When I try to imagine the mass production of thick novels sans the efficiency of the printing press, I struggle to fathom the extreme amount of time and effort that would be involved. With modern printing technology as something we have simply come to take for granted, it is important to step back and to take time to appreciate the kin of societal shifts that were catalyzed by Guttenberg’s invention.
Literacy is another highly useful tool that, in the context of our education system, is accessible to all ages, races and classes. However, this parity is a far cry from the societal and education climate of 15th century Europe, where there existed a “monopoly of the literate elite on education.” With the advent of the printing press, however, came large-scale distribution of information, allowing anyone to cheaply and quickly access previously rarefied ideas and learning material. What’s more, the printing press helped to replace traditional scholarship and learning processes with the “silent instructor” of educational texts.
Aside from breaking down socio-economic boundaries, the printing press fostered growing nationalistic tides in Europe. Widespread information led to greater intracultural communication and thus greater “cultural self-awareness”. In addition, according to scholar Steven Kemper:
“Nations had to be ‘imagined communities’. Their size and complexity made the possibility of citizens knowing one another in a face-to-face way quite ridiculous. The spread of print technology made it possible for enormous numbers of people to know of one another indirectly, for the printing press become the middleman to the imagination of the community. . . .The very existence and regularity of newspapers caused readers, and thus citizens-in-the-making, to imagine themselves residing in a common time and place, united by a print language with a league of anonymous equals.”
So, in summary, the printing press shaped and altered the way in which people process and absorb information, expanded the audience of this information and created methods of communication that strengthened bonds of national unity.