"The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg around 1440 marks the entry of the book into the industrial age" as written in Wikepedia, but as many commentators point out, the reverse is actually true. It was the printing press with type-set which itself laid the foundation for the industrial age by enabling the mass reproduction and dissemination of knowledge, the printed word, yet also by the very nature of the scalability and standardisation of the machinery.
Today we have lived with the internet and social media for less than two decades. We are in effect still learning to be comfortable with the medium before it has more profound effects on our way of life, for the better ends than tweets and purile FB posts. The type-set, printing press also took time to influence our culture, science and economy while also its effects lasted centuries.
There is in fact an underlying principle in an enabling, scalable and reproducible technology here which Gutenberg by no means stumbled upon: The wood cut printing press had already been invented but was economically limited by materials and skills, and in fact due to this was probably easy for the authorities of church and monarchy to stifle. What Gutenberg invented was actually a machine tooling system for the more durable metal type face, which could then make a standard "machine tool" ie the type-face-printing-press, and a mass produced end product. Quite uniquely and most probably for the first time in modern, western history and this marks the turning point towards the renaissance.
The key machine tool or rather set of tools, were the punches made to stamp the soft copper face-dies used then as molds for the casting of soft tin-lead alloy which made the type face characters. This was a combination of two previous technologies- punch forming ,as for coins, and die-casting.
Taking an immediate parallel to modern technology: we had the personal computer and we had the digital telephone network*. It was the integration of the two on a simple, scalable set of technologies which enabled the explosion of a new media which is sweeping away the old.
As a gold smith and maker of religious mirrors, Gutenberg had the skills to hand-make these punches, which took time , maybe a year per set, but also he had the savez to understand the principle of scalability. Thus from one investment in labour to create a standard system, he had scalability that would reward that investment many times over.
However for the world this had a quantum impact on western culture. For western societies it marks the paradigm shift from religion as the media and feudalism as the economic system, to the freedom of the secular society and the eventual development of free market economics.
Gutenberg was politically astute if not actually a cynical parasite as some Roman Catholic commentators have proposed. A gold smith in the 14th and 15th pre-renaissance society was a supplier to the church and to the wealthy. His first printing project was of course, what else, the Holy Bible. Within a hundred years political figures such as Martin Luther were able to disseminate their message in an economic format to a new market made literate by printed books and pamphlets.
It is then really the englishman Tim Berners Lee who gave us this new type face , HTML, which was simple, light on processing and band width, open source and therefore fully scalable.
Part II The UK High Employment Rate Stagnant Economy and Degrowth
The largest irony that the traditional media has now stumbled over, often such being avoided in it's own partisan view of all strong governance, is that the UK economy has never had so many people in employment, and never so many of them in full time employment.
I contest that this marks a new era for western societies and how the economy is viewed. I think that this marks the successful evolution of the tertiary economy: and it shows that we can enjoy high employment and a relatively affluent average standard of living without growth.
It shows that a modern tertiary economy can lock value creation and flow of that value, into enough local cyclic elements that such societies can learn to move towards sustainability.
The recession since 2008 is a "correction" which is going to actually take a decade and more to effect our tertiary, post heavy-industrial societies and return them to national and local democracy and personal involvement with society. It is a correction on many levels: a correction in corruption as a possible driver of wealth; a correction in the expectations and greed of people at all levels of society; a correction in the creep towards total "laisez faire" attitude of governance and castration of democracy; and most of all a correction in our view of consumerism and what sustainability can mean for our lives.
The Internet and the Next Paradigm Shifts in Society
So here we are now, two decades into the internet revolution and we are still just getting comfortable with it. Just as Gutenberg first published the Bible in print, so have we had a first epoch of brochure, social media and news-bite habituation. We have re-evolved meta societal networks, which mirror our social behaviour and to some extent, realinged expectations of personal interaction and interaction to organisations.
As individuals we have avoided contentious discussions by-in-large on the internet. Also avoided both large and tedious purchases. We will move more quickly now into an era where we, as a majority of consumers, challenge traditional thinking and methods of supply and consumption.
So far trade is drifiting over to the internet rapdily (quotes abound from different statistical bodies and economists on the rate of this and proportion now and.) We shop progressively more via the internet and this although not reducing price on most items, this has helped to peg retail inflation. The current young adult often called generation X who grew up 1996-2006, are fully confident in not only shopping via the internet, but also replacing some services and experiences with cyber interaction.
However the great irony I propose is that the internet will be the key enabling factor in the principle of de-growth: it will become an interface to the local economy and sustainable life styles. Local markets will be able to evolve in a demand cloud where the economies of scale and the saving in transport in the supply chain facilitate the rapid growth of sustainable, carbon neutral and high perceived value suppliers.
Local entrepreneurs, cooperatives and social enterprises will be able to carry out feasability studies in the demand cloud. They will be able to determine how large the "local" market has to be for a product or service and then they will also be able to evolve very quickly in responding to consumers.
Another factor which I believe we will lead to sustainability over expansionist-consumerism is the imediacy of financial transparency, planning and control available via the internet and the personal data machine. This will be an important tool for consumers to right-size, either in a conscious movement to personal sustainability, or (and) by market forces or infact by credit enforcement.
The link between personal financial planning, getting value for money ie shopping around, assessing the purchase objectively in terms of impact, transparency in spending relative to budget, income and discretionary income and finally the outright limitation of finite credit by authority, work together to help consumers behave more rationally in their purchasing: This is the greatest threat to the current materialistic and wasteful consumer markets. Super markets and branded wares are inextricably dependent on our physical presence and disconnection as individuals from local social values, in order to exploit on the one side our wasteful impulse shopping and lack of price comparability when locked into hypermarket shopping, and on the side of branding that we require to send out social signals by conspicious consumption to replace the older sharing of values in local societies and collective organisations.
Currently people spend enormous amounts of their spare time, and indeed time when they should be working, on social media. This is a forerunner to people extracting more value through societal interactions than by conspicuous consumption. This has already come full circle in several forms : tweetmeets (twitter virtual friends and intellectual networks meet up in person) , actions of democractic petition, local charities, the rise of the used market for qaulity wares, and even just appeals for help.
The sustainability movement's principles of reduction, recycling and replacement become more apparent and realisable in a medium which creates pico markets. By enabling "tiny thin economic interaction" this provides supply in the market with very low thresholds to entry in a given that market and those markets can be perishable or totally transient: in other words, individuals can communicate in ways which facilitate less travel and transport, shorter distances, local matching of expectations to latent or emergent demand, and services delivered in sustainable ways which we subsitute more wasteful practices and products to experience sustainably.
In this essay I have explored the concepts of how new media is a catalyst for positive societal change. There is a direct parallel to be drawn between Gutenberg's invention of the "type set" printing press as a reproducible, scalable, dissemable system and the development of the internet, in particular the foundation of HTML and http.
We have seen that the lack of growth in countries which did not totally over expose themselves to public and private debt has in fact not been catastrophic and is not as dire a situation as the media and political circus will have us percieve and experience.
These two discussions are very much linked to the expansion of sustainability, de-growth, as a force in society which has now the means to establish itself as in "guerilla" economic systems via the medium of the internet enabling the very contradiction of globalisation.
* It can be argued that the internet existed since the 1960s as a military datanetwork. However this on the one hand utilised phone lines ( probably with analogue pulse bit data), while on the other was from a controlled, closed source computer system. The same can be said for Acnet, where academia had closed systems and networks. It was the synthesis of the digital telephone network, the personal- home computer and the software, languages, protocols and connectivity hardware which then allowed the internet and world wide web to explode. This is somewhat analagous to book production prior to print presses; then the wooden print press, restricted by lack of scalability and undoubted political control; then the printed word from metal type set crept out in academic circles and later became the main media in society, taking over from verbal and labourous handwritten communications and the media organ of the church network.