Let’s gather round our usual meeting place – the computer – and give homage to the one who started the whole thing: Johannes Gutenberg and his amazing printing press. If you can read anything in any language – comic books, contracts, cereal box sides, newspapers, textbooks, warrants, street signs, prescriptions, novels, treaties, name tags, regulations, invitations, film credits, legal documents – everything that appears in print, you owe it to Johnny G’s invention.
The Gutenberg press made it possible for ordinary folk (read, wealthy and of high political-social status) to have access to the printed word, specifically to the only word that mattered in the 1500’s, that of the Bible. With its movable type making it relatively easy to print words, as opposed to painstakingly hand writing every single letter with a quill pen on parchment, it was the precursor to multiple copies of individual books printed in the hundreds or thousands and more. Mass produced books dispensed information and communication to the masses, to everyone everywhere. More books out in the marketplace meant that it was worthwhile to learn to read, and education for the common man became an achievable desire after 1455, whereas in 1453, it would have been an outrageous presumption. As unthinkable as a man flying to the moon.
Literacy spread from popes and monks to kings and scholars to craft guild masters and land holders, eventually to the smudged chimney sweep and the exhausted scullery maid. Well, they probably didn’t learn to read until the late 1800’s. Still, the idea that reading, that communication and information belongs to everyone, was squeezed into the ink on the first metal letters Gutenberg stamped onto paper. That printing press, developed from the basic mechanics of a wine press, was as democratic a device as wine itself, making everyone capable of becoming as equally well read as falling down drunk.
Of course, Gutenberg had no interest in any tome but the Bible. His invention, however, made its journey through the centuries giving way to all kinds of printing machines for all manner of documents, with written words available in cheaper, smaller, and more accessible formats, eventually yielding to words visible on the computer and printed on the photocopy machine. Personal experiences are great but much of what we know came to us in printed format.
Today we read the Bible, in many languages and versions, along with Plato’s Republic, the English Magna Carta, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, and the American Declaration of Independence. We read about the newest discoveries in physics, chemistry, mathematics, and medicine, movements in politics, philosophy, history, and the diverse cultures of people all over the globe. We argue and defend the wisdom, bias, lies, virtue, or nonsense available in print. Even E-books are made to resemble the pages of codices, bound books, as much as possible.
My blog is one of the newer developments evolved from Gutenberg and the idea to get the word out to us, the masses. It’s a place where I can share what I know with you, and you can congratulate me or prove me wrong.
So, my fellow mass, let us give homage to Gutenberg in the way he would so appreciate: get back to work on whatever topic we are writing about, then end with a goblet held high. A toast to our hero: Thanks, Johnny G, for making all of this possible.