I’m writing this on a word processing program on my laptop computer. I have all the tools I need to produce a great looking text at my fingertips. I can change the margins, or font, or color…just by pushing little virtual buttons at the top of the screen. I can use spell check and grammar check…I can paste in pictures and text from other sources…it’s like all the power in the universe in a small plastic case.
I remember reading Jon Krakauer’s book, Into Thin Air, about 1996 tragedy on Mt. Everest (bear with me, this applies to word processing and printing…I swear…kind of). In the book, he covers some of the history of Mt. Everest and talks about the computer who discovered that Everest was the tallest mountain in the world. Did you notice the little oddity there…”who” discovered? At the time Mt. Everest’s altitude was calculated, computers were people–it was a job description.
Thinking about that struck a chord in me…letterpress printing was kind of the word processing of its day. Compositors and printers would take hand written texts and pictures and set them in the same way my word processor does. They’d choose the font and type size that best fit the text. They’d set the margins and text colors. They would add bold face, or italics, or underline…in just the way I do on this computer.
So why bother? Why, if I can do everything faster and more easily on computer, use an outdated, cast iron press and trays of heavy type? I’m not sure I have an answer to this. I still use word processing programs (obviously). I guess I like the idea of making something by hand that might last a bit longer and somehow feel different than current methods. As I said in an earlier post, letterpress slows everything down. I’m forced and allowed to consider every aspect of the material I’m printing. It’s painstaking and satisfying.
I kind of like the idea of being the Word Processor.