Skip to main content

Gutenberg in Zuckerberg Era


Gutenberg revolutionized the world with the invention of the printing technology in the 15th century. The Renaissance and the Reformation as well as the humanist movements owed much to the introduction of printing. Knowledge became relatively more easily available to the public. Knowledge makes a lot of difference.

Knowledge was kept away from the ordinary people for a long time. In our own ancient Bharat [even the name ‘India’ is being made to vanish!], Sanskrit was declared as the language of the gods and hence only Brahmins were supposed to use that language. It is quite another matter, and a terribly ironical one too, that today the descendants of those ancient Brahmins are spending a gigantic sum of money on making people learn Sanskrit. What was forbidden once is an unwanted commodity now.

Brutal punishments were meted out to any low caste person who happened to hear Sanskrit shlokas recited even by chance. Knowledge was appropriated by one particular group of people who knew how to grab and use power for their own benefits. Today their successors do the same thing in a different way. History repeats itself – as comedy, tragedy or farce, depending on which side you are.

Renowned Malayalam novelist O V Vijayan wrote a novel, Thalamurakal – Generations, about a low caste person who wished to acquire Brahminhood by learning Sanskrit and the scriptures. When he finally does become a Brahmin through the yoga of knowledge [gyan yoga], the realisation about the futility of it descends on him like a fatal weapon. He relinquishes his Brahminhood with contempt.

Brahminhood is a kind of hubris, the character realises. There is little difference between his own hubris which made him seek out Brahminhood and the hubris of the ancient Brahmins and that of Hitler’s Nazis. [Vijayan’s novel was published in 1997, much before India became Bharat once again in the hands of certain fascist leaders.]

It is not only in India that knowledge was kept away from the ordinary people. Umberto Eco’s villain in The Name of the Rose is a monk in a medieval monastery who does not want anyone to read anything other than the Bible. All truth lies in the Bible. Why should anyone read anything else? He kills quite many monks for the sake of preventing knowledge from reaching others.

Gutenberg came a century after that, however. Eco’s novel is set in the year 1327.

Now, more than half a millennium later, are we moving backward – from Gutenberg to Zuckerberg, from books to social media, from enlightenment to falsehoods?

Gutenberg is a German name. ‘Guten’ means ‘good’ and ‘berg’ is ‘mountain’. Zuckerberg is a German name too and Mark’s origins lie in Germany. ‘Zucker’ shares its root with ‘sugar’ [or ‘shakar’ in Hindi/Sansksrit – after all, Sanskrit belongs to the Indo-Germanic family of languages]. Maybe, the transition from Gutenberg to Zuckerberg is one from a mountain of knowledge to the delusions of saccharine.

But we are fortunate that Gutenberg’s mountain is still accessible. Project Gutenberg makes about 70,000 free ebooks available to anyone who wishes to read good books. Gutenberg or Zuckerberg? The choice belongs to each one of us.


PS. This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon

Previous Post: India, Bharat, Hindustan




  1. Indeed Social media is a double edged sword, we can seek enlightenment or post falsehoods too. I didn't know about Project Gutenberg, thanks for sharing.

    1. That project is a tremendous service to seekers of good literature.

  2. Hari OM
    I'm a fan of Project Gutenberg too! Enjoyed your juxtaposition of the two Bergs... YAM xx

  3. Project Gutenberg is a true representative of the Good mountain of Knowledge. Zuckerberg's innovation too is meant to spread knowledge to the least common denominator but unfortunately being misused by miscreants like any other technology. Man has stopped thinking what's good for him. Tragic.

    1. True, social media can be a very powerful medium for revolutionary changes. But unfortunately it's pathetically misused.

  4. A very beautiful enlightening post. I liked your concept of Guetenberg to Zukerberg i.e., mountain of goodness(Knowledge) to delusion of saccharide....indeed books brought us to knowledge and sweetness of social media leads us to delusional world......I liked how you began the history of printing and transformation to sweet illusion of social media. Your way of drawing our attention to this bitter-sweet truth is appreciable.

    1. As a teacher who is in constant touch with young people, I'm astounded by the ignorance of the present generation. That's why i write this sort of posts.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

An Aberration of Kali Yuga

Are we Indians now living in an aberrant period of history? A period that is far worse than the puranic Kali Yuga? A period in which gods decide to run away in fear of men? That’s a very provocative question, isn’t it, especially in a time when people are being arrested for raising much more innocuous questions than that? But I raise my hands in surrender because I’m not raising this question; the Malayalam movie that Maggie and I watched is. Before I go to the provocations of the movie, I am compelled to clarify a spelling problem with the title of the movie. The title is Bhramayugam [ ഭ്രമയുഗം] in Malayalam. But the movie’s records and ads write it as Bramayugam [ ബ്രമയുഗം ] which would mean the yuga of Brama. Since Brama doesn’t mean anything in Malayalam, people like me will be tempted to understand it as the yuga of Brahma . In fact, that is how I understood it until Maggie corrected me before we set off to watch the movie by drawing my attention to the Malayalam spelling

Karma in Gita

I bought a copy of annotated Bhagavad Gita a few months back with the intention of understanding the scripture better since I’m living in a country that has become a Hindu theocracy in all but the Constitution. After reading the first part [chapters 1 to 6] which is about Karma, I gave up. Shelving a book [literally and metaphorically] is not entirely strange to me. If a book fails to appeal to me after a reasonable number of pages, I abandon it. The Gita failed to make sense to me just like any other scripture. That’s not surprising since I’m not a religious kind of a person. I go by reason. I accept poetry which is not quite rational. Art is meaningful for me though I can’t detect any logic in it. Even mysticism is acceptable. But the kind of stuff that Krishna was telling Arjuna didn’t make any sense at all. To me. Just a sample. When Arjuna says he doesn’t want to fight the war because he can’t kill his own kith and kin, Krishna’s answer is: Fight. If you are killed, you win he

Kabir the Guru - 1

Kabirvad Kabirvad is a banyan tree in Gujarat. It is named after Kabir, the mystic poet and saint of the 15 th century. There is a legend behind the tree. Two brothers are in search of a guru. They have an intuitive feeling that the guru will appear when they are ready for it. They plant a dry banyan root at a central spot in their courtyard. Whenever a sadhu passes by, they wash his feet at this particular spot. Their conviction is that the root will sprout into a sapling when their guru appears. Years pass and there’s no sign of any sapling. No less than four decades later, the sapling rises. The man who had come the previous day was a beggarly figure whom the brothers didn’t treat particularly well though they gave him some water to drink out of courtesy. But the sapling rose, after 40 years! So the brothers went in search of that beggarly figure. Kabir, the great 15 th century mystic poet, had been their guest. The legend says that the brothers became Kabir’s disciples. The b

Raising Stars

Bringing up children is both an art and a science. The parents must have certain skills as well as qualities and value systems if the children are to grow up into good human beings. How do the Bollywood stars bring up their children? That is an interesting subject which probably no one studied seriously until Rashmi Uchil did. The result of her study is the book titled Raising Stars: The challenges and joys of being a Bollywood parent . The book brings us the examples of no less than 26 Bollywood personalities on how they brought up their children in spite of their hectic schedules and other demands of the profession. In each chapter, the author highlights one particular virtue or skill or quality from each of these stars to teach us about the importance of that aspect in bringing up children. Managing anger, for example, is the topic of the first chapter where Mahima Chowdhary is our example. We move on to gender equality, confidence, discipline, etc, and end with spirituality whi

Kabir the Guru – 2

Read Part 1 of thi s here . K abir lived in the 15 th century. But his poems and songs are still valued. Being illiterate, he didn’t write them. They were passed on orally until they were collected by certain enthusiasts into books. Vipul Rikhi’s book, Drunk on Love: The Life, Vision and Songs of Kabir , not only brings the songs and poems together in one volume but also seeks to impart the very spirit of Kabir to the reader. Kabir is not just a name, the book informs us somewhere in the beginning. Kabir is a tradition. He is a legend, a philosophy, poetry and music. I would add that Kabir was a mystic. Most of his songs have something to do with spirituality. They strive to convey the deep meaning of reality. They also question the ordinary person’s practice of religion. They criticise the religious leaders such as pandits and mullahs. Though a Muslim, Kabir was immensely taken up by Ram, the Hindu god, for reasons known only to him perhaps. Most of the songs are about the gr