550 years ago today, Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press, passed away. It is hard to exaggerate the importance of Gutenberg’s contributions to society. The printing press enabled the dissemination of knowledge and information to the masses. It led ultimately to the information age in which we live.
Before Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press, communication was limited to the handwritten word and verbal communication. The tedious task of replicating ideas and information limited the spread of them. Knowledge was limited to the few and fortunate (and often powerful and rich) who had access to written text. Those fortunate few were literate and knowledgeable. Those who didn’t have access were, more often than not, subjected to a life of illiteracy and poverty.
That all began to change with Gutenberg’s press. For the first time, one could replicate the written word in an efficient manner. Books recorded the knowledge of mankind and spread it far and wide. Literacy, once the bastion of the few, became widespread. As printing technology advanced, costs went down and the volume of printed products went up. More printing, meant more informed and educated citizens.
Perhaps the most significant impact of the printing press was the shift of power from the few to the many. By spreading knowledge and ideas, democracy was enabled. Indeed freedom would be a difficult thing to imagine without printing.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the invention of the printing press was one of the most important inventions in the history of mankind. So on this day, celebrate the printed word and remember Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press.