Evolution of Books and Their Impact on Printing

Books have impacted society and culture in many ways. From the first Bible to the first pornography, books have been a means of knowledge sharing, self-expression and communication.

When man first began to record the written word, it was done by hand on animal skins, papyrus, wood, stone and cloth in an assortment of media such as berry juice and charcoal. Because there was usually only a single copy, the message or information was limited in who had access. Additionally, it was limited to those who spoke and read the language in which it was written. Monks or priests often hand copied important books and documents, usually of a religious nature and in most cases, only the wealthy had access.

Later, block printing replaced handwriting. Blocks of wood were carved with the message, inked and a sheet of paper was pressed against the blocks. Each block had to be hand carved, so this was a particularly labor intensive process and took a long time to complete. Block printing was finite in that the message was unchangeable. If a new message was desired, a new block must be carved.

Movable type is said to have been first used in Asia. The first movable type had letters carved into clay or wood as individual pieces. This allowed the message to be more easily changed. Eventually brass movable type was created which was significantly more durable. Johann Gutenberg developed molds that allowed individual letters to be cast rather than carved. This development expanded the access to movable type. Eventually Gutenberg invented the printing press.

The printing press expanded access to information. Hand copying of a book could take as much as a year. Gutenberg’s press allowed for several hundred copies to be produced per year. It is interesting to note that while we may think the printing press was a wonderful invention, just as there are resistors to the Internet and electronic media, there were resistors to the printing press. The church and those in power took exception to the press first on the basis that printed books somehow deminished those that were handwritten and second because they understood that knowledge was power and they were reluctant to share that power believing it might put them at risk.

The larger number of books increased the number of people with access and information was more easily shared. By sharing information one individual could build on the theories and explorations of another. This expanded information sharing led to more people acquiring knowledge, more inventions and the advancement of science. Books have also contributed to cultural awareness. Prior to books, knowledge of other cultures was often limited to those who traveled to those cultures and in many cases based solely on that individual’s interpretations and view.

Books have recently evolved into electronic media which has further expanded access to information, hightened cultural exchange and presented a host of new challenges. With the electronic media being such an open environment and anyone able to type having opportunity to express their opinion, determining fact from fiction is a struggle. All in all the evolution of books has led to enlightenment, increased freedoms of expression, increased awareness, more controversy and a more rapid means of getting any message to the world.

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