…my picture of the statue of the renaissance man who invented it – Johannes Gutenberg – standing proudly in the square named after him in the centre of Strasbourg.
Gutenberg was a goldsmith by profession and modified existing screw printers while adding innovations of his own, thus making it possible to create movable metal type in huge quantities. His fifteenth century printing press could produce three thousand six hundred pages a day, so he was directly responsible for facilitating the mass distribution of books.
It was a strange experience to stand gazing up at him (in the rain) reflecting on how he helped to turn the world on its axis. By printing the works of revolutionary theologians such as Erasmus and Luther he contributed to the Reformation, radically changing both religion and society.
The experience was strange because the world is tilting on its axis once again, and once again it is because of changes in the way that information is distributed. The arrival of the internet and the development of e-books will doubtless seem as significant in five hundred and fifty years time as Gutenberg’s achievements appear to us now. I couldn’t help wondering if some techno-geek will have an equivalent statue erected in his memory in some mall in Silicon Valley half a millennium in the future.
As someone fascinated by publication, self-publishing, blogging, Kindle editions, books as apps and books that are foxed, dog-eared, musty-smelling, much-loved and much-read, I felt a little sad that Gutenberg’s invention is being superseded, but then I had to remind myself that it was he who started the process of democratising literature and that recent technological developments are merely picking up from where he left off.
Most of all I had to remind myself that it isn’t the medium that matters – it’s the message. What is most important is that writers write, and that readers read. The rest is detail.