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.        

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