We think we’re so advanced but whole societies appear lost, not knowing how to build a digital future that works and includes everyone. We’re becoming developers, opening many new doors instead of arriving at a successful destination.
We will eventually build a continuous Digital Earth that recognizes each of us and serves all of us. Today will look primitive and obsolete when our our digital ox carts are turned into rocket ships.
We think we’re so advanced, so scientific and so quantitative. We measure, analyze and know so much.
What if we’re only digital babies, just learning to stand and take our first steps? What if we don’t realize how long it will take before we become a successful digital world?
You’d think we would see this. Millions in societies worldwide, even whole societies, appear lost in a maze. We don’t know how we, as individuals or as nations, can build the powerful and successful future we want. We careen from one crisis into another, failing to solve most of them fully as we rush head-long into perilous decades ahead.
At times, each society seems rocked by massive frustrations and dissatisfactions. For millions in the middle class and elsewhere around the world, resignation is replacing hope for the future.
We need a better way. To find it, let’s take a look back and see how others succeeded.
Does history hide a better way to see our future, a more effective way to measure our forward progress?
Books: The biggest intellectual revolution in history
History’s parallels give us perspective. One of the best is the biggest intellectual revolution in history. This started with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the movable type printing press about 1439 in Strasbourg, Germany.
One of the first books ever printed with movable type was the Mainz Psalter, in 1459. The most obvious and important part of this book is it doesn’t look like what we call a book. It looks more like the handwritten books that were copied by hand, one by one, before the printing press was invented. In fact, the printer of the Mainz Psalter was careful to copy the handwriting mannerisms that were expected by readers in that generation.
A decade later, books incorporated a style with a two-column layout printed in a regular, standardized font. The design of the letter forms and the lack of paragraphs still resembled handwritten books, however.
A second generation, by 1490, started printing books for specialized audiences. This is the first illustrated travel book, the famous Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam. In fact, by the year 1500 over 200 European cities had printers, and some books had quite varied features and styles.
Let’s consider another generation later, in 1517. In this period, Bibles were one of the most popular books printed and sold, and one of the most familiar books read. The Polyglot Bible was one that showed how printers mastered fonts, languages, layouts, columns, titles, liner notes and many other advances in book design and manufacturing.
By 1520 through 1540, almost a century after Gutenberg’s invention, the types of books we know and enjoy today had become standard. An example is the 1542 publication of De Historia Stirpium the remarkable illustrated history of plants by Leonhard Fuchs, a German botanist and physician.
The book itself, and its anatomically accurate illustrations, look like what we would recognize as a book today.
What you might not have not realized is Gutenberg and that first generation of inventors had very little to do with creating what we call the book.
Now it’s clearer where we are today: The first generation of “inventors” is starting to retire, and the second generation of “developers” is building on their first steps.
On the “book timeline” we’re almost up to 1490:
Image credits: Mainz Psalter (1459). http://www.historyofinformation.com/index.php?id=2967 Used with permission.
Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam (1490, the first illustrated travel book). From Sanderus Antiquariaat, Ghent, Belgium. http://www.sanderusmaps.com/en/our-catalogue/detail/165416/breydenbach-peregrinatio-in-terram-sanctam.-[speier]- peter-drach-29-july-1490.-/2/ Used with permission.
De Historia Stirpium (1542, illustrated history of plants by Leonhard Fuchs http://historyofinformation.com/images/de_historia_stirpium.jpg Used with permission.