Alex Claus – The Printing Press vs. The Internet

Alex Claus – The Printing Press vs. The Internet

Throughout history there have been technological advances that have greatly impacted society. The printing press, a machine (as a cylinder press or rotary press) for printing on paper or the like from type, plates, etc., is one example of an advancement that helped further society as a whole. Another example of a huge advancement is the Internet, a vast computer network linking smaller computer networks worldwide. The creating of both the printing press and the Internet advanced society, but it is my belief that the Internet’s impact was far greater than the impact of the printing press.
The impact of the printing press, although very important to society’s advancement, was one that did not spread as far and as wide as the Internet’s. An early example of one of the first use of the printing press was seen during the 13th century, beginning with block-printed playing cards and paper money from China. The block-prints began with carving pictures and characters into separate wooden pieces, then applying ink to the wooden pieces and pressing the inked block to paper. However, the wooden pieces would chip apart in time and new wood carvings would be needed for new words and phrases. By the middle of the 15th century, print masters were getting close to perfecting printing with movable metal type. Johannes Gutenberg, a former stone-cutter and goldsmith, perfected the movable type by casting the mirror image of letters into metal. The metal letters could be easily interchanged to form words, and the metal type was durable. The biggest effect of the creation of Guttenberg’s movable type was a greater output of books at a more affordable fee. With books becoming less expensive, they became more available to society’s population who were eager for information of any variety. “In Renaissance Europe, the arrival of mechanical movable type printing introduced the era of mass communication which permanently altered the structure of society. The relatively unrestricted circulation of information and (revolutionary) ideas transcended borders, captured the masses in the Reformation and threatened the power of political and religious authorities; the sharp increase in literacy broke the monopoly of the literate elite on education and learning and bolstered the emerging middle class.” (Wiki) The printing press allowed information to reach the masses and it gave the lower class a chance to rise above what traditionally was only obtainable by the elite literate class. Knowledge could now be preserved and standardized, preventing any further corruption of texts by hand copying. It is even said that “the printing press certainly initiated an “information revolution” on par with the Internet today.” ( The printing press paved a path that allowed ideas, innovation and technologies to further advance.
The Internet’s impact has changed society on a worldwide scale, not just through information, but through many aspects of daily life. The first documented ideas of the Internet began with a series of memos, written by J.C.R. Licklider, in August 1962. Licklider’s “Galactic Network” concept was a vision of a set of computers, globally interconnected, to allow everyone quick access to data and programs. On October 29th, 1969, the first ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) host-to-host connection was made between the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Stanford Research Institute. The host-to-host connection used packet switching, “a rapid store and forward networking design that divides messages up into arbitrary packets, with routing decisions made per-packet”, designed by Leonard Kleinrock. (Wiki) Between 1973 and 1974, Robert E. Khan and Vinto Cerf began working on a way to unify the different network methods. They determined that by using a common internetwork protocol (specification of a set of rules for a particular type of communication), and instead of the network being responsible for reliability (like ARPANET), the host became responsible. Around mid 1978, the TCP/IP that began with Khan and Cerf’s specifications was nearly complete. “On January 1, 1983, known as flag day, TCP/IP protocols became the only approved protocol on the ARPANET, replacing the earlier NCP protocol.” (Wiki) By 1985, the Internet was established as a technology and was used by a broad number of people including researchers, developers and communities that used the Internet for daily computer communications. “The Internet has changed much in the two decades since it came into existence. It was conceived in the era of time-sharing, but has survived into the era of personal computers, client-server and peer-to-peer computing, and the network computer.” ( The Internet continues to expand every day, and it has become integrated into the daily life of society. The Internet is used to communicate and share ideas worldwide instantaneously, unlike the printing press that takes time to circle the globe. The Internet is part of daily commerce, social interaction, a growing knowledge database, banking, entertainment and businesses. The Internet is a convenient source that can be easily accessed through many electronic devices such as phones, computers, gaming systems, and tablets. Through the Internet, people are able to store great deals of information and communicate with one another with a click of a button through text, voice, and even video chats. People can access the same documents as each another, where there is not a great need to reproduce and create multiple copies of the same information. The Internet continues to expand its horizons, such as streaming live videos and conference meetings, while it becomes faster and more efficient daily.
Although both the Internet and the printing press have played a crucial part in society’s progression, the Internet’s impact has been greater. The printing press can produce documents at tremendous speeds, but the amount of people that have access to its information is more centralized. The first people to receive information from a printing press are the people who live closest to the place of its production. It takes time to send information around the world with materials produced by the printing press. With the Internet, however, information can be typed into a document and placed onto a website the second after its production. The first people who will be able to see the information can be anyone, almost anywhere, minutes and even seconds after its exposure. The Internet has room to improve and advance in an almost infinite number of directions. For example, email began as text messages that could be sent from one user to another on a desktop. In the present day, users no longer have to type messages, they can speak and see one another with webcams equipped to phones, tablets and laptops. Also the number of people speaking is not limited to one-on-one interaction, there can be many users taking part in the same session. The printing press, on the other hand, has very limited room to improve and progress society farther than it already has. The speed at which the press prints can become extraordinarily quick and its quality could be miraculous, but that is its only avenue of improvement. Books, pamphlets, and papers will still serve the same purpose as they have, hardly changing the overall format in which we view them. The only things that can change are the contents, with new or updated information. Printing presses are not readily available for use by individuals. Unless one is wealthy, authors, intellectuals, researchers and companies who wish to publish materials must submit materials for consideration before it will be published. If an individual wished to print out information or advertisements, it would take a great deal of money and effort. With the Internet, a story or document can be spread to the public with ease and little investment, if any at all. Between the printing press and the Internet, the Internet has a brighter future with a great deal of possibilities.
Technological advances greatly impact societies and change the everyday lives of its population. The printing press, an important technological advancement brought the beginning of knowledge sharing and the standardization of information. It allowed multiple copies of articles, papers and books to be produced quickly and economically. The Internet’s impact, however, was one that became integrated in the lives of society and continues to do so today. The Internet provides the information found in articles, papers and books but on a more efficient and larger scale. The Internet also serves a key role in business, commerce, social interactions, and many other aspects of daily life. While the printing press’ impact lead the way in sharing knowledge worldwide, the Internet’s impact perfected it in an instant.


Works Cited

Kreis, Steven. “The Printing Press.” The History Guide — Main. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2013. <;.

Leiner, Barry M., Vinton G. Cerf, David D. Clark, Robert E. Kahn, Leonard Kleinrock, Daniel C. Lynch, Jon Postel, Lawrence G. Roberts, and Stephen Wolff . “Brief History of the Internet – Internet Timeline | Internet Society.” Internet Society I Internet Issues, Technology, Standards, Policy, Leadership. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2013. <;.

Wikipedia Contributors. “History of the Internet – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2013. <;.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Printing press – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2013. <;.


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