Living in a Post-Gutenberg era

Question: What impact did the Gutenberg press have on society?
Answer: A lot. A whole bunch of a lot.

When the Guentberg press was invented in the mid-1400s, it made information accessible to the masses.  The technology made sharing uncensored ideas with your neighbors, the village down the road, or even the world, possible.

Before the Gutenberg press books and manuscripts were only for the rich. Books were so rare that the church you attended might NOT even have a copy of the Bible under its roof.

According to a web article posted by the University of Texas, it’s estimated there may have been 30,000 books in all of Europe before the Gutenberg press.  Less than 50 years later, there were as many as 10 to 12 million books.  Yeah, I’d say the Gutenberg press had an impact.

Watch the following Xerox ad that first aired during the 1976 Super Bowl. It humorously represents the communication opportunities before the Gutenberg press and after.

Gutenburg didn’t really “invent” the printing press.  He just pulled all the pieces together.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInspired by a screw type wine press, German goldsmith Johannes Gutenburg invented his printing press using a unique combination of individual letter blocks, an oil and mineral based ink and special paper.

The individual letters made it easier to create pages by sliding the individual metal letter stamps into place. It also meant the letters could be reused to create new publications.

The ink Gutenburg concocted, unlike water-based ink, actually stuck to the metal type making clearer, cleaner prints.

Gutenberg-BibleThe first mass publication Gutenburg ran across his press was a very popular book; the Bible. While the Gutenberg Bible was mass produced, only the rich could afford these elaborate works.

Even today, only the super rich can afford a Gutenberg Bible. The last one sold was back in 1987.  It sold at auction for nearly  $5 million.

You can pick up a really good facsimile (an exact fake) Gutenberg Bible on Ebay for a Buy It Now price of just $10,500 or best offer!  Just one facsimile page will drain your wallet a couple of hundred bucks.

Eventually, Gutenberg’s press made books available for the masses, not just the social elite. Books opened up the world to shopkeepers, blacksmiths and farmers. The poor now had a reason to learn to read. Ideas spread quicker to larger audiences. This was monumental! Information is power and it was no longer limited to the rich.

Here’s a short 6-minute video hosted by a little old man with a corny sense of humor (and what appears to be memory loss at times) who demonstrates the laborious steps it took to get the press to work.

Let’s put the Gutenberg press’ impact in perspective…

Imagine growing up not having an adult read you Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, or even Pat the Bunny.





Imagine not getting caught up in the drama that filled the lives of Harry Potter, Bella Swan or Holden Caulfield?






Imagine not being able to explore the universe, get a better understanding of what goes on under the sheets or be exposed to political ideals?






The printing press gave so many more people access to information and ideas. That made education and exploration more available for the masses. Gutenberg’s gizmo changed the world.

The power of words…
Playwright Tom Stoppard
Playwright Tom Stoppard

One of my favorite quotes comes from the mind of playwright Tom Stoppard. He wrote the screen play for Shakespeare in Love and several Broadway plays. Here is how he describes the power of the written word:

“Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.”

It’s because words can “nudge the world a little” that people throughout history have wanted to control the media.

  • It’s the first step Hitler took in Nazi Germany.
  • Some contend “embedding” journalists during the Iraq War restricted what the media could cover.  Especially when compared to the type of coverage produced by Vietnam War journalists who were free to roam the battlefields.
  • The Chinese government has had the most success of any government at controlling access to the Internet by building a Great Firewall.  That void created micro-blogging that the government thought they had under control, but they don’t.

As much as government tries to control the media, it’s like trying to hold water in your hands. No matter how tightly you try to control the flow of information, eventually the information will leak. Take for example, the Arab Spring. Our good friends at the University of Washington confirm how use of social media brought revolution to the Middle East.

Your homework

After reading this blog, read the following article and watch the following video

Articles to read:

Video to watch:

Now go to Canvas and look up the BR#1 assignment and follow the instructions. 

While I do love your comments to this blog, if you want points for this assignment post your answers to the correct assignment on Canvas.


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