Stephen Fry loves know-how. Right here on Open Tradition we’ve featured his investigations into every part from cloud computing to nanoscience to synthetic intelligence and simulation concept. “I’ve by no means seen a smartphone I haven’t purchased,” he wrote in 2007, the yr Apple’s iPhone got here out. However the iPhone would certainly by no means have been if not for the Macintosh, the third of which ever offered in the UK went to Fry. (His fellow British technophile Douglas Adams had already snagged the primary two.) And there wouldn’t have been a Macintosh — a stretch although this will likely appear — if not for the printing press, which by some reckonings set off the technological revolution that carries us alongside to today.
The historical past of the printing press is thus, in a way, a historical past of know-how in microcosm. In the hourlong documentary The Machine that Made Us, Fry seeks out an understanding of the invention, the workings, and the evolution of the system that, as he places it, “formed the fashionable world.”
Using movable kind to run off many copies of a textual content goes again to Eleventh-century China, strictly talking, however solely in Europe did it first flourish to the purpose of giving rise to mass media. In an effort to place himself at the start of that individual story, Fry travels to Mainz in modern-day Germany, birthplace of a sure Johannes Gutenberg, whose version of the Bible from the 1450s isn’t simply the earliest mass-produced e-book however an important one as nicely.
Fry could not have a simple relationship with faith, however he does perceive nicely the ramifications of Gutenberg’s Bible-printing enterprise. And he comes to grasp that enterprise itself extra deeply whereas following the “Gutenberg path,” retracing the steps of the person himself as he assembled the assets to place his invention into motion. Since not one of the presses Gutenberg constructed survive as we speak (although not less than one functioning approximate mannequin does exist), Fry includes himself in reconstructing an instance. He additionally visits a paper mill and a sort foundry whose craftsmen make their supplies with the identical strategies used within the fifteenth century. The fruit of those mixed labors is a single duplicate web page of the Gutenberg Bible: a reminder of what led to the financial, political, and cultural actuality we nonetheless inhabit these 570 years later.
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Based mostly in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and tradition. His initiatives embody the Substack publication Books on Cities, the e-book The Stateless Metropolis: a Stroll via Twenty first-Century Los Angeles and the video collection The Metropolis in Cinema. Comply with him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Fb.