Information-AgeWe live in an era that, in the span of human history, has only been around for a blink of an eye. The industrial revolution of the 16th through 18th centuries heralded in the eventual emergence of the information age. Now people are inundated with more knowledge than any single human could hope to absorb in a lifetime. But what breakthroughs brought this modern “era of enlightenment” to be? Here are four key discoveries that defined the world we live in.

The Printing Press

When people think “information age”, they may immediately jump to thoughts of the mini computers they keep in their pockets or worldwide repositories of information like Wikipedia. Before all of that though, there was the Johannes Gutenberg and his printing press. The first true herald of the coming information age, the printing press brought about a paradigm shift in the way information was distributed to the masses. No longer a luxury of the rich and educated, books and manuscripts became more common, putting into a place a thirst for knowledge that would only increase with time. For the cultural shift he introduced which lead to the widespread dissemination and desire for information, Gutenberg should justly be considered the father of the information age.

Modern Electronics

Moving forward a few hundred years, the advent of electronics created a whole new way to store, display, and disseminate information. The invention of the transistor was only the first step. TVs, radios, and eventually high-speed computers would come to serve as the ultimate distribution methods for data around the globe. The construction of these devices was driven by the discovery of how to use materials like ferrite powder and silicon, key elements in designing new electronics. New techniques for refining and using these vital materials were developed around the turn of the last century.

Optics

Fiber optics are used to transmit large quantities of data by using pulses of light. The idea for passing data across cables using light has been around for some time, as Alexander Graham Bell worked with the concept creating the Photophone in 1880 and considered it his most important invention. However, it was not until 1969 when the technology overcame some significant scattering limitations that made it impractical for commercial use. This technology is now used in the incredibly important internet backbone that connects the world, and even sees use in smaller everyday appliances like TVs and game consoles.

The Global Web

Of course, we would be remiss to forget about the internet itself. Quite possibly the greatest compendium of human knowledge ever devised, the internet began as a United States Department of Defense project called ARPANET and quickly expanded beyond these roots to become the vast global resource known today. With ever increasing speeds and new standards for multimedia being adopted each year, the internet is poised to evolve along with our ever increasing hunger for information.

Nowadays, the ubiquitous nature of smart devices has surrounded us with information. We can catalog our lives as we live them, search for a restaurant, and converse with someone half way around the world, all at the same time. An amazing feat, considering the modern information age isn't even that old. Each of these 4 discoveries have been key in ushering the era of information we now enjoy. The result is a world that is connected in increasingly significant ways. It remains to be seen how far these developments will take humanity.