Remember film? Remember when “cut and paste” actually involved scissors and glue? Remember when typewriters didn’t have a 1 key? Probably not, right? I’m old and I barely even remember that stuff.
Well a group of students at Florida Atlantic University had to learn the old ways again in an end-of-school-year experiment. They used 35mm film, actual typewriters, and an old-style paste-up to put out a full issue of the paper.
To complete the issue, students had to learn the vagaries of editing typewritten text and they had to build their own darkroom in a rarely used men’s toilet. They found the experience confusing at best and disheartening at worst:
I pointed to the lever that would propel the carriage back to the left, while the gears inside would simultaneously ratchet the paper to the next line.
She tapped it lightly.
“No, this is a manual typewriter,” I told her. “You actually have to expend some calories.”
I slammed the lever to the right, and the carriage flew back to the left margin, stopping with a thud. A look of understanding, laced with horror, crossed her face.
“It’s going to be like this the entire time, isn’t it?”
“Not at all,” I said. “It actually gets worse.”
In a nod to the old type-setting machines of yore, they did use an iMac to key in stories and print out columns of text. Sadly, they couldn’t find one of the best aspects of an old-school newsroom – the hot waxer that made pasting up stories a relative breeze.
In these days of miracles and wonder, it’s great to see these sorts of Colonial Williamsburg experiments still happening. I graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 1998 and we were still doing all of the things these kids were doing at the Tartan – including running full boards to the printers – until the last days of my senior year. Eventually we began using Zip disks but the hot wax machine and the darkroom still evoke fond memories.
As these skills are lost I wonder what the cost is to our understanding of how content is produced. In an era when the Publish button is right next to the text edit window, where is the care and the thought? I’ll admit that the web and her conceits have made me a sloppy writer but, to be clear, I have the benefit of the endless rewrite and an accepting (sometimes) audience.
I remember Sundays at the old paper: they were quiet. We’d put an issue to bed and that would be that. It would go to press, appear in the academic halls, and we’d start up again next week. Now it’s a constant rush to keep the great beast of the news cycle fed. Sure we are free from the waxers and the linotypes but we’re saddled with new responsibilities, expectations, and an endless clamor.
Check out the entire article here. It’s some funny stuff.