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The role of the internet and the printing press in civilization

Revolutions of the printing press The development of human civilization has always been inseparable from the effective communication of thoughts and ideas.

Saying has it that two minds are greater than one. If information is extremely controlled and manipulated by a few people on the top, dawn of the true enlightenment and civilization will hardly come. On the contrary, when control of information is no longer a privilege of the few, and common people have access to the otherwise limited information, democracy will be formed in its prototype.

Looking back at the entire history of human society, communicative tools and technologies have always been the catalyst for revolutionary changes.


Among these numerous achievements, printing technology is one of the most primitive communicative progress that people have ever made to advance the effective distribution of thoughts and information, which further drives the development of human civilization. Printing, in a broad sense, refers to the technique for reproduction of texts or images by using certain models or templates.

The most primitive form of printing occurred in ancient China before 220 A. In around 1040, a more efficient type of printing — movable-type printing was invented in China by Bi Sheng, and was later improved by another Chinese technician Wang Zhen.

The most fundamental progress of printing technique in the West was made around 1450, when Johannes Gutenberg introduced the first mechanical movable printing system — printing press — into Europe.

Compared with the backward manual copy, the printing press saved enormous time and labor whereas produced more efficient dissemination of information.

Knowledge was no longer restricted to the privileged few; it became a shared treasure of the entire human beings thanks to printing press which delivered ideas and thoughts to a number of populations. This communicative invention was no doubt revolutionary.

It largely facilitated the transmission of Roman humanity thoughts, and directly motivated the far-reaching movement of Renaissance where emerged thousands of glamorous works across fields of painting, sculpture and literature which remain their overriding artistic values until the role of the internet and the printing press in civilization.

At the same time, the distribution of the Gutenberg Bible disenchanted the absolute authority of religious organizations, informing common people of their own greatness and autonomy, which advanced the religious Reformation and exerted great influence on the progress of history. Put in contemporary society where most content is being digitized, however, the printing press has been deprived of its revolutionary-ness. The Internet has replaced the printing press to become the primary tool for information dissemination, just like how printing press has substituted manual copy to realize mass production in the history.

The major drawback of printing press compared with its contemporary counterpart the Internet consists in the physical space it takes: But in the era of Internet, digitized information actually takes no physical space and does not have to be materialized as books or papers.

Therefore, the transmission of information has become hyper-efficient, and requires no human labors of transportation of physical materials such as books or newspapers. On top of that, the mobility and shapelessness feature of digitized information has allowed itself to be accessed by billions of people over the world almost at the same time, which the printing press could never achieve restricted by its physical presence of information.

  • The printing press soon changed the forms and uses of books quite radically;
  • Many people considered this unacceptable and looked for a better way to copy books;
  • Considering it took 170 calfskins or 300 sheepskins to make one copy of the Bible, we can see what a bargain paper was.

All these being said, it is not difficult to acknowledge the decreasing revolutionary-ness of printing press in the contemporary age. Meanwhile, online communication has become the agent of revolutions in this new era. As has been discussed before, online communication is capable of reaching an enormous number of people and gathering remarkable social power in short time. The revolutionary capacity of online communication has already been tested and proved by real-world examples.

Arab Spring, a wave of revolutions and protests across the Middle East, has been initiated from Twitter, and soon gained momentum among a large population. The propaganda and provocation on the Internet can spread all over the world and engage millions of people within seconds, and the revolutionary power of online communication should never be overlooked.

Some people have gone further to identify social movements by their communicative tools in light of their importance in advancing movements or revolutions. That practice makes sense in that media have been more and more nuancedly classified in modern society, with different medium carrying out different social roles and responsibilities.

The popularity of a certain medium partially reflects the characteristics of that era and relevant movements. By identifying the communicative tools, people are more likely to get a deeper understanding of how that movement gathered influence and what type of population was most likely involved.

  • Therefore, the transmission of information has become hyper-efficient, and requires no human labors of transportation of physical materials such as books or newspapers;
  • Books stopped imitating manuscript forms such as lined paper to help the copiers and abbreviations to save time in copying.

With the prosperous development of emerging media come the wearable devices, such as Google glasses, Apple watch, etc. Compared with the printing press and the Internet, wearable device is not that revolutionary because it does not essentially transform the way that information is delivered nor enhance the efficiency of knowledge distribution.

  • Books stopped imitating manuscript forms such as lined paper to help the copiers and abbreviations to save time in copying;
  • Each new printing press was just another hole in the dyke to be plugged up, and the Church had only so many fingers with which to do the job.

What it does is change the place where people receive information. For example, people do not have to unlock and check their phone for new messages but only need to raise their hand to look at the watch.

The convenience is enhanced a little, but not revolutionarily. From my perspective, following a similar train of thought, I think the greatness of online communication is that it largely shortens the distance between common people and celebrities renowned scholars.

In the past, people had to go over dozens of books to figure out one problem, which was exhausting and time-consuming, not to mention the answer was not always correct.

Revolutions of the printing press

However, with assistance of social media such as Twitter, people can easily follow scholars or professionals at the top of the chain of certain knowledge and even shoot them a message to request for information that they need. Similarly, people can follow their favorite singers in social media and take a glimpse at what their normal life is like.

This largely draws the celebrities psychologically closer to common people. It is online social media that makes such connections possible. Speaking of the network, such as the one that relates people with celebrities psychologically through social media platforms, it has gone through multiple progresses in the past few years.

When traditional media, e. However, such network was normally not strong because communication within each network was often largely limited. The medium itself did not actually relate to network. With the emergence of Internet and online social media, the conception of network has essentially changed. It now refers to the real connections potentially established between people in online platforms.

In light of the large population of netizens, the network is more complicated and widespread. According to six degrees of separation theory, every two people can be connected with each other through no more than six people. Thanks to social media, that number is even smaller now.