The First Information Overload

Five centuries ago, Gutenberg's printing press was the new technology that swamped the world with data. What can we learn about our own times from the event?

Human history is a long process of accumulating information, especially once writing made it possible to record texts and preserve them beyond the capacity of our memories. And if we look closely, we can find a striking parallel to our own time: what Western Europe experienced in the wake of Gutenberg’s invention of printing in the 15th century, when thousands upon thousands of books began flooding the market, generating millions of copies for sale. The literate classes experienced exactly the kind of overload we feel today—suddenly, there were far more books than any single person could master, and no end in sight.