Vonree G. Nelson • Prof. Jeff Seideman • CO101 • 16 February 2010
Ever since Gutenberg’s Press heralded the dawning of the Third Information Age, civilization has fundamentally progressed and benefited from several technological advancements in mass media. Gutenberg’s press made it possible to mass produce literature which resulted in an explosion of information and knowledge amongst common people. Four-hundred years later, the Linotype Machine would automate the typesetting process, introducing the keyboard. Daguerre’s Daguerreotype made it affordable for people to have a true likeness made without having to commission a painter for large sums of money. Muybridge would take photography a step further by lining up a series of cameras to create short stop-motion pictures. Not long after, Edison would capitalize on the new film technology with his Kinetoscope. These technological advancements can be characterized by 3 major trends: the expansion of scientific knowledge, the increase of media and information accessibility amongst common people, and the quest for richer media to be perceived by the masses.
There were only a few books before Gutenberg’s press, all of them owned by the wealthy Aristocracy and the Church. People got all their news from the priest at their local parish. Gutenberg’s invention would take the power of information from the hands of controlling oppressors and place it with the common people. The press brought about standardization of language, grammar, punctuation, and spelling. It also fostered the standardization of the book format, with Title page, Table of Contents, Indexes, Page Numbers, and Footnotes. Schools were popping up everywhere and pupils were educated with mass produced literature. The influx of information meant that Scientists could read the published research and discoveries of their predecessors and push the envelope further by expanding on the shared knowledge. The church began to lose absolute control as literacy spread. The people began to think independently, challenging traditional power structures as they discovered discrepancies amongst written texts.
Some 440 years after Gutenberg changed the world, Ottomar Mergenthaler developed an automated machine that easily set movable type and could be operated by a single person. The machine boasted a 90 button keyboard which operators used to quickly compose whole pages of type. When the matrices were assembled, the machine would dip the composition in molten metal, forming one large slug for press. When the slug was no longer needed, it could be melted down and returned to the magazine. The linotype fundamentally changed publisher work-flows, as the pace of the newsroom was no longer limited by the tedious Gutenberg process of manually assembling type for press.
Daguerreotype portraits became popular amongst common people who couldn’t otherwise afford to have their likeness painted. Scientists attached Daguerreotype cameras to both telescopes and microscopes, photographing microscopic cells. Daguerreotypes were true to life detailed likenesses, whereas paintings were only as realistic and detailed as the painter could manage. Travelers and explorers shared their daguerreotype pictures with people in foreign lands, offering them a glimpse of a place never before seen. However, developing daguerreotypes was a very difficult and hazardous process. Many photographers’ assistants would lose their lives, succumbing to the poisonous mercury fumes used in the process. The Mirrored surface of the Daguerreotype made its image more or less vivid depending on lighting conditions and viewing angle. Color could not be captured by this process, but it could be added later. Like Paintings, daguerreotypes could not be duplicated into numerous copies. Although they took much less time to produce than a painted portrait, daguerreotype photography was still light-years away from the instant shutter speeds we take for granted today. Long Exposure times meant photo subjects had to remain still for several minutes. Anything moving would not be captured in the photograph. The subjects of most daguerreotype infant portraits are dead, as live babies are unable to sit still long enough to take a picture using this process.
Edison’s 1888 invention of the Kinetoscope gave birth to the motion picture business as we know it, spawning viewing parlors that charged patrons $.25 cents to view a few minutes of footage. Edison’s Kinetoscope allowed for longer films with plots. Viewers, one at a time, were dazzled by the primitive stories. His Camera system, the Kinetograph ,was used to capture motion on film for experiments and eventually commercial Kinetoscope pictures. Muybridge’s complicated filming method had limited applications and his short and repetitive were a much less entertaining medium. His famous films of animals in motion such as the horse and the buffalo had scientific value in their ability to illustrate how animals run. Edison’s Kinetoscope made improvement over Muybridge in image quality, but his films still lacked color. The films were not accompanied by any sound. Though Edison later produced an improved version of the Kinetoscope with a phonograph attatched called the Kinetophone, the sound was not synchronized with the imagery. Kinetoscope films could only be viewed by one person at a time, and the devices popularity would diminish in favor of projected films which could be seen by numerous audience members simultaneously. While the masses were impressed by the technological marvel of the Kinetoscope, few could afford to shell out the $.25 cent ticket price for such a short and limited experience.
These advancements have had a profound impact on the progression of society. They have been used by authors and journalists to disseminate news and information, by scientists to document, publish, and communicate discoveries and other important scientific data, and finally, by just about literate member of society who captures memories and seeks entertainment. Today we can do the work of all these marvels with our personal cell phones, but before life was so simple, we depended on the revolutionary ingenuity of Gutenberg, Daguerre, Muybridge, and Mergenthaler.