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Unformatted text preview: SOCIOLOGY 415: Technology and Society
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa , Fall 2010 Textbook:
Volti, Rudi. 2009. Society and Technological Change. 6t h edition. Worth Publishers Inc.
REVIEW, PT. V: COMMUNICATION. (209-223) CHAPTER 12: PRINTING. Up to now, nothing has equaled the printed word as a rapid, cheap, and portable means of storing
and transmitting information. The social effects of printin have been immense, making printing
one of the most significant technological innovations of a ll time (209).
While a spoken language is a basic element of all huma n societies, not all of them developed a
written language. Of approximately 5,000 languages spoken today, o
only a very small percentage
appear in written form. The writing systems of the grea t languages of the world were also cona
structed to serve practical purposes. In ancient Egypt, Babylonia, and China, writing was used
to keep financial accounts and to facilitate communication between government officials. Serving
a spiritual purpose in many cases, writing allowed the recording an diffusion of concepts that
were central to the local religion (209).
Since church and state were tightly interwoven in these ancient states, writing met the needs of
the political elite in their dual role as priests and secula r officials. Writing owed its development
to the needs of one group of people and was used to m aintain and extend their influence over
others. Example: During the days of the pharaohs, the priests of Egypt referred to written calendars,
allowing them to predict cyclical flooding of the Nile, thereby de monstrating their supposed
Other than maintenance of a social and political hierarchy, the effects of a written language were
minimal when the written language was understood by only a small segment of the population.
In the absence of widespread literacy, the ability to mem orize was developed to a level scarcely
imaginable today — not unusual to find people who cou ld recite sacred texts and heroic sagas
that might today occupy hundreds of pages of printed te xt (210).
Printing originated in East Asia in the 4th C. (210).
rubbings. 7th C.
medicine. 11th C.
• Bi Sheng
clay type set
in a wax
matrix. 13th C.
• Wang Zhen
pieces. 14th C.
• Although the
type, it was
endeavor. Printing developed more slowly in Europe. Johann Gute nberg (1400?-1468?) is credited for his
system of printing with separate pieces of type. He devised a method of uniformly casting pieces of
type and setting the individual pieces in a straight line. The first books printed from movable type
were harbingers of the age of mass production. It is es timated that more than 10 million copies
of 40,000 different titles were produced during the 50 years following Gutenberg’s invention (211-2).
Printing and the consequent expansion of the number of b
books in circulation did much to transform
European society. By systematizing knowledge and ma king it readily available, printing helped
to promote the rational modes of thought that characteriz e a modern society. It allowed the widespread distribution of maps and accounts of global exploration, resulting in widely publicized new
t Page 1 of 2 SOCIOLOGY 415: Technology and Society
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa , Fall 2010 geographical discoveries, along with the correction of e rrors and inconsistencies through crosschecking of existing information. The 15th and 16th centu ries brought great advances in scientific
knowledge, pushed forward by printing. Science requires accurate data and because information
reached greater audiences, it was subject to informed cr iticism, creating greater accuracy (212).
Read: Printing and the Rise of Protestantism (213-4). P rinting played a key role in transforming
conceptions of the spiritual world. Motivated by religious requirement of Bible reading, Protestants
became literate to an extent not previously found in Euro pean civilization (214).
On a utilitarian level, development of commerce and in dustry generated a
need for written records and accounts. In later centuries, a desire for literacy
was further stimulated by the growing concerns with so cial equality. In the
19th C., mass schooling was introduced, producing a lite rate public and expanding a market for the printed word. European social and cultural conditions
created a strong demand for products of print technol ogy. With all major
technological advances comes a reciprocal, reinforcing relationship between
technological change on one hand and social change on the other (2
Read: Psychological Effects of Printing (216-7). “The m edium is the message.”
Beginning in the 18th C., a new kind of publication appe ared that would have revolutionary consequences for society — the newspaper. Early newspa pers usually consisted of no more than
four pages of hard-to-read type; they had limited circula tion due to small number of people who
were both literate and able to pay for them. This situation changed dramatically during the 19th C.
when newspapers became mass-produced — a product o Industrial Revolution technology (217).
The first steam-powered printing press was invented by Friedrich Koenig and Andreas Bauer in
1812, and was put to use by the Times of London in 181 4. Other refinements followed, such as
printing on a continuously running roll of paper, the deve lopment of presses that printed on both
sides of a sheet and automatically cut individual pages, improved inking processes (217).
Improvements to the rotary press concept followed. B y 1890, improved rotary presses were
capable of printing 48,000 12-page papers each hour. However, the need to set type by hand
restricted the rate of production. A German immigrant, Ottmar Mergenthaler, invented the first
effective typesetting device, the Linotype machine, wh ich was first used in 1886 (218). The
development of the mass-circulation newspaper was further stimulated by a host of 19th C.
inventions that allowed the rapid gathering and dissemin ation of news:
newsorthy events. The telegraph quickly
relayed their stories
back to the
newsroom. Layin of trans-Atlantic
cables speeded up
Europe and the U.S. The telephone, and
then the radio, further
and newspapers. By 1870, 2.6 million newspapers were printed each day in the U.S., and by 1900, that figure had
risen to 15 million. The debasement of news reporting — “yellow journalism” — accompanied the
increase in newspaper readership. Beyond this, the mas s-produced newspaper became a force
in its own right, and its editorial policies did much to sh ape public opinion. This can be seen in
the way the popular press helped to push America into a war with Spain in 1898. Without the
galvanization of public opinion by newspapers such a s William Randolph Hearst’s New York
Journal, it is possible that the war could have been avert (219).
The spread of education and literacy, spurred by expan sion of public schooling, created a large
potential readership for these publications. Expansion of in
ndustry and commerce was accompanied
by emergence of a growing advertising industry that p rovided vast revenues for newspapers.
Finally, a more democratic social order generated an e nvironment in which the “common man”
gained in political and economic importance. As the first of the mass media, newspapers were a
natural outgrowth of mass society (220).
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