Internet's Roots Stretch Nearly 600 Years to Gutenberg Printing Press
By the time Gutenberg was printing his now famous and greatly treasured Bibles, he had a staff and three printing presses going to produce a variety of documents. It was this ability to print as many of the same documents as were needed quickly and accurately that led to the transformative development that was mass communications. Perhaps more telling, it was the ability of the printing press to turn out vast quantities of the same document from a number of different places that led in 1517 to the first document to "go viral." That document was Martin Luther's 95 Theses that were distributed in printed form to launch the Reformation that rocked the Catholic Church and all of Christian Europe. While it would be wrong to say that the Internet is simply printing taken to the next level, there is a direct line from the printing revolution to the Internet revolution. The moveable metallic type has given way to photons and pixels, but the principles remain. The Internet gives us the ability to create, revise and distribute documents faster than ever. Like Gutenberg's printing press, we can create new symbols as needed; we can combine symbols into words, words into thoughts and with those thoughts, we can change minds. It is the ability to take those new thoughts, spread them through the world to impact the thinking of others and to influence events that made Gutenberg's printing transformative. It is what now makes the Internet even more transformative.Like the Internet, Gutenberg's printing process launched thousands of imitators as printing spread through Europe and the world. As information became widely available, society changed. The difference brought by the Internet was that this information could be delivered on demand anywhere, instantly. The Internet, effectively, stands on Gutenberg's shoulders. It is because of the quick and efficient distribution of information that printing provided that led to the explosion in knowledge that was the Internet. Before Gutenberg, mass communications was impossible. With the ability to distribute information that Gutenberg developed, the explosion became inevitable.
But, of course, there's much more to the Internet than simple printed words. There's the ability to spread knowledge, to preserve ideas and to generate new thoughts. The printing revolution did this as well, because it was printing that enabled the explosion in knowledge that led to the Renaissance, the scientific revolution and, eventually, to a knowledge-based economy that we enjoy today.