Though the printing press has been around since about the 9th century, in 1436, Johannes Gutenberg, invented the first printing press that could be used to inexpensively mass-produce books on every imaginable topic. This invention was the key to pulling Europe out of the Dark Ages. Fast forward to today, 584 years later, and the internet has brought us memes! Despite seeming vastly different, memes and the printing press have still served a similar purpose in a number of ways.
Similarities between Memes and the Printing Press:
1) Spread of Knowledge
One of the most significant ways in which the press affected society was by becoming an inexpensive medium to spread news and knowledge wider and faster than ever before.
Ships arrived in Venice with news from all over the known world. Printers would print news pamphlets and hand them out to sailors to distribute at various ports where local printers would print out copies and hand them out in different towns.
Since literacy rates were still very low, a paid reader would recite the news — everything from scandals to war reports.
Memes are slowly turning into the contemporary equivalent as a source of news and knowledge.
Accounts like @badassbrownactivist and @memes_against_patriarchy on Instagram post a combination of infographics and memes about current affairs and social issues, like Twitter’s viral meme hashtags do.
Memes about current affairs are becoming more popular because they can be consumed quickly unlike news articles or videos.
2) Platforms to Speak Up
Secondly, the printing press played a huge role in giving the fringed voices a platform to speak up.
Printing was not as expensive as handwritten notes or manuscripts and allowed copies to be made easily. This made it harder for the Church to censor ideas that threatened its authority.
Often, when the youth expresses an opinion that goes against the norm, it is brushed off.
But memes are growing as a tool for communication and expression among the younger generations.
Memes can be shared quickly and can go viral easily so it is essentially impossible for them to be censored entirely too.
Some meme trends showcase this characteristic of memes very well. Trends like the ‘unpopular opinions’ and ‘change my mind’ allow people to stir the pot on all conceivable topics.
Though they covered a lot of serious issues, the meme communities and memers on Twitter also took it in a different, more light-hearted direction.
3) Changing Opinions
Lastly, the printing press led to a change in public opinion. It bridged the gap between classes to a certain extent because it allowed people to express their opinions more freely.
As literacy rates increased, philosophers like John Locke and Rousseau were widely read. They placed logic and reasoning above customs and traditions which led to the people questioning religious authority.
Today, memes and the internet as a whole are essentially serving the same purpose.
Memes about climate change have played a role in increasing awareness about the issue, making the youth more environmentally conscious.
As connectivity slowly reaches rural areas, more and more people become aware of social, political, and environmental issues. This consequently leads to bridging of the gap that exists — whether by distance or by the class system.
So all in all, memes have just brought in the Gutenberg age all over again – the only difference is that this time, it has done it in a funnier way!
Just like the Gutenberg Bible was the need of the hour that time, memes are today – both for millennials and brand marketing.
To spread ideas is to market meme-fully!
Reach out to Youngun India for more on memes and marketing.
Article written by Yusra Ahmed