Thursday, October 22, 2015

The New Age of Print

Last summer I was out for my evening stroll when I came across two teenage girls sitting on the grass adjoining the thoroughfare that goes through my neighbourhood. 

They were not speaking to, or even looking at, each other, though. 

Instead, they were both furiously typing away on their smart phones. 

“They’re probably texting one another,” I thought to myself in disdain. 

Sometime later, though, I had an epiphany about this. 

I couldn't hear you.

During the initial decades of the electronic era, many believed that literacy would become uncommon or unheard of, as people forgot about books and reading generally, and spend all their free time watching TV or listening to audile media. 

This was the retro-future famously presented in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, from 1953 and later made into the only English-language movie directed by Fran├žois Truffaut. 

Fahrenheit depicted a world where the population not only had become indifferent to reading; squads of “firemen” also descended on the remaining dissenters who refused the new world order, throwing their books into piles and setting them alight. 

The reality is quite different. 

In fact, text has become the preferred medium of communication in the era of the iPhone.  
The young people of my acquaintance use the texting feature on their phones, in preference to speaking with one another. More generally, in my observations of people – young or not – on their smart phones, I see that they typically use them to text, instead of to converse. 

In the contemporary era, text has partly now transcended its traditional home on the printed page. 

But this explosion to text-based communication was something very few saw coming. 

Granted, the experience of reading text onscreen is different than on a page. With phonetic and alphanumeric wordplay and emojis, texting and emailing is conveyed and construed almost in a verbal manner. 

Still, modern information technology has had the effect of promoting and popularizing the printed word all the more. 

As the graphic designer Michael Bierut said in a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal: “Forty years ago, graphic arts were a form of black magic—only a handful of people even knew the names of typefaces.” 

I would disagree in so far as it was not as long as forty years ago that no one knew the names of typefaces and fonts: it was more so thirty, or even twenty years ago. 

But things are rather different now. Statistics Canada a few years put paid to the notion that the personal computer has heralded a “paperless” office. 

Instead, according to the agency, the consumption of paper has doubled in Canada since 1985, and surely these numbers hold for other industrial countries as well. And no wonder. 

The computer terminal was and remains (in spite of recent advances in screen resolution and size) too difficult to read from over long periods. 

This is no trouble, given that printers can now produce printed text in quantity in a fraction of the time it would have taken a pool of typists in an old-style office. 

Secretaries and typists, having professional keyboarding skills, were able to produce copy with a minimum of mistakes, thus cutting down on rewrites and wasted paper. 

The nature of manual typewriting itself militated against constant rewrites. To correct a single mistake would require the retyping of an entire page, wasteful of time and resources. 

Thus, very important documents were given to a professional, the secretary or typist, who would be sure to produce the text without error. 

Typewritten text that did not have to be very polished (such as journalists’ copy), was simply edited with a pen. 

Printer (wetware version).

Now, of course, the secretary has disappeared as an independent job category. Using the cut and paste function, as well as spelling and grammar modules, virtual text can be rewritten, reedited and reprinted in a matter of seconds, with the former copy simply discarded in the recycle bin. 

Formerly, the offices of managers and administrators would often be equipped with typewriters, but these devices were rarely used by their owners (for the typing of “sensitive” documents only). 

Now, of course, everyone has a personal computer, and bosses are forced to use them as much as anyone. 

This means that everyone gets a printed copy, and if a minor mistake is spotted on any page, it is thrown away (for “recycling”) and a new one printed in a matter of moments. 

Paper, along with ink, is one of the biggest expenses incurred by organizations, and almost every officer worker is familiar (if not expert) with methods and styles of typography, information known only to printers not many decades ago. 

So it is that people are not only reading more, they are actually involved in the mechanics of the printed word itself.        

Monday, October 19, 2015

Visiting Dealey Plaza

I was away on business in Dallas recently. 

The place where we were was not far away from Dealey Plaza. 

Elm Street in Dealey Plaza, man in white shirt
is standing approximately where JFK suffered fatal head wound.
Photo: RB Glennie

Having never visited the city or the site before, I went over during a break in proceedings.  
It is a picturesque although unremarkable place, really notable only because that is where John F. Kennedy was assassinated almost fifty-two years ago. 

In my youth, I was a believer in the conspiracy stories told about the JFK shooting – as befits anyone who is half-informed about the matter. 

Later on, I began to doubt these conspiracy-narratives (as I refer to them, so as to not devalue the good name of “theory” any further than it already is). 

Looking back, I think the turning point came for me when I saw a television appearance by David Belin, an assistant counsel to the President’s Commission looking into the assassination (chaired by the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court of the time, it is usually referred to as the “Warren Commission”), around the twenty-fifth anniversary of the crime. 

It was, of all places, on the trash-TV program hosted by Geraldo Rivera. This very segment can be found right here.

Former site of Texas Schoolbook warehouse, now a Dallas county building.
Oswald shot Kennedy from last window on right, second from top storey.
Photo: RB Glennie

On the Rivera show, the case for conspiracy in the murder of John F. Kennedy was supported by all the other guests. The only dissenter was Belin. 

Yet, this one man blew away all the other pro-conspiracy guests and their “theories”. This included the notorious Dr. Cyril Wecht, a Pennsylvania coroner who carried out a “demonstration” of the “impossibility” of one bullet causing the injuries to both the president and Governor John Connolly, who was riding in the limousine in front of John Kennedy. 

This is the so-called “magic bullet”, which according to Dr. Wecht on the Geraldo show, had to “stop in the mid-air – twice” in order to have injured JFK and Governor Connolly in the way recorded by pathologists and medical staff (Connolly survived his injuries and went on to run for the U.S. presidency himself in 1980). 

But in fact, the president and governor were not situated in the limousine in the way depicted in the Geraldo program (as in most live or illustrated “demonstrations” of the event). 

John Connolly was sitting not “in the front seat” of the vehicle (as described by Rivera), but in another, removable seat that extended from the side of the limousine, and was thus several inches lower than the president. 

One of the surprises for me in visiting Dealey Plaza, a place I had seen many, many times in photos and on film, was that Elm street, the roadway on which the actual assassination took place, proceeds on a significant incline after Houston street, from which the presidential took a hard left in front of the Texas Schoolbook Depository, from where the fatal shots were fired. 

This feature of Dealey Plaza is really not evident in images from the fatal day, nor afterward. But Governor Connolly must have been situated much lower President Kennedy in the vehicle as the shots were fired, which means the “single-bullet theory” is be the probable scenario for the wounds caused to both men. 

View of Elm Street looking toward railway bridge, now apparently used by commuter tram.
Photo: RB Glennie.

On the other hand, I don't expect anyone will be convinced one way or the other by my words, not least the people I came across in Dealey Plaza on my visit. 

That day, near the “grassy knoll” area where a second assassin allegedly shot the president from the front, there were a group of people whom I took to be a family on vacation. 

The father was expounding on all the “unbelievable” things that needed to have occurred for Schoolbook Depository Employee Lee Harvey Oswald to have acted alone in the killing of John F. Kennedy: that he “didn’t have enough time” to fire all the shots; that he made his way from the sixth-floor sniper’s nest to a lunchroom several floors below without anyone seeing him; that he left his workplace and made his way to the Texas theatre where he was apprehended by police, in twelve minutes “when it could not have been reached on foot in less than sixteen minutes”, and so on. 

Earlier, at the corner of Elm and Houston streets, almost directly below the window where Oswald shot Kennedy, I was approached by a rather slovenly looking man who said he was from Florida. 

He said that, he too was visiting Dealey Plaza for the first time. 

I didn’t tell him my beliefs about the assassination, but he clearly thought that were was a conspiracy in the murder, as well. 

“I’ve just been under that bridge”, the Floridian said, referring to the railway crossing marking the border of Dealey Plaza, where Elm street ends. 

“I saw a bullet hole there”, he went on. “I betcha it came from the second gunman,” speaking of yet another second gunman that was allegedly situated on the rail-bridge itself, or else within the underpass where the presidential limousine went on the way to Parkland hospital. 

He remained convinced of this, in spite of my objection that the assassination occurred more than half a century ago, and that there could have been dozens or hundreds of shootings in that place, in the meantime. “The bullet hole looks like it was fifty years old”, he retorted.