Someone asked me recently what’s the one historical event I would like to witness. For me, the moment I would most like to experience is the birth of the printing press. In my mind, this is the most significant event in human history. Prior to this point, information was centralized in the hands of an elite minority, and populations were controlled through this lack of access to knowledge. The printing press, however, changed the balance. Suddenly, as the mode of production for written works became more efficient and less expensive, a broader spectrum of people were able to participate in the exchange of ideas. This phenomenon gave birth to the Reformation and Renaissance, which in turn gave birth to the democratic revolutions of the 18th century.
The control and dissemination of information are the most powerful forces in the world. Opinions are shaped, trends are controlled, and markets are manipulated through the flow of information. With enough propaganda and misinformation, millions of people can be convinced of any number of falsehoods. Political careers rise and fall in this manner, and with the internet, the spread of false information can take on staggering proportions. Today, we see once again the centralization of information in the hands of an elite minority (just look at how few corporations control every media outlet in the world). However, much like before in human history, diversity of voices can be the panacea for tyranny.
As a side note, there are actually two moments I would like to witness in terms of the birth of the printing press. One, of course, is the Guggenheim Press in 1439, one of the most widely known and celebrated inventions in mankind’s history. However, two hundred years before that, faced with invasion by the Mongols, Korean religious scholars invented their own printing press in order to preserve sacred texts that the Mongols had been destroying. I would love to witness both events and have an opportunity to observe the similarities and differences between the processes of each invention.