Robert Fulford | June 6, 2016 2:59 PM ET
The philosopher Francis Bacon, looking out at the future from his vantage point in the English 17th century, said that everyone should consider the effect of three inventions that were unknown in ancient times: Printing, gunpowder and the compass. “These three have changed the appearance and state of the whole world.”
Printing was the innovation Bacon put first, and the one that concerns us most in 2016. Printing made the modern era possible by disseminating the books that opened new ways of thinking and encouraged new human aspirations. Under the influence of printing, the Protestant Reformation, the Renaissance and modern science all sprang to life. It was a revolution – “the Unacknowledged Revolution,” as one modern historian called it because (despite Bacon) most of the world didn’t understand what was happening.
Today, on the other hand, we know the change that confronts us. The printing era shows signs of coming to an end. Bookstores everywhere are closing down because many people prefer to read books in digital form or perhaps prefer not to read. What is at stake? Literacy, literature and the culture of books, with its vast libraries and its flourishing (but often unprofitable) publishers. All of it is in danger. Read more…