Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Books through the Ages

Recently I was speaking to a friend about the difficulties of printing in the "Letterpress" system of printing, of how pictures had to be made into blocks and words had to be set in molten lead and then made into a "forme" which then was printed by bringing it in contact with paper. The whole process took at least a week. I started my career in this form of printing and it is amazing how printing technology has changed with time.

Today the entire process consists of typing on a screen, dragging and dropping a few pictures and then made into a plate which is fed into a printing press. The whole process took around a day. From seven days to one day is a big jump. We are producing information like crazy these days. Most newspapers come with ten supplements, all free.

Compare this with what it was in Roman times when books were copied by hand on either papyrus (a leaf woven and flattened to be written on) or clay tablets. An excerpt from Wikipedia:

"Monasteries carried on the Latin writing tradition in the Western Roman Empire. Cassiodorus, in the monastery of Vivarium (established around 540), stressed the importance of copying texts. St. Benedict of Nursia, in his Regula Monachorum (completed around the middle of the 6th century) later also promoted reading. The Rule of St. Benedict, which set aside certain times for reading, greatly influenced the monastic culture of the Middle Ages and is one of the reasons why the clergy were the predominant readers of books. The tradition and style of the Roman Empire still dominated, but slowly the peculiar medieval book culture emerged.

"Before the invention and adoption of the printing press, almost all books were copied by hand, which made books expensive and comparatively rare. Smaller monasteries usually had only a few dozen books, medium-sized perhaps a few hundred. By the 9th century, larger collections held around 500 volumes and even at the end of the Middle Ages, the papal library in Avignon and Paris library of Sorbonne held only around 2,000 volumes."

That means the collection I have at home would match that of a large library in Roman times. We are living in times of an information overload. There are more books printed in an hour in India, which was equivalent to a whole library in Roman times.Alas, in spite of this humongous knowledge and information we still remain ignorant, backward and full of enforced poverty.

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