Introduction to Mass Communication MCM 101
EARLY MASS COMMUNICATION AND PRINTING TECHNOLOGY
We now understand that sending message to a large number of audience using technology is known
as mass communication It is pertinent to see in some details the organs of this kind of communication
before studying a few intriguing areas like the elements and forms of communication.
A very primitive form of mass communication is found in centuries old approach to write letters
which were in the common interest of general public. These letters were written from the court of kings and
sent to nobles and notables whose number may not be very high by today's standards but at a time when
one could not address more than a few dozen people, communication to a relatively larger audience- that
too at some distance and the same text, may be considered as early attempts to approach the masses
through written words.
From writing letters to very many people on one subject, the next move was to write books on
matters of social life, philosophies, religion, health and scientific advancements. The hand-written books
continued to rule the world for centuries by taking views of writers to hundreds and thousands of people
across countries. For instance, the central church in ROME had employed hundreds of clerics for the
purpose of writing copies of bible for taking the message of Christianity to its followers. Almost the same
had been the practice by other religions to convey their teachings to the masses by hand-written copies of
the holy inscriptions. Many a museums in the world are proud to have some hand-written copies of
religious or scientific works done centuries ago.
Major breakthrough in mass communication occurred when printing process was invented. The
revolutionary invention makes an interesting study:
The printing press is a mechanical device for printing many copies of a text paper. First invented in China in
1041, the printing press as we know it today was invented in the West by a German goldsmith, Johann
Gutenberg in the 1440s. Dutch Laurens Janszoon Coster has also been credited with this invention.
Development of the Printing Press
The original method of printing was block printing, pressing sheets of paper into individually
carved wooden blocks. It is believed that block printing originated in China, and the earliest known printed
text, the Diamond Sutra (a Buddhist scripture), was printed in China in 868 A.D.
The use of movable type in printing was invented in 1041 AD by Bi Sheng in China. Movable type did spur,
however, additional scholarly pursuits in China and facilitated more creative modes of printing.
Nevertheless, movable type was never extensively used in China until the European style printing press was
Although probably unaware of the Chinese, Gutenberg refined the technique with the first widespread use
of movable type, where the characters are separate parts that are inserted to make the text. Gutenberg is
also credited with the first use of an oil-based ink, and using "rag" paper introduced into Europe from
China by way of Muslims, who had a paper mill in operation in Baghdad as early as 794. Before inventing
the printing press in 1440, Gutenberg had worked as a goldsmith. Without a doubt, the skills and
knowledge of metals that he learned as a craftsman were crucial to the later invention of the press.
The claim that Gutenberg introduced or invented the printing press in Europe is not accepted by all. The
other candidate advanced is the Dutchman Laurens Janszoon Coster.
Impact of printing
Before we proceed to learn about other organs of mass communication, we may give little more
attention to the printing as it almost revolutionized the communication in centuries to follow this invention.
Introduction to Mass Communication MCM 101
Previously, books were copied by scribes who wrote them out by hand. Books were therefore a scarce
resource. While it might take someone a year to hand copy a Bible, with the Gutenberg press it was possible
to create several hundred copies a year, with two or three people that could read, and a few people to
support the effort. Each sheet still had to be fed manually, which limited the reproduction speed, and the
type had to be set manually for each page, which limited the number of different pages created per day.
Despite some resistance, Gutenberg's printing press spread rapidly across Europe. Within thirty years of its
invention in 1453, towns from Hungary to Spain and from Italy to Britain had functional printing presses. It
has been theorized that this incredibly rapid expansion shows not only a higher level of industry (fueled by
the high-quality European paper mills that had been opening over the past century) than expected, but also
a significantly higher level of literacy than has often been estimated.
The first printing press in a Muslim territory opened in Andalusia (Muslim Spain) in the 1480s. This printing
press was run by a family of Jewish merchants who printed texts with the Hebrew script.
Effects of printing on culture
The discovery and establishment of the printing of books with moveable type marks a paradigm
shift in the way information was transferred in Europe. The impact of printing is comparable to the
development of language, the invention of the alphabet, and the invention of the computer as far as its
effects on the society are concerned.
Gutenberg's findings not only allowed a much broader audience to read Martin Luther's German translation
of Bible, it also helped spread Luther's other writings, greatly accelerating the pace of Protestant
Reformation. They also led to the establishment of a community of scientists (previously scientists were
mostly isolated) that could easily communicate their discoveries, bringing on the scientific revolution. Also,
although early texts were printed in Latin, books were soon produced in common European vernacular,
leading to the decline of the Latin language.
Because of the printing press, authorship became more meaningful. It was suddenly important who had said
or written what, and what the precise formulation and time of composition was. The printing process
ensured that the same information fell on the same pages, page numbering, tables of contents and indices
became common. The process of reading was also changed, gradually changing from oral readings to silent,
private reading. This gradually raised the literacy level as well, revolutionizing education.
It can also be argued that printing changed the way Europeans thought. With the older illuminated
manuscripts, the emphasis was on the images and the beauty of the page. Early printed works emphasized
principally the text and the line of argument. In the sciences, the introduction of the printing press marked a
move from the medieval language of metaphors to the adoption of the scientific method.
In general, knowledge came closer to the hands of the people, since printed books could be sold
for a fraction of the cost of illuminated manuscripts. There were also more copies of each book available, so
that more people could discuss them. Within 50-60 years, the entire library of "classical" knowledge had
been printed on the new presses. The spread of works also led to the creation of copies by other parties
than the original author, leading to the formulation of copyright laws. Furthermore, as the books spread
into the hands of the people, Latin was gradually replaced by the national languages. This development was
one of the keys to the creation of modern nations. Effects of printing press on masses have been much
more and will be discussed more elaborately after few lectures.
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