Re: The value of navigability (related to META...)

Nick Arnett (
Tue, 7 Jun 1994 10:12:18 -0800

At 12:43 PM 6/7/94 +0200, Alastair Aitken CLMS wrote:

>The development of the printing press provided the means for the mass
>dissemination of information but the other side of the coin is the
>resultant rise in literacy to the point where a mass market, or audience if
>you prefer, exists. Printing wasn't inexpensive prior to the press, it
>was pretty much non-existant. Umberto Eco in "The Name of the Rose" has
>fictionalised the strangle hold that the church had on "knowledge" in the
>middle ages. Thank goodness that this is no longer possible given the
>quantity of information and the many ways of accessing it today.

I hope this isn't too much of a tangent, but I must point out that there is
little or no evidence to suggest that the printing press directly led to a
rise in literacy. In fact, the long delay between the arrival of books and
the spread of literacy suggests that there is no cause-effect relationship.
Immediately after Gutenberg the masses bought indulgences and other
printed items, but literacy didn't spread until the Industrial Revolution,
a couple of centuries later, led to the creation of new wealth.

Those who argue that computers are widening the gap between the haves and
have-nots need only point to the 15th-16th centuries as a precedent. But
the counter argument is to say that the printing press and paper moved the
Renaissance forward, which eventually led to the a narrowing of the gap via
the wealth created by the Industrial Revolution.

We can hope that just as Copernicus' access to many points of view of
cosmology helped him see a new universe, the Web and technologies like it
can make many points of view available to a relatively few bright people
today... and that those bright people will invent and create things that
will bring wealth and literacy to others.

Although I'm involved in bringing the net, the Web, etc. to poor
communities here in the U.S. and back to Sarajevo... but I have no
illusions that we'll see a sudden widespread rise in literacy because of

If you haven't read Elizabeth Eisenstein's books on the printing press as
an agent of change, I'd highly recommend "The Printing Revolution in Early
Modern Europe" (Cambridge University Press, 1983). Great stuff for anyone
engaged in this business.

I guess it's time to start the WWW-philosophy list. ;-)


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Campbell, California
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