Lunar Observer records upcoming dates of interest: holidays, birthdays, best day to cut hair.
This Thursday marks the 562nd anniversary of the printing of the Gutenberg Bible, the first Western book to be printed with movable type. Movable type is a printing system whereby individual letterforms are cast in metal, arranged in a matrix, inked up, and pressed onto a piece paper, leaving an inky impression. Today, this method is chiefly used in printing fancy wedding invitations and menus at farm-to-table restaurants, but when it dropped in the 1450s, it truly wobbled the world.
Gutenberg’s method quickly supplanted the old and laborious book-making method of writing everything out by hand, and in so doing, it increased the sheer quantity of books on Earth a thousandfold. By dramatically decreasing the cost of texts and subsequently increasing the number of texts available, it gave a large number of people access to books in an individual setting for the first time, without an intermediary from the church and/or state reading to them. People suddenly had the space to establish their own opinions on texts, to interpret them differently, to compare different texts, and to just read privately, without anyone knowing what they were reading. While it’s false to say that this all manner of differing ideas suddenly flowed like water, it’s true that it became much easier to behold that there were in fact many different and seemingly contradictory ideas about how the world works that were possible and/or valid.
For these reasons, people in power at the time were worried that Gutenberg’s press would destroy the world, and they were absolutely right, it did. It destroyed their world. Or anyway it significantly weakened their authority, which to anyone in authority is a destruction of the world.
In addition to increasing the number of things we were apt to think about and the ways we could freely think about them, Gutenberg’s press led to a change in the way our minds work in general (see: Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy, 1962). While we can’t know on what day the phonetic alphabet was invented, or speech, other events that changed our wiring significantly, we have a general consensus on the birthday of the first major publication with movable type: It was February 23, 1455.
Gutenberg’s press led to a change in the way our minds work in general.
One copy of the Gutenberg Bible is on display at the New York Public Library, and others are sprinkled around the globe. They look extremely good — Gutenberg and associates did a really, really good job.
The Gutenberg Bible is not to be confused with The Guttenberg Bible, which is the biography of Police Academy star Steve Guttenberg. Mr. Guttenberg most recently starred in the sequel to Lavalantula, called 2 Lava 2 Lantula!. It is about a giant tarantula made of lava. Mr. Gutenberg, of Bible fame, is long deceased.