Most of us tend to take printed materials for granted, but imagine life today if the printing press had never been invented. We would not have books, magazines or newspapers. Posters, flyers, pamphlets and mailers would not exist. The printing press allows us to share large amounts of information quickly and in huge numbers. In fact, it is so important that it has come to be known as one of the most important inventions of our time. It drastically changed the way society evolved. In this article, we will explore how the printing press came about, as well as how it affected culture.
Before the printing press was invented, any writings and drawings had to be completed painstakingly by hand. It wasn’t just anyone who was allowed to do this. Such work was usually reserved for scribes who lived and worked in monasteries. The monasteries had a special room called a “scriptorium.” There, the scribe would work in silence, first measuring and outlining the page layouts and then carefully copying the text from another book. Later the illuminator would take over to add designs and embellishments to the pages. In the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, books were usually only owned by monasteries, educational institutions or extremely rich people. Most books were religious in nature. In some cases, a family might be lucky enough to own a book, in which case it would be a copy of the Bible.
The printing press was so important because it made the mass production of printed materials possible, and lead to much wider dissemination of knowledge and literacy throughout the socioeconomic classes. For thousands of years prior to the invention of the printing press, all works in the history of human writing could only be copied by hand or by inefficient forms of block-printing, time-consuming and laborious processes that commanded high fees. The printing press dramatically reduced the time and expense of copying works and paved the way for the democratisation of knowledge.