Note: This is the first in a series discussing the history of printing. Check back here for the next installments!

The modern world is built on constantly available and evolving information. Nearly 100 years ago, the first radio broadcasting began, ushering in a century of rapid development in communication technology. Radio gave way to television, and then television to the internet. Today, we can communicate and learn at breakneck speed with smartphones, tablets, and personal computers.

Before smartphones and tablets, before established news media or televisions, one revolution served as the first domino that led to our information age: the invention of printing. Before movable type, books, letters, and pamphlets had to be painstakingly written and copied by hand, sometimes taking years to complete. Because of the effort involved, books were highly valuable and belonged only to clergy or the wealthy.

Although the Chinese had printing technology as early as 868 AD, modern publishing began closer to 1430 with the advent of Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press. It was with this press that the Protestant Reformation swept Europe. The resulting cultural shift shows how powerful communication can truly be: communities of scholars grew while literacy spread among poorer individuals, all with the help of a technological advancement.

Gutenberg’s press was still lacking, however. In fact, it took nearly two years for Shakespeare’s complete works (36 plays) to be printed using this slow technology. Printing still lacked the speed and efficiency needed to keep up with demand.