7 ways printing has changed the world

March 03, 2020

The German goldsmith Ohannes Gutenberg invented the printing press machine in 1436, but he was not the first to invent the automated book printing process. However, most historians believe that Gutenberg's improvement is to use a spiral olive press-like machine to press the metal with ink evenly onto the paper to achieve printing, which is the key to opening the modern era.

Here are seven ways that printing presses can help Europe out of the dark age and accelerate human progress.
1. Launch of the Global News Network

Gutenberg ’s greatest achievement was the printing of the Bible in Latin. It took three years to print about 200 copies, which is a miracle than manual copying. But as the historian Adam Palmer explained, Gutenberg's invention was not profitable until there was a book distribution network. Palmer was a professor of early modern European history at the University of Chicago. He compared how early printed books, such as the Gutenberg Bible, and Amazon's e-books before the Kindle launched their efforts to find a market.

"If you print 200 books in Venice, then you can sell 5 books to each captain who leaves the port," Palmer said, creating the first large-scale sales mechanism for printed books. These ships left Venice, carrying religious texts and literature, and spreading the news all over the world. Since the literacy rate in the 1790s was still very low, locals would gather at the bar to pay to listen to readers read the latest news, all from scandal reports to war reports.

2. Promote the Renaissance to a climax
A major project of the early Renaissance period was to find and republish long-lost works of characters like Plato and Aristotle. The operation of retrieving classic texts started long before the printing press, but for anyone except the rich, publishing text is very slow and too expensive.

Palmer said that the price of a hand-replicated book in the 14th century was as much as the price of a house, and the library spent a lot of money. The largest European library in the early 14th century was the university library in Paris, with only 300 manuscripts. In the nineteen fifties, when Venice became the capital of book printing in Europe, a printed version of Cicero ’s great work cost only a month ’s salary for school teachers. The printing press did not start the Renaissance, but it greatly accelerated the rediscovery and sharing of knowledge.

3. Martin Luther becomes the first best-selling author
The German Reformer Martin Luther famously summarized the role of the printing press in the Protestant Reformation: "Printing is the best and greatest gift from God." Martin Luther posted on October 31, 1517 The outline of the debate at the gates of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany, is considered the beginning of the Protestant Reformation movement.

Due to the timely power of the printing press and his information, Luther became the first best-selling author in the world. Luther translated the New Testament into German and sold 5,000 copies in just two weeks. From 1518 to 1525, Luther's writings accounted for one-third of all German books, and his German Bible experienced more than 430 versions.

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4. Printing helps the scientific revolution
British philosopher Francis Bacon agreed in developing scientific methods. He wrote in 1620 that the three inventions that permanently changed the world were gunpowder, nautical compass and printing press.

With new discoveries and the ability of a wide audience to publish and share scientific discoveries and experimental data, science has made huge leaps in the 16th and 17th centuries. For example, when developing a sun-centric galaxy model in the early 16th century, Polish astronomer Nicolas Copernicus relied not only on his own observations of heaven, but also on printed planetary movement astronomical tables.

When the historian Elizabeth Einstein wrote her book about the impact of printing presses published in 1980, she said that its biggest gift to science was not necessarily the speed at which ideas could spread through printed books, but the original data was Copy accuracy.

5. Get a platform for niche opinions
Palmer said: "Whenever new information technology emerges, the first 'groups', including printing presses, are those who are silent in the early system, which means radical voice."

"In the printing revolution, this meant that radical heretics, radical Christian separatist groups, radical egalitarian groups, government critics, etc. could be spread," Palmer said. "The Protestant Reformation is just one of the many symptoms of the printed matter, allowing these voices to spread."

But after the printing press, Palmer said it was almost impossible to destroy copies of all dangerous ideas. The more dangerous a book claims, the more people want to read it. Whenever the church publishes a list of banned books, booksellers will know exactly what should be printed next.

6. From public opinion to mass revolution
In the Age of Enlightenment, the works of philosophers like John Locke, Voltaire, and Rousseau were widely read by an increasingly literate public. They elevate critical reasoning to customs and traditions, encourage people to question religious authority and reward personal freedom.

Palmer said: "Even illiterate people cannot resist the attractiveness of revolutionary enlightenment writers." When Thomas Paine published Common Sense in 1776, the American literacy rate was about 15%, but the number of prints and sales during the revolution exceeded the population of the entire 13 states.

7. The machine "stole" the work of the workers
In the mid-18th century, the Industrial Revolution was not in full swing in Europe, but you can say that the printing press was "stealing work" from the workers.

Before Gutenberg's paradigm shift was invented, scribes were in great demand. The publisher company will employ dozens of well-trained craftsmen to carefully copy and copy manuscripts by hand. However, by the end of the 15th century, the printing press had made their unique skill of copying obsolete.

On the other hand, the huge demand for printed materials has spawned a brand new printing house, physical book dealers and aggressive street vendors.