The printing press unlocked literacy. Writer and critic Howard Rheingold once said, “You can’t have an industrial revolution, you can’t have democracies, you can’t have populations who can govern themselves until you have literacy.” Before the printing press was developed, reading books was considered a luxury; people were uninformed of the events happening in the world; knowledge was limited.
The history of transmitting words and images to external materials dates all the way back to the 2nd century when ancient Chinese were pressing flowers onto silk. By the 15th century, Johannes Gutenberg became the turning point for the printing press, starting the “information revolution.” “To some extent the information revolution could be compared to a piece of music that starts quietly and builds up slowly, beat after beat, until it explodes in a blast.” Prior to Gutenberg, the ability to transmit, receive, and store knowledge was limited; soft beats of music. Gutenberg’s invention exploded the fast-changing beats with his perfected invention of moveable metal type. Aside from Gutenberg’s press, his most famous creation was the Gutenberg Bible, which he was able to print 200 copies.
The world became small with the invention of the printing press. Books, magazines, newspapers all became easily accessible. But, the art of the press has developed and changed drastically since the Gutenberg Press. What happened? Like a song mash up, the information revolution merged with the industrial revolution. Until the 19th century, printers accomplished each step of printing by hand. It was truly an art. As technology evolved, inventors modified these new technologies to revolutionize printing. Steam engines and electrical engines were integrated into the design of printing presses. The art of the press was now industrialized and no longer artistic.
Although the artfulness of the press is seemingly obsolete, the industrialization of the press has expanded our society and made it easy to transmit information throughout the world. The sound of printing is now computerized, but as time continues the novelty of the printing will change, too.