So civilizations continued to crawl towards development. However, one thing changed everything. When printing reached Western Europe during the height of the Renaissance, European powers used knowledge to spread out throughout Europe and into the world. Intellectual movements like the Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and Enlightenment owe themselves to printing that allowed them to spread throughout Europe easily and cheaply.
Long time reader Goethe Girl (thanks Goethe Girl!) sends me a link to the Atlas of Early Printing. The website is an online GIS map that allows one to see the spread of printing in Western Europe compared to locations of paper mills, universities, conflicts, trade routes, universities, and fairs. A sliding scroll allows one to see the changes over time.
The map shows that printing gave knowledge to more power to people which in turn leads to good (more schools) and bad (smarter people, or peasants lead by learned people, tend not to like oppression and start wars). Like with everything else knowledge can be corrupted for evil and wrong.