If the printing press gave us the Renaissance, the Internet will in turn create a new so-called knowledge-based society. There are many parallels between these two inventions :

A difficult start

We know the difficult early days of the European inventor of the printing press, Gutenberg, because of the notes taken during his trial with his partner Johan Fust (1455). Gutenberg invented both movable metal type (he was a skilled goldsmith), printing ink and a printing press inspired by the wine press of the time. He printed his Bible in 42 lines in 1432.

We also know the difficulties that Tim Berners-Lee had at CERN in convincing the leaders of the institution of the merits of creating the Web (1989). Its creation would probably not have happened if he had not launched it on his own.

A new style of (media-based) writing

Printing as developed by Gutenberg was a revolution because people had to shift from their habits of reading from a scroll (a form that had existed since ancient times) to develop a new habit – reading on a page. This new organization of knowledge was based on pagination, table of contents, index, titles and paragraphs. More than a hundred years were required to develop a true typographic code : Nicolas Jenson 1470, Aldus Manutius 1490, Claude Garamond 1530.

Today, especially since the arrival of telephones, tablets and screens without keyboard (Steve Jobs, 2007), a new form of writing has begun to develop (chapter 5). It is less linear and more fluid than print, made from the amalgamation of signs, symbols and text pieces displayed jumbled-up on the screen. It is also more concentrated, more visual, more synthesized and more emotional, because it is more closely related to oral culture.

The control state

The kings and princes of the time tried to control technology because it had a political as well as economic impact in their kingdom. For example, by order of the king François the 1st (1537, legal deposit, Montpellier) in 1546 Etienne Dolet, bookseller and printer, was tortured and burned with his books in Paris.

In 1998, Internet control was placed under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Commerce. ICANN today controls all domain names and IP addresses (DNS) in the world (ICANN is headquartered in Washington and subject to US law). Faced with this hegemony, the NETmundial movement promoted a more open realm of Internet domains and IP addresses, especially after the Snowden case, 2013.


The state has always reacted violently when books contrary to official theses were printed (Copernicus in 1543, Giordano Bruno in 1600 and Galileo in 1633) or when we dared to translate the Bible into a vernacular language (Martin Luther in 1523, William Tyndale in 1537 and John Calvin in 1542).

See recent examples of treason and jail (Assange attempts in 2010, Chelsea Manning 2010, Edward Snowden 2013 Aaron Swartz 2013).

The reorganization of knowledge

The arrival of printing coincided with the first major university libraries and, above all, with a reorganization of knowledge in the Renaissance around the four faculties (arts, medicine, law and theology). Later, another extraordinary advance occurred with the launch of the Encyclopedia of Diderot (1751-1772).

The arrival of the Internet requires all scientific networks to reorganize, and resulted in the birth of Wikipedia (2001) and the great universal electronic library projects : Google Books (2004), Europeana Commission (2008), the World Digital library UNESCO and the US library of Congress (2009).