The Printing Press

Many years ago, well not many but quite a few years ago.  Many and a few are very inconclusive descriptors of time that have caused endless arguments.  Unlike a couple, or a dozen, a few and many are non numeric descriptors that leave a guessing game of how many drinks you consumed at your neighbour’s cocktail party. To resolve this issue I am now declaring from this moment forward, that  many is 78, and a few is 18.  “Honey I am just going to play a few holes of golf, I’ll be right back.”  See how much clarity this brings to ambiguous conversations.

A few years ago, the world was about to change not only its century, but its millennium.  The thousandth anniversary is a rare date of celebration and the people of the twentieth century were about to be footnotes in history archives, as we hid in our basements waiting for the Y2K destruction to occur.  Every magazine available at the cashier’s register, had special editions of weekly journals declaring the best, the biggest and the most important things from the previous 1,000 years.

My greatest memories of the turn of the millennium were the many articles that were simply called, “The greatest Inventions of the past Thousand Years.” I am sure the writers of this captivating title, took great pleasure in presenting their top ten list for the public to debate.

Ground breaking inventions like The Pez Dispenser, The Fondue Pot, EtchaSketch, the grade school recorder, and Spirograph were all given careful consideration but in the end the research led to one item from the 1400s.  The Gutenberg Printing Press topped most of the lists for that last week of December 1999.  Prince had predicted we should party like it’s 1999, but most just partied like the year before, watching Dick Clark in New York describing a giant ball dropping in New York’s Times Square.

Most of the scientific journals used “over all cultural impact” as their reasoning for the top ten list. The Gregorian Calendar, the automobile, the grand piano, the aeroplane, the telephone, vaccinations, all fought for the top position.  Scholars agreed that the printing press topped all other inventions because of the change that occurred after its introduction.  They argued that global literacy was the side effect of the Guttenberg Printing Press. My non-scholar response to this would be unpopular. The Printing Press didn’t cause literacy in the same way that a piano doesn’t cause music.  However I would argue that new instruments of invention did cause greater opportunities for human creation.

Because I am not an historian, though I did receive a B+ in my grade 11 history class, I will shift my focus from all inventions to those of media and communication. Those inventions over time that prompted significant change in our world over the past century or two.  After reading what follows you may be compelled to change my grade 11 history mark to a C-.

Moving Pictures

After the printing press the next very significant device to help continue creative ways of communication, was started by a guy named Louis la Prince in 1888. His silent movie Roundhay Garden Scene is the oldest surviving film in existence. This little idea spawned an industry that continues to provide great and not so great movies for viewing.

In the early 20thcentury Silent Movies were the rage.  Audiences would fill beautifully adorned theatres to watch short dramatic or comedic performances that were accompanied by local piano players who added pre written musical scores to enhance the mood of the action on the screen.  Movie stars became a new description of the performers who shone on large screens.  The curious part of this communication devise, was that the audience sat in silence, to share a group experience that would deliver opinionated conversation, once the lights went on in the movie house.

At the end of the 20thcentury this shared experience changed, as VCRs, PVRs and other devices allowed a once collective experience to morph into a singular viewing of film.  Isolationists would applaud this sign of progress.


Marconi changed the landscape of communication with his airwave dependent invention of the radio.  In early times, families would gather around this invention to hear where the battles of war in Europe were happening.   They listened as a family with great dedication, praying that would not receive a well written letter to describe how their very brave child had died serving their country.

Families would also gather around the radio to listen to their favourite serial programs as movie stars were challenged by radio stars.  Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby became names of legend.  The purposes of radio would be altered when television arrived, as radio adapted from a broadcaster of shows, to a hit music medium, to its current Talk Radio dominance, providing opinons, weather and traffic reports.

Car radios changed this communal listening experience to a very singular, lonely, selfish routine, where drivers listened to information by themselves, as they honked their horns at their fellow audiophiles for not using indicators while changing lanes.


Early Television viewership was another collective experience.  Families gathered around snowy black and white images to not only hear, but see offerings of entertainment and news.  Each house had one grainy TV in the living room.  My family would watch The Wizard of Oz together once a year.  In 1964 The Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show broke viewership records, as generations watched with shared intrigue, a band with a drummer named Ringo.  Parents would share utter disbelief as the definition of popular music changed, while the children shook their heads to the catchy tune and beat.

One black and white TV in the living room, was replaced by a colour TV in every room, including little ones in the kitchen as this original shared media experience became another independent very personal, reclusive event.


When families began to own their own telephone in the parlour, the frequency of communication with others, who didn’t live next door escalated.  The family would gather around this miracle communication device and talk to their widow Aunt Thelma, who lived two towns away.  Each family member would take a turn at telling this aunt about personal life information, that was going on that week. Aunt Thelma felt less alone and ostracized during these weekly conversations.

Over time that one phone, was replaced by a phone in every room.  Soon cordless speaker phones allowed the talkers to not only talk to the other one, but also complete the daily Sudoko during this conversation. Many tasks like creating emails, dicing carrots or putting Ikea furniture together, were now  performed during phone calls.  The conversation soon became the least interesting part of the call.

Cellular phones changed this emphasis even more over time.  Phone calls became so easy to do, that nobody did them any more. Sharing texts, pictures, links to links and posts on media, now replaced the desire to have an intimate, personal conversation. As phones got sharper and smarter, people got duller and dumber.  Nobody seemed to love or even like talking to one another on the phone, though they did love being liked.

Many of you (78), will argue the accuracy of the information here.  A few of you (18) will send me a nasty comment from your smartphone, to dispute my final point.  Several (635) will connect your homemade IPhone movies, to your home computer server, to post on YouTube, a reaction to a podcast your virtual friend shared yesterday.

People crave togetherness

Technology really doesn’t

Changing things to future state

Forget what was and wasn’t.


With every new contraption

The world is spinning faster

Your server hides the question:

Who’s the servant, who’s the master?


Cue the Blong:  For the first time in my 3 year blog history, I may have matched the perfect song to the imperfect blog… Whatever Happened To…
















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