Eyeglasses and Printing Caused Modern Technology

By: Dr. Don Miller


It is often said that great vision is the basis of modern technology. That is quite literally true, in ways often overlooked..

Technology and population began explosive growth in Europe since about 1300-1400. The causes are interesting. Their roots began in the Far East, but somehow took hold much more strongly in the West.

Various inventions have been acclaimed as pivots, changing the {course|path} of history. Among them are fire, the wheel, agriculture, horse saddle stirrups, armor, water purification, gun powder, and so forth. It is interesting that gun powder, spectacles (eyeglasses), and the printing press were known in China and Japan many centuries before they were discovered or re-invented in Europe. But in Europe, they led to all of modern technology, which leaked back to the East.

Why do I say this?

Consider that all trades and professions used to be passed between generations by the apprenticeship system. As practitioners of some skill achieved the status of "master", they took on young persons as apprentices to learn that skill, as well as to chop wood, haul water, and do the numerous aggravating chores the master could name as time wasters. The learned appentice became a journeyman, who might actually be producing the swords, alchemical solutions, medicines, paintings, et cetera credited to the master or "the school of master so and so."

This process of becoming a master took many years, and was in close competition with the effects of aging.

So what made this earth shaking, civilization rocking, big difference? Two inventions.
1. The printing press with movable type (not much help to the orientals with a different type of written language). Gutenberg's press was announced about 1440.
2. Vision correction (spectacles). Magnifiers were described by English scholar Roger Bacon prior to 1300, apparently learned from Latin translations of Arabic texts.

The printing press meant that knowledge was no longer constrained by hand copying of notes. Now numerous people could have copies, and not even be in the same location, or century, as the master.

Vision correction meant that the learning and producing life was no longer limited to potentially much less than the normal life span for those years, which was not that long by present expectations.

Then the American Benjamin Franklin pushed things a bit further by inventing bifocal lenses. No longer did one have to put on and take off different spectacles to focus from desk to work bench to vast distances.

For "proof" (at least supporting evidence), take a look at World population estimates, such as those found at wikipedia dot org. (In US practice, 1 million equals 1,000,000.)

About 12,000 years ago, estimates of 1 to 10 million people, say 4 million.
About 2,000 years ago, estimates of 196 million people.
About 1300 to 1400, around 350 million.
Year 2000, nearly 6 billion people.

So from year 1000 BCE to 1 CE, average increase of roughly 20 thousand per year.
The next 1400 years, average increase slightly over 100 thousand per year. The latest 6 centuries, average increase about 9 million per year. Thus the rate of increase since the Gutenberg Printing Press is roughly 15 times the rate of increase of the prior 1400 years.

Whether spectacles or contact lenses, vision correction is really really really nice to have. Let modern eye care help keep you from getting old before your time.

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For more articles about safe and enjoyable use of contact lenses and spectacles, see 3daycontacts.com/articlelist.htm by Dr. Don Miller.

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