ILE - In this April 3, 2010 file photo of Andres Schobel holding up two iPads as one of the first customers to buy an iPad on the first day of Apple iPad sales at an Apple store in San Francisco. Apple Inc., releases quarterly earnings Tuesday, April 20, 2010, at the market close. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file)
If we were to name the most significant inventions and discoveries many would start with the most recent ones like the computer, the airplane or antibiotics. Even though these incredible feats are among the greatest of mankind, they are the next step on a series of even more basic accomplishments that, most certainly, impacted our history and changed forever our lives. The wheel, fire, agriculture, pounder and the writing are, without question, history altering inventions.
Let’s consider the development of writing for a moment. Independently invented in China, Egypt and Sumer around 4500 years ago, it can be considered the foundation in which we, today, sediment our current technological and communicational revolution. Having a writing system allowed the recording of history and preserved it for future generations. It also replace the oral tradition of transmitting information that is a lot more subject to deviations and distortions. Records could also be kept for a much longer period of time giving the future generations access to history.
As an advancement as it might have been, the invention of writing did not suffice to broaden the access to the knowledge. Because each document had to be manually (or hand written) produced, not a lot of copies were available thus making the knowledge it contained somewhat restricted to a reduced group of elite and privileged people. It was only in 1439 that a German goldsmith called Johannes Gutenberg (c. 1398 - February 3, 1468) invented the printing press and generated a significant shift in this paradigm.
The revolutionary printing system used block of letters or movable types to compose texts and a new oil based ink. This combination permitted the production of massive quantities of books and, as a consequence, widely spread the knowledge of mankind.
The printing press is regarded by some as the most important event of modern period and it played a fundamental role in creating a knowledge-based economy and granted the masses access to learning and knowledge. Some believe that the printing press was also fundamental for the development of the Renaissance, Reformation and Scientific Revolution. Interesting enough, the first work of Gutenberg was a Bible (known as the Gutenberg Bible) and considered by many a high aesthetic and technically superior work.
The third leap forward came later with the invention of computers, internet and also modern satellite telecommunication systems. These uncanny devices and inventions allowed the human tribe to connect, have access to information and share it with everyone. Today, we have en masse access to information. Everything we want to know about is at our fingertips. Devices like the Smart phones, Laptops and iPad (who resemble some of the tablet computers seen on Star Trek series) allow us to navigate the web in search for information, send and receive e-mails to share knowledge, communicate and even read books. Gutenberg would be proud and amazed with his legacy.
What the next step? This is very difficult to predict. Most certainly connectivity and portability will increase a lot. However, the most important question we should be asking is: What to do with all this information? In an era where information is power the challenge is no longer how to gain access to that power rather is how to make better usage of it.