Riepl's Law: how future media compost the past

Here's a useful rule of thumb from 1913: Riepl's Law says, "new, further developed types of media never replace the existing modes of media and their usage patterns. Instead, a convergence takes place in their field, leading to a different way and field of use for these older forms." (via Beyond the Beyond)


  1. This is evocative of Hegel’s dialectics. He put forth that social movements occurred in the form of “thesis” (e.g. the French Monarchy), “antithesis” (e.g. the French Revolution), and “synthesis” (e.g. the French Democratic State). The thesis is the status quo and the antithesis its sharp opposition, but in the battle between these two, the winner is never one or the other, but a hybrid between these two.

    As humans, we are so locked into the idea that when two things are in conflict, one must win and the other lose; but when it is ideas that are in conflict, they most often give rise to a new idea combining the best features of both. So it follows with new forms of media as well.

  2. Any chance of someone giving an example of this?

    I keep thinking of the town crier and how his mode of media was never replaced and is now incorporated in modern modes.

  3. Or, as Marshall McLuhan ripped off the idea (he ripped off lots of ideas): “A new medium is never an addition to an old one, nor does it leave the old one in peace. It never ceases to oppress the older media until it finds new shapes and positions for them” (From Understanding Media, the 1964 edition, p. 174).

    I like the metaphor of a new medium oppressing an old one. As well, and certainly related, “The first use of a new medium is always a replay of an old one” (Take Today, p. 230). We saw this in the early days of the Internet when people tried to find all sorts of metaphors for it, before we began to discover it real effects (i.e., not delivering content, and not even delivering users, which are both broadcast metaphors, but connecting people and experiences among each other).

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