use the historical analogy from Eisenstein, from The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, there was a long hundred years between the Protestant Reformation and the Treaty of Westphalia. And that was a hundred years in which people almost literally did not know what to think. The old institutions were visibly not functioning any longer, but the nation-state as a new organizing principle was not yet in place. And those were, for many people, not a great hundred years.

So I have no idea how long this transition will take. But I don't think that some degree of failure and decay is avoidable. I think our goal should be to minimize the depth of that trough, to constrain that trough to the areas we can constrain it to, and to hasten its end. But I don't think we can get away with a simple and rapid alternative to what we enjoyed in the 20th century -- in part because the accidents that held that landscape together in the 20th century were so crazily contingent.

I think he under-estimates how new media could jump-start old media. The Daily Beast's foray into book publishing, this blog's support for dead-tree long-form journalism, and the relentless rise of print-on-demand suggest a future that may come faster than Shirky thinks.