From Printing Press to Blog
Lance Arthur, a practiced and well-respected figure in the close-knit community of web design, subtitles his homepage (www.lancearthur.com) with the short and simple phrase, "Just Write." Although his immediate profession is as a designer, Lance is also a writer. His website records his weekly musings and political rants, and it is one of several million to be updated on a regular basis. Such a website is called a blog, or web log, and in an age of the Internet such as this, it is quickly becoming the newest and greatest symbol of modern technology's impact on writing and popular culture. However, writing as we know it is the product of an evolutionary process, which provides for a history that reaches as far back as the clay tablets of ancient Sumer. As such, studying the blog requires an understanding of the methods of writing that came before it, and so the advent of the blog as both a technological and socio-cultural phenomenon is something we can attribute to two historical developments in the history of writing: the invention of the printing press and the birth of typography.
While the correlation between blog and press is not immediately clear, Gutenberg's renowned invention brought with it a slew of technological and social changes that laid the foundation for widespread literacy. The technological impact of the printing press is mostly self-evident, in that the automated and mechanized nature of production freed many human hands from the restraint of manual labor. More importantly however, the lower cost and higher output rate of the press tore down the scholastic pillar that had once elevated the aristocracy above the middle classes. By making books plentiful and more readily available to those who sought them, Gutenberg's movable type circulated a great deal of secular, immoderate, and even revolutionary literature, so that an increasingly literate group of citizens could begin to depend less on the supremacy of a ruling class and develop for itself an urban democracy (Mumford 94). Despite Gutenberg's initial financial troubles, his invention was well on its way to creating a more educated and actively outspoken society. Thus, it is in the printing press that we can see not only the birthplace of modern education, but also the beginnings of what is now an online cultural movement.
In essence, the printing press did half of what needed to be done to fully realize the craze of the Internet that is blogging: that is, it gave literacy, literature, and the notion of free thought into the hands of the people. Still, new and radical minds fueled by contemporary literature required a means of proclaiming their ideas, and while a standard education certainly taught people how to write, the second half of the story behind blogging lies in the development of writing tools that cater to the individual (for Gutenberg's press was more a machine of the publishing industry than it was a tool in the...