Why was the Gutenberg printing press important?

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The Gutenberg printing press is important due to the impact it had on society. The printing press revolutionized how books would be produced. Instead of writing whole books out by hand, which would be costly and take significant time, books could now be printed quickly and cheaply. This allowed for...

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The Gutenberg printing press is important due to the impact it had on society. The printing press revolutionized how books would be produced. Instead of writing whole books out by hand, which would be costly and take significant time, books could now be printed quickly and cheaply. This allowed for the price of books, which had previously been expensive, to decline. With the decline in the price of books, their availability to the people increased.

With increased availability of books and a decline in their cost, reading became more common. Ideas, which often spread slowly prior to the printing press, could be shared much more quickly. A pamphlet, for example, could be mass produced with the printing press and then distributed. This is evident when looking at the Protestant Reformation, in which the ideas of Martin Luther were able to spread quickly and across much of Europe. It also likely played a role in the spreading of the ideas of the Enlightenment, which ultimately helped to give birth to the American Revolution.

The impact of Gutenberg's printing press could be compared to the development of the internet. In both instances, information became more available, and became available much faster. Both instances also produced significant societal change.

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It would be hard to overemphasize the importance of the invention of the Gutenberg printing press. Before this press was invented, it could take years to hand copy just a few volumes of text. However, with the printing press, even in the early days of what seem to us like incredibly slow print speeds, books and pamphlets could be reproduced with a rapidity that was stunning in contrast to hand copying.

The technology took off as people saw the potential, and printing presses were quickly improved to print faster and faster. Some estimates say that by 1500, 20 million volumes of text were already in circulation in Europe.

The printing press had a profound impact on religion. Bibles could now be reproduced very rapidly, which meant that, for the first time, copies could be potentially placed in the hands of every believer. This dovetailed with a growing movement to translate the Bible from Latin to people's native tongues. As individuals began to read and interpret the Bible for themselves, the priesthood increasingly lost its monopoly on religious power. Further, word of such dissenting movements as Martin Luther's rebellion against the Roman Catholic Church could be quickly disseminated across Europe through pamphlets and broadsheets.

Likewise, the printing press is sometimes credited with accelerating the scientific revolution. Printing allowed scientific discoveries to be quickly spread around Europe, allowing scientists to share and build on each other's knowledge much more rapidly than had been previously possible.

The potential for printed matter coming into every home also increased the desire for literacy. This especially encouraged Protestant groups to start schools so that children could learn to read the Bible. Of course, once children learned to read the Bible, they could read other texts, leading to an increase in education levels.

A comparable revolution is underway today with the advent of personal computers, cellphones, laptops, and other like devices, along with the internet. For the first time since the invention of the printing press, knowledge can be transmitted much more cheaply, in greater quantity, and more rapidly across the globe than ever before. Nobody knows yet how this will ultimately transform society, but it seems certain that it will.

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The Gutenberg printing press was important because it allowed books to be printed in large numbers.  This brought the price of books down and allowed more people to have access to books (and to other printed materials such as pamphlets).  This was to have important consequences, for example, in the early 1500s when the printing press was used to spread Martin Luther's religious ideas far and wide.

Because of printing, people were able to become more educated.  They were able to have better access to the ideas of others.  This sort of thing helped to push the Renaissance ahead and to bring Europe farther towards the modern age.  

By allowing printed material to be created relatively easily and inexpensively, Gutenberg's invention changed intellectual and social life in Europe.  Therefore, it is very historically important.

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