Tech. Determinism

The printing press is the machine that made us

Imagine a world where books are only accessible to the rich, and technology is stagnant. You’ll know the world wouldn’t be what it is today.

If you observe closely, a lot of the technologies that we see today actually evolved from the concept of the printing press and mass production. This brought about the growth of innovation and education, something that is not possible during the period of scribing. As a result, books can be mass produced and therefore information becomes easily accessible to us, improving our knowledge and intelligence.

In the past, the system of educating depends largely on the carving of stones and verbal communication. The printing press revolutionized the methodology of education, providing everyone identical copies of prints which what we know now as our text-books.

The mass-producing capability of the printing press has has set a stage for an equal opportunity of education.  We are the beneficiaries of this mass-producing capability as books are made cheaper and are available to anyone who has the heart to learn from any walks of life.

Additionally, the printing press has allowed us to transmit our ideologies, our beliefs, our religion and our history. It has also improved communication across different societies by giving our ideas a “ticket to ride”.

As we move up to the digital age, the printing press has its fair share of influence on the technologies that shape our lives. The introduction of the printing press encourages us to actively seek ideas to improve our standards of living. It is the first invention that effectuated the idea of mass communication and at the same time motivated people to invent new ways of sharing ideas. An example of an invention would be the internet, a cultural phenomenon that made us what we are today.

The absence of the printing press will destroy whatever we are today. We could have been a bunch of uncivilized and illiterate creatures without the invention of books and prints.

So yes, printing press could be part of the evolution that makes us what we are today. However, growing up in the digital age, we also believe that there were many other factors and inventions that helped to shape our lives which included the ideas and technologies that comes along with it.

The humanly need to share ideas is big enough a reason for us to think that what we are today is not just because of the printing press. The invention of the printing press was probably based on mankind’s idea of sharing information, making it available to the masses. Without our need to share ideas, technology cannot possibly have evolved to what it is today and make our lives what it is.

We also find ourselves thinking about the invention of the wheel which made modern mechanics and inventions of modern day machines even possible in the first place. Also because it probably wasn’t possible for Guternberg to have made mass production a feature of the printing press if it wasn’t for the machines which inspired him on how to go about it in the first place.

From the simple idea of the wheel, machinery evolved to greater things. It helped people to think of different ways to manipulate problems and use  knowledge and ideas to come up with mechanical solutions. Machines probably introduced the idea that anything is possible which would explain our undying need to simplify our lives through the use of technology.

Without machines, the idea of mass production wouldn’t have been possible. Which probably would have meant that we wouldn’t have come through the digital age at all had we not been able to harness electricity or to even mass produce the earliest transistors.

Without technology and everything digital, we would probably not be what we are as a society right now. And when we think further into it,  this wouldn’t have been possible without machines, or the invention of the wheel as that was probably what technology originally evolved from.

Our lives and technology

There are two sides to every story, and our stand on this is conflicted. We can’t answer this with a resounding yes because there are still some naysaying voices in our heads. Instead, we would like to present this as a chicken and egg argument.

Remember when Avatar 3D came out in 2009? The world gasped in amazement as realistic wildlife and landscapes leaped out of the screen. It was a first for human emotions to be captured in its entirety on computed generated visuals.

This is as real as agony can get.

But James Cameron had had the vision and story for Avatar since 1994, which was 3 years BEFORE Titanic was released! According to him, he had to wait for more than 10 years before work for his masterpiece could commence as the technology then was not advanced enough to do justice to his film. Even then, he had to co-develop  a new generation of cameras after he grew tired of waiting.

When the film was finally released in two decades later in 2009, it made history with its astounding 3D effects. It was also hailed to be potentially as big a leap in viewing technology as black-and-white to colour television. It was acclaimed critically and broke box office records worldwide.

But can you imagine if Cameron died before his vision could be realized? We would never see the beauty of true 3D and who knows, it could take decades before someone else as inspired and determined as him try to make true 3D come to life. Not to mention that without the success, credibility or genius that Cameron has to back him up, this project might never see the light of day without the rigorous financial backing.

Or what if he could have made the film in its full glory in 1999 like he had originally planned? Would the evolution in movies and televisions had been able to take place that  much earlier, and we would have been in full 4D by now?

What we’re trying to illustrate with the above example is that technology really defines our life in a huge way. One revolutionary movie is able to flip the entire industry upside down and open up a whole new consumer market worldwide and that is how technology is able to create and shape our lives.


Talking about high definition images, bombastic effects and films magnificent colours, all of that would not really be possible without the technology of cameras and photography. Don’t you think so?

How would we capture memories, moments and happenings if it weren’t for the technology of photography? How would we even know how Adolf Hitler exactly looked like if it wasn’t for photography? Would films and movies even exist this very day if it wasn’t for photography? Think about it. The invention of cameras and the birth of the art of photography just convinced us that technology actually played a huge role, in fact a major role in determining our lives and shaping our society to what we are today.

Before photographic cameras were invented, camera obscura already existed. A device dating back to the ancient Chinese and Greeks which uses a pinhole or lens to project an image of the scene outside, upside down onto a viewing surface. Yes, Images were captured but it could not be made permanent. There was no way to preserve these images apart from manually tracing them.

In 1826, Nicephore Niepce took the first permanent photograph from nature, a landscape that required an eight-hour exposure. What he did was he coated a pewter plate with bitumen and then exposing the plate in his camera. Where light struck, it allowed the bitumen to harden leaving the unhardened areas to dissolve away. Up till today, the photograph still survives. With his invention, the renaissance of cameras and photography started.

In 1835, William Fox Talbot created his own photography process. He invented the positive and negative process widely used in modern photography. He referred to it as photogenic drawing. These happenings started men thinking of ways to capture images to make them look as realistic as images captured by their eyes. As the invention slowly spread across the world, it enticed the minds of humans into exploration and improvisation of cameras and the wonders of photography.

In 1861, the first colored photograph, James Clerk Maxwell showed an image of a tartan ribbon. In 1887, the first celluloid film base was first introduced and that kick started the era of film photography. In 1895, Auguste and Louis Lumiere invented cinematographe. Photography then evolved into cinematography. The technology of photography continued to evolve until today.

First color image by Maxwell, 1861

Just like the print, happenings and moments were captured on words. They were written down on books making it permanent in a way. It preserved stories of the past. It enabled these stories to be passed on to the next generation enabling them to have the same idea and knowledge of a happening that they did not experience.

However there is only so much that they can read. People had to use their power of imagination. For example, before photography was invented, people had to imagine how someone great in the past looked like, just like Jonhannes Guternberg, he did not live long enough for his portrait to be captured. That is why we see different versions of him because different people have different imagination of how he looks like.

Johannes Gutenberg 1

Johannes Gutenberg 2

Johannes Gutenberg 3

Hence, when cameras and photography was born, it further enhance standardization across the world. Everybody would have the same idea of how someone looks like and how a particular place looks like. People could relate to happenings and stories better as visuals made it stronger and more believable. Knowledge was also able to be passed on visually enabling people to learn and capture facts and information faster than before.

In today’s digital age where technology continues to grow, if you observe closely, almost everything revolves around the invention of cameras. Movies, video conferencing, computers, television, handphones and many more were all from the idea of capturing visual. The invention of cameras also affects communication greatly.

Today, communication shortens distance. Even when two individuals are at two different places, they can still see each other via web cam. One of our groupmates actually spent a year overseas to serve his national service and because of the web cam communication, it allowed him to be constantly keep in touch more intimately not only with sounds but with visuals. For instance, he can constantly see how much his family members has changed physically over a year.

However, on the other side of the coin, I also think that our lives are not “determined” by technology; in fact, it is the otherwise.

Imagine a world where there was no desire to share information or communicate with anyone, would any of the machines today be developed and produced? Our guess is not. The sole purpose of technology is to satisfy our inbuilt human nature to communicate with another person.

The reason why Johannes Gutenberg was so eager to create the printing press was because he had the desire to share the education that was only available to the wealthy to the less fortunate! Without that desire, the movable type print would not have been invented and machines that we use today would not have existed.

Also, technology is something that we use to shape to fit our different needs, and not vice versa.

Let’s take a look at gunpowder. This primitive technology that was first created by the Chinese in the 9th century in search for immortality for their emperor; it was later used as a component in fireworks and also for guns. The same ingredient was used in totally two different ways and for two different purposes. And through gunpowder, we developed flash powder, which was the basis of the camera flash of today.

Therefore, we are of the opinion that our needs and desires are the one that made technology the way they are today, and without these needs and desires, technology wouldn’t have existed.


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