The fascinating history of print
What’s the most important thing when it comes to increasing and maintaining the spread of complex human civilization? It might seem like an abstract question but it matters more than you might think. After all, we really only have a few options open to us as a species when it comes to social and technological complexity. There’s nowhere to go but up or down, much as we might like to think there’s another way. We can either lose what we have through war or environmental destruction, a process that could either be fast or slow, or find new breakthroughs that take us to new heights. It’d be nice to say there was some third way, some way to stay the same and just have more of the same with less of the big scary changes but this just impossible. We either thrive or we decay. That is the law of social development and the law of the general universe at large. Work together, grow and change or slip backwards. So, jumping ahead, what does this series of big questions have to do with the invention of the automatic wire binder? The answer might surprise you.
- The origins of information
To start our story and before we get to the paper punching machine, automatic wire binding machines, coil binding machines or print based machines at all, we have to go back to the beginnings of recorded history. It’s a long shot, yes, but without it we’ll never be able to understand the types of processes that brought us to where we are and where we might be going. For most of human history, there were no records. It’s not a common fact in history classes but it’s absolutely true and absolutely astounding as well. Almost troubling in some ways. Humans, modern day humans that is, homo homo sapiens, started to cross the globe five hundred thousand years ago and existed in isolated pockets for hundreds of thousands of years before that. How these people lived, what they ate, how they sang or danced or what it was that they believed, we don’t know. We can piece together bits and pieces of the data but we’ll never know the full story. You might be asking yourself, now, again, what does this matter? Why did I mention the automatic wire bender earlier? How does this all fit together?
The economics of basic information
The fact that we don’t know much about these people might lend itself to obscurity and apathy but it’s actually the most important fact of all. It is precisely because we don’t know anything about these people that they are so important. They had no records and no means of transmitting information so they were lost to history. In other words, they had no good way of conveying data or information so they were forgotten. Think on that idea for a moment and pick out the most important concept within it. It’s data. It’s the conveying of information. One of humanity’s greatest strengths is its ability to pass on information about what we’ve learned to other people. Just as the Chinese invented gunpowder, the Polynesians and the Phoenicians perfected maritime travel and the Europeans invented a machine called the printing press. They all invented, you see, and built and passed on this information to people that they met. Automatic wire binder or not, they spread complexity to each other through these exchanges and helped society grow.
The automatic wire binder
So now we come to the automatic wire binder and its importance. Because the automatic wire binder is just one improvement on the older invention of note taking and notebooks which were only invented because of one thing and one thing only. You guessed it, this seemingly innocuous invention is one in a long line of innovations that came about because of the most important invention in the history of human kind. The printing press. The spread of books helped accelerate the spread of information which helped accelerate the spread of ideas. Suddenly everyone could know more than they were able to before. Finally, knowledge became the ultimate power.