- "I cannot live without books."
– Thomas Jefferson
When discovered, paper revolutionized information technology. Before the advent of paper, scholars and writers used a number of different materials upon which to record their words. These included clay tablets, animal skins, silk, and others. These suffered from many shortcomings. Clay was bulky and fragile, animal skins were expensive, silk was expensive and fragile, and so forth - and none of them would have been suitable for use in a printing press.
Papyrus was the earliest form of paper. It was created by cutting the stem of the papyrus plant into strips, which were laid in an overlapping pattern and pounded into a sheet. The material was then dried and polished. While serviceable, the resulting sheet is fairly thick and, more importantly, subject to rot in damp climates.
Paper as we know it today was invented in China in around 100 AD. Wood and other fibrous material is mixed with liquid and mashed into a pulp, which is then poured onto fine screens. The liquid drains away, leaving a thin layer of fibrous material on the wire. When this material dries, it becomes paper. The Chinese official Cai Lun is credited with adding cotton rags to the pulp; the resulting paper was far sturdier than earlier versions. The Chinese process spread slowly throughout the world, reaching Europe around 1300 AD.
When paired with the printing press - yet another Chinese invention - paper exponentially increased the spread of information and art.