Saturday, April 2, 2011

Printing Press and Internet Impact on Social Relationships

Publishing is defined as, "the process of production and dissemination of literature or information—the activity of making information available to the general public. Traditionally, the term refers to the distribution of printed works such as books and newspapers. With the advent of digital information systems and the Internet, the scope of publishing has expanded to include electronic resources” (Wikipedia).
Throughout the centuries publishing technologies have continued to evolve. Technology has contributed to making publishing widely accessible and has aided in the reinterpretation of all aspects of society including how and when we interact socially. Publishing technologies change the way a society behaves and communicates, because it is society which reacts to the environment. A good example of a publication technology that made society react is the creation of Johannes Gutenberg's printing press (pictured below) in the mid 15th century. The press impacted society politically, educationally, and socially and is considered one of the major inventions during the Middle Ages. Without the invention of the press it is hard to predict where the publishing industry would be today.

The first successful press was built in 1440, and it was a hand press, in which ink was rolled over the raised surfaces of movable hand-set block letters held within a wooden form and the form was then pressed against a sheet of paper (Bellis).The first document to be printed was the Bible in 1455 and the publication of books, magazines, and newspapers followed twenty years later.

The Western book was no longer a single object, written or reproduced by request. The publication of a book became an enterprise, requiring capital for its realization and a market for its distribution. The book and other publications impacted social relationships because of the increased opportunity for social interaction. Not everyone could afford to buy books as paper was expensive, so people gathered at coffee houses where books, newspapers and magazines were available. People would read and then gather with others for intellectual discussions. It gave people access to information which increased sharing of knowledge, self-expression and communication.

During the Middle Ages a high percentage of people were illiterate as education was for the wealthy people only. The printing press gave the common people the opportunity to learn as well. This elevated the common people's status which changed social relationships. Common people now had opinions so they were able to interact with people in a different class or amongst their own social class.

The publishing of books eventually created a standardized language so now people could communicate in the same language which also increased social interaction. Anyone could publish their ideas in books, newspapers or magazines which increased equality, which led to different social classes interacting.

Gutenberg’s printing press inspired others to create presses and eventually books, magazines and newspapers were accessible and affordable to buy by common people due to supply and demand. The printing press continued to evolve and other technologies evolved over the next few centuries. Nothing was comparable to the creation of the printing press until the Internet in the mid-20th century.

The invention of the internet cannot be attributed to one person. However, certain figures contributed major breakthroughs. "If any two people “invented the Internet," it was Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf. In 1972 they invented the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) which moves data on the modern internet. They went on to develop the IP Protocol" (Times Online).

The Internet has made and is continuing to make a significant impact on society similar to the printing press. Like the printing press, the internet has changed how and when we interact socially. The internet continues to grow in usage and users. According to PEW Internet the study indicates that internet users has increased from 10% to 80% in the last 15 years.

The internet has been around since 1969 so it is difficult to imagine that in 1994 the majority of the people still did not know what the internet was. Current "Today" show host, Matt Lauer, aired the below Youtube video on when 1994 Today's hosts were asking what was the internet. Matt commented, "It's easy to laugh now, but we all felt that way. It was a mystery to all of us". Today, the internet is part of everyone's day to day life activities. The internet is the main source of how we interact with others. Matt's comments are true so this is why I think it is important to remember the history of the internet and what would we do without it?

The internet has created a significant shift in the way that we develop and interact socially in the last few years. Youth are the majority of internet users and they rarely pick up a land-line or cell phone to communicate with friends and family.They "BBM", text, use social media sites, or email.

In the early days of internet some felt that the internet was having a negative impact on social relationships. Prior to text messaging, Facebook, and Twitter, Kraut et al. wrote about the Internet Paradox which states, "greater use of the internet was associated with declines in communication between family members in the house, declines in the size of their social circle, and increases in their levels of depression and loneliness." Other studies concluded that the internet creates a sterile and negative form of social exchange and communication which in turn could lead to the crumbling of community and society.

Bargh and McKenna note that some scholars feel the internet provides a positive venue for social interaction that allows individuals and groups to connect in ways they would not otherwise. The latest research has shown that the conclusions are opposite of what was previously concluded in Kraut's research. In his later follow-up research, Kraut et al (2002) found that study participants who used the internet were more likely to have an increase in:

1. The size of their local and distant social circles.

2. Their face-to-face interaction with friends and family

3. Community activity involvement

4. Trust in people

The Digital Future Study, backs Kraut research as the study shows more than half of the people surveyed said the internet was important or very important tool in maintaining social relationships. Some reasons for the change of research is there is an increase in the social media platforms available, internet usage has increased and people are more aware and comfortable with the use of the on-line tools. Another reason is because people are substituting previous activities for time spent on the internet. For example chatting with friends on the internet has replaced talking on the phone. Another way in which social relationships have changed is people meeting on-line instead of at public venues. Minitel,described in the below video, was developed in the early 1980's and was a critical moment as this lead to developing on-line chat rooms.


Today there are many on-line dating sites and other sites if you are interested in meeting people with similar interests. Friendships are forming through social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. The internet enables people to meet others with similar interests in a comfortable environment. Digital Future Study shows that there has been an increase in on-line friends becoming in-person friends. Internet users in 2000 reported an average of less than one person who they originally connected with online and then later met in person. Since then, the average has risen steadily, and in the current Digital Future Study has reached 2.5 people. Even though earlier studies have shown that social interaction was predicated to decrease, later studies have contradicted those findings. Today, we can observe that social interaction has increased, not decreased, just the tools have changed. The internet has provided many positive opportunities for people to develop new social relationships and to maintain friendships when there are barriers such as geographical.

According to Clay, "Publishing used to require access to a printing press, and as a result the act of publishing something was limited to a tiny fraction of the population. Now, once a user connects to the internet, he has access to a platform that is at once global and free". This statement is true but the internet and printing press have both made a significant difference in the publishing industry even though the internet reaches the world in an instant. If the printing press was not invented, there would be no mass production of books, people would continue to be illiterate and no-one would of created the internet as no-one would be able to use it. The internet is text heavy so internet users would have to know how to read and write. Once the book was able to be mass produced, society evolved socially,politically etc. If there was not this flow of development, society would not have evolved to where we are today.

Question to ponder after completing this blog: The first record of coffee being served in a public place dates back to 1475 in Turkey. Coffee shops started to slowly pop up around the world. The mass production of books started around this time. People gathered at coffee houses to in order to have access to books, so did the printing press also contribute to the success of coffee houses?

Works Cited and other interesting sites:

Bargh JA, 2002. McKenna KYA, Fitzsimons GM. 2002. "Can you see the real me? Activation and expression of the 'true self' on the Internet." Journal of Social Issues.

Bellis, M. (2009). Johannes Gutenberg and the Printing Press. Available: Last accessed April 5, 2011.

Bellis, M. (2009). ‘The History of Communication’. About Inc. Last accessed April 5, 2011.

DiSalvo D. Four authors respond to the social networking controversy. Neuronarrative [Internet]. March 12, 2009. Last accessed March 31, 2011.

Harvey, M. (September 25, 2008). Who were the 'Fathers of the Internet'? Times Online. Retrieved from:

Kraut R, Kiesler S, Boneva B, Cummings J, Helgeson V, et al. 2002. "Internet paradox re-visited." Journal of Social Issues.

Kraut, R. Patterson, M., Lundmark, V., Kiesler, S, Mukophadhyay,T & Scherlis, W. (1998).
Internet paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being? American Psychology.

Kreis, S. (2000). The History Guide. The Printing Press.

The Marquee Blog. (2011). What’s the Internet? Retrieved from:

Skirky,C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody. Penguin Books. page 77. USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism (2010). USC Annenberg Digital Future Study. Last accessed on April 5, 2011.
Youtube (1994). What is the Internet? Retrieved from:

Youtube (2006). Evolution of Digital Communities. Retrieved from:

Wikipedia. Publishing. Last accessed on March 30, 2011.


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