Print Technology


"A German, Johannes Gutenberg, invented the first print press with movable type in 1436, creating a revolution in communications that would become the indispensable command-and-control mechanism for organizing modern commerce and trade and for speeding up transactions and exchanges.

"Keeping track of vastly sped-up commercial transactions taking place over much longer distances required the kind of record-keeping that would have simply been impossible in an oral or script culture. Modern book-keeping, schedules, bills of lading, invoices, checks, and promissory notes, all so critical to the flow of modern commerce, were products of print technology. And print made possible the system of uniform pricing, without which modern notions of market exchange could not have evolved.

"Print also changed spatial and temporal relationships in other profound ways. The late Walter J. Ong reminds us that because of oral cultures learning was passed on by word of mouth, storytelling and proverbs were ways to keep knowledge alive. Skills were passed down between parent and child and between master and apprentice by mouth. Very little practical knowledge was ever written down. Because communication was oral, it required close proximity between speakers and listeners. Oral cultures, by their very nature, are more intimate and communal.

"Print cultures are very different. The author of an article or book rarely comes into close physical contact with the reader. Writing and reading are both carried out in relative privacy. Print breaks down the communal bond and reinforces the radical new idea of communications between people separated by great distances.

"Printed books also brought the world into every home. It was now possible to learn about people in far-off lands. The human imagination was lifted from the parochialism of the immediate environment and allowed to roam the Earth" (94)...

"Journeying over longer distances used to be so dangerous that the root of the word "travel" is "travail"" (Jeremy Rifkin. The European Dream. p. 95)...


Languages and Print

"Much of the impetus for creating national languages had less to do with nation-state formation and more to do with the demographics facing the early print industry. Printers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were anxious to expand the markets for the mass production of books. The problem was that while Latin was the official language of the Church and was used among European scholars and government officials in the palace courts, it represented too small a reading market for the new communications revolution. On the other hand, there were so many languages and dialects spoken across Europe that each one, by itself, would be too small a market to be commercially viable. The answer, in most countries, was to choose a single vernacular language, usually the most dominant in a region, and establish it as the language for reproduction--first in Bibles and later for works of literature and science.

"Even here, the languages that eventually became standard French, German, Spanish, Italian, and English are, in part, invented. They were usually the result of combining elements of all the various idioms spoken in a region and then standardizing the grammar. However, once a common language became accepted, it created its own mystique of permanence. People came to think of it as their ancestral tongue and the cultural tie that bound them together.

"Getting everyone to speak and read the new vernacular necessitated the creation of a national educational system in each country...helped force a national consciousness...

"Schools were designed to resemble factories, and students were made comfortable with the idea of spending an entire day in a large, centralized facility... Students were also taught the virtues of punctuality and efficiency, making and keeping schedules, and being industrious, disciplined, and competitive with one another... Turning out "productive citizens" became the primary responsibility of national education in every modern state" (Jeremy Rifkin. The European Dream. pp. 168-169)...


Colby Glass, MLIS