The Book: A Fantastic Piece of Technology

The Book: A Fantastic Piece of Technology

When you think of the world technology, what comes to mind? Odds are big machines, like planes, trains and automobiles, and things with screens and plugs. However, if you look at the dictionary definition of the word, ‘the use of science in industry, engineering, ect., to invent useful things to solve problems,’ the idea of a ‘technology’ expands to include everyday items such as a pencil, a cloths hanger, a mailbox and, yes, a book. And, like all technology, the modern book involved several abandoned formats and went through recognizable stages to get to its current level of acceptance.

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The Form: A Timetable of Materials

· Cuneiform tablets: Made of clay and generally thought to include the practical knowledge of tax records

· Scrolls: Found in Egypt in 3000BCE, these long documents, stretching from 14–52 feet in length could contain one or multiple documents. They proved very fragile and easily broken leaving us only scraps and fragments of writing

· Codex: Pages of parchment, treated animal skins, were folded into sheets and sewn between wooden covers. This Roman invention, used from the 2nd to 4th centuries AD, ensured durability and portability. This lead to the first instance of libraries, both personal ones in homes and large institutions such as the famous one in Alexandria, Egypt

· Block printing: Originating in China in 868 AD, this involved taking a large block of wood, engraving it, inking it and then applying it to a page. This resulted in the first printed book, The Diamond Sutra.

· Manuscripts: During the Middle Age Europe literacy was a rare skill and production of texts centralized in monasteries, copied by hand by scribes in a room called a scriptorium and stored on-site in the library. This long practice, from 600–1400 AD, lead to the illuminated manuscripts found in many museums today.

The Coming of the Press

Bones of Contention

New Technology=New Problems AND New Opportunities

The book is a technology, designed to store history, philosophy, science and stories so we can extend our knowledge past what we can hold in our heads. And despite the many forms it has taken in its long history, from cuneiform to paper to digital, it, along with the scholarship and libraries it spawned, still accomplishes this monumental task.