As long as I can remember, I’ve thought print was magic. At first, I believed it literally — magic as a way of making things happen that otherwise would not not happen. I remember copying a cookie recipe from the Weekly Reader in about fourth grade, not only word for word, but imitating as closely as possible the typography, composition, and printers marks. Somehow, I thought the marks on the page brought cookies into being. It’s not that far off: Buddhists in Han Dynasty China printed magic spells centuries before anyone printed anything in Europe, just because the copy was exact!). Later, at 17-18, I was the editor-in-chief of our high school newspaper, The High News, where it became clear that print is not magic, but a great deal of work and a complex, if flexible, technology.
Now cookies are bits of code, and most typography is automated. After months of isolation in the context of a global epidemic, I’m having to think again about the underlying matter of sending coded information out in written form. I sense a kind of grief about publishing, brought home under current circumstances. Or perhaps I’m at last recovering from a grief barely conscious, moving from the second, “anger” stage of recovery into the fifth, “acceptance” stage (even the one who named the stages of recovery from grief refused to specify any particular order.). I’m not quick or clever with so-called user interfaces, and to claw a toehold for myself on social media at my age involves sutained frustration. Perhaps there is a bit of magic in it, when it works. I doubt that it can ever really replace the magic of print for me. But there’s no avoiding the reality of a radical change. Print is slow, profoundly hierarchical, and intractably linear in a world that prizes instantaneity, presence and infinite, open accessibility.
The image: “Leaf of Chinese Block printing.,” Special Collections & Archives Research Center, accessed June 18, 2020, http://scarc.library.oregonstate.edu/omeka/items/show/2181.