Thinking allowed — 24 February 2012

typewriter

Our insatiable appetite for a different means of communication seems to know no bounds. No sooner has one piece of technology been invented another supersedes it, not so for the Victorians who once thought that man had discovered everything and knew almost everything that was needed to know. They couldn’t have been further from knowing everything.

Hello?
No better illustration man’s pace of change was my maternal grandmother. Born during the reign of Queen Victoria, she was a young woman when Orville Wright took to the skies to complete man’s first flight in 1903. In her twilight years she had witnessed man walking on the moon, a triumph in radio transmission if ever there was one.

Life had changed so much around her during her 98 years she would refuse to answer the telephone having never had such a new fangled contraption installed in her home.

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Hot Metal
In the early 1960s I started working in Clerkenwell learning the rudiments of a trade that had changed little over 400 years since Wynkyn de Worde set up his printing press in Fleet Street to bring the written word to a wider public. By the end of the previous century we had moved away from setting the words by means hand composing to the quicker method of casting type line by line, but even then we still used wooden type for display lines.

type - httpwww.flickr.comphotospurdman1

Once the page had been assembled it would be locked tight, hand inked and pressed against paper using a proofing press identical to ones shown in the newspaper offices depicted in old Hollywood cowboy films.

Cold Type
Within less than 10 years the three dimensional type of old was being cast aside to embrace computerised typesetting that required smaller premises and less staff. Its early prototype was the IMB golf ball typewriter which, it seems crazy now, required the operator to key the line twice, once for the text and a second keying for justification.

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Bearing Fruit
Soon Steve Jobs’ Mac came on the market for a fraction of the price of the early systems which had cost a minimum of £¼ million, bringing with it greater flexibility and ease of use for instead of using code, icons displayed on the screen would make navigating around the system child’s play.

Christmas Present
Now as if to prove how wrong those Victorians were, an Englishman who invented a system which was only first successfully used on Christmas Day 1990 has transformed our lives. It seems hardly possible now that Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s internet has only been with us for 21 years.

Mind Bending
Now according to recent research the internet is changing the way our brains process thought by encouraging us to think less deeply on one subject while processing many other pieces of information. This, probably the most important invention since the arrival of the printed word has become a valuable tool to seek information, and the method of choice in which to communicate with others – whatever would my Granny have thought?

Blog typewriter

Electric Ink
Now my and your thoughts, ideas the beliefs have long lasting shelf lives. Unlike the printed material of my youth which were distributed locally and in all probability thrown away – well most of mine were – anyone in the word can access a webpage or blog, and more importantly anyone can now start to broadcast to the world.

Now L’Enfant Terrible of the internet has arrived – Facebook – there you can write with less candour than might be prudent, upload pictures and describe your entire life that is if you think the world is ready . . .

Writers create, some suffer from the condition known as hypergraphia – the overwhelming urge to write – and spend more time writing than is probably good for their wellbeing, and as a consequence without much thought. This need to write manifests itself nowadays in blogs which are created for a number of reasons. Some might do it to help promote their work or influence an audience with their politics or passions. Some do it for money; others do it, well, for the sheer heck of it.

Nowadays on the internet you will find few certainties but and plenty of opinions. I say this because, in this day and age, for it is extremely easy to start a blog and dish out advice without ever pausing for thought. In the endless hunt for comments and page views, too much opinion and personal experience gets passed off as fact, when actually writers of blogs are in a very subjective business.

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Gibson

(2) Readers Comments

  1. To underline the point about changing technology – if it needs underlining – I have just read this post of yours, not on a PC or even an Android tablet but on my iPod Touch and am drafting this reply on the same.

    I think it self-evident that we are living in a period of unusually rapid technological advance – possibly faster than the world has even seen before, with no sign of a slowdown, never mind a halt. But ask yourself where it all began. The answer is that it was precisely in the Victorian age that engineers, scientists and technologists gave birth to the technological age, a robust infant that is still growing and maturing.

    We are still living in a post-Victorian age whose foundations were laid in the 19th century. Much of our thinking too comes from the Victorians however much we may like to kid ourselves that we have superseded them with our “modern” ideas.

    Typing on an iPod is not the easiest way to write a comment so I will stop there!

    • The so-called Moore’s law which predicted the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubling approximately every two years thereby halving the price while doubling the speed has proved to be prophetic. Moore was wrong only in the timescale for it doubles every 18 months which goes some way to account for the pace of change we have seen in our lifetime. Mankind never has and will probably never again see technological advancement on this scale again. But that’s been said before by the Victorians whom, as you rightly point out, we owe a great debt.

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