On the Internet and the Printing Press

What were the big jumps in methods of communication, or the transfer of knowledge? After a bit of thought, here’s what I’ve gotten:

  1. Speech. Being able to speak (and creating languages that have become complex and intricate as they are now) was the first step. You could convey an almost unlimited number of desires, needs, and abstract ideas through speech.
  2. Writing. The development of written methods of communication provided a physical, more permanent method to convey ideas. They were more tangible and could last longer than they did in a person’s mind. They could remind a person of a thought they had previously forgotten about! And even crazier, you could read the text of someone you’ve never talked to, or someone dead! It was as if they could speak to you from the grave.
  3. Printing Press. While the printing press isn’t the first machine for reproducing written texts, it was certainly the first wildly successful one. Now, not only could ideas last years, but they could reach masses of people! Thousands of people could read the same words and be exposed to the ideas of one writer!
  4. The Internet. And finally, where we are now. The internet is what I believe to be the final step before humans ascend to some kind of superorganism. With the advent of the internet, not only could text be transferred on a global level nigh instantly, but also real-time discussion, digital images, video, code, applications, sound (music!!), and a myriad of other stunning forms of content, many of which didn’t even exist ten or fifteen years ago. This is stunning. Seriously, it’s completely beyond belief. Forget predictions of flying cars or even flying cities, you can write a dumb little sentence on your smartphone, post it on Twitter, and instantly, anyone in the world can read it. That is a god-like power.

The above thoughts came when I tried to deconstruct my interest in web development. I never really liked the idea of engineering/coding, probably because it seemed too technical/mathematic and didn’t at all appeal to my visual/creative/artistic side.

So why have I picked up a interest in web development over the last year or so? Because, in the context of the above, web development is the equivalent of working at a hot, bustling printing press with Johannes Gutenberg himself.

You stand side by side a crowd of other people creating not only “book covers” (standard websites, blogs), but also a number of other things that are only limited by your creativity! Physical books aren’t interactive: they can speak to you deeply and truly, but you can’t talk back to it. It’s a one-way transfer of information (which is certainly valuable!). Web development allows things like interaction to content. It allows you to converse with other people, swapping crazy theories or ideas (like this little blurb) and revel in each other’s madness.

I remember reading through Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” and griping that I hadn’t been born into a wealthy English family in the 1750s. Then, I thought, I truly would’ve fit in. A man could learn the basics of science and philosophy and math and, with a little creativity, immediately begin working on problems no one had thought of before!

It was an exciting time filled with discoveries and true intellectual exploration. Bones were unearthed and ruminated over, moralities were questioned, and lofty physics theorems were tossed about like a baseball. I felt that, nowadays, everything worth saying had already been said and the only truly exciting developments were in the hands of incredibly niche, PHD level researchers who had spent a decade and a half in higher education.

What I failed to realize, overlooking my delusions of the 1750’s being a fairyland, was that this exciting exploration and creating environment still exists, in the internet. And while you certainly can join or utilize the power of the internet with almost any skill set, whether writing, marketing, music, or photography, learning web development opens up a whole new world of possibilities that can be combined with those skills with amazing results.