Monday, May 28, 2012

Lessons from the Typewriter

By Peter Brantley - American Libraries

As technology fragments books, we must avoid fragmenting culture

typewriter keysAs our stories now expand across more senses—with touch, sound, and moving image—they conversely reach a narrower marketplace that is increasingly proprietary and lacking in universality, something the simple typewriter automatically gave us in the 20th century.
For the first time in decades, we are living through a moment in which the book is being reenvisioned and reenlivened, creating richer cultural expressions that paradoxically may be less universally accessible than before.
The 21st-century author can choose from an array of writing tools. Computers allow us to create stories much like those in our past, comprised primarily of text that unifies a narrative arc. But unlike the past, we will write these complex and intricate stories in a world far more complex than the one we left a few short decades ago, in which typewriters struck uniform black letters on white sheets of paper.

When you examine old books, particularly those from the late 19th century, you notice that fonts varied widely; typography and illustrative graphics were playfully used; chapters and paragraphs were set off with enlarged markers that excited the eye. Images too captured the art of expression. In other words, book designers crafted unique products on behalf of small publishing houses that believed artful presentation must reinforce each author’s achievement.

During the rapid growth in publishing after World War II, the average trade book became significantly standardized: A handful of preset dimensions determined page size, typeface variation dwindled, and the practice of laying out a book became more constrained.
The past 25 years of internet expansion has gradually taught us how to build easy-to-use tools for authoring documents. Design is reemerging as a central element. Screens invite us to touch, poke, and move what we are reading, watching, and hearing, and provide us a world far more captivating than the most glorious manuscripts of the European Middle Ages.
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