• Typing vs. Typesetting

    I ran across this little ditty in my travels and it's given me pause.

    For the better part of the twentieth century, the distinctive forms of typewriter type (notably its single-character width and unstressed stroke) characterized the immediacy of thought: getting the idea down without dressing it up. Now that computers have replaced typewriters, most word processing programs default to Helvetica or Times Roman (or their derivatives) as the typographic expression of simple typing. [...] As a typographer, you should recognise the difference between typing and typesetting. Time and usage may ultimately make Inkjet Sans the expected typeface for letters. For now, however, on paper, typewriter type is still the best expression of the intimate, informal voice — direct address. Imitating the formalities of typesetting in a letter is always inappropriate because it suggests an undeserved permanence — the end of a discussion, not its continuation. (John Kane, A Type Primer, p85)

    I raised rent money during college by selling advertising for a local newspaper. At the time, that meant laying out the ads as well, and we did that on light tables with Exacto-knives and streamers of print from the typesetting machine. I wasn't allowed to handle the typesetting machine, of course, because there was a Typesetter whose job it was to set type. A person who, by the way, made four times the money I did. It was a highly skilled position.

    I'm beginning to believe the computer has turned us all into typesetters. As a matter of fact, I'm typesetting right now in various ways to make this little blog post presentable. I'm also editing and creating layout without sharp instruments or a light table, but it's cut and paste and move and re-adjust all the same.

    Well. I've called the act of throwing together this blog "writing," but now I'm not so sure. And I'm feeling more than a little guilty that a whole skilled trade vanished while I was looking the other way - at a computer screen, no doubt.

    3 comments → Typing vs. Typesetting

    1. Typesetting isn't dead, it's just moved on to the "niche" or hobbyist market. My cousin runs a small print shop using equipment that has been heaved out of larger print places due to obsolescence. And the computer surely democratized the publishing process to the point where it's not feasible or reasonable to keep staff on hand to juggle all the slugs into place. You could just as easily bemoan the loss of the buggy-whip industry.

      I certainly think blogging counts as writing. At least, I hope it does. I like to pretend that fiddling with my own blog and obsessively hovering over everyone else's counts towards my daily "pour-your-soul-into-the-keyboard" quota.

    2. The paper I worked at in the late '80s / early '90s used a combination of old-school and then-modern techniques. We laid out the entire thing in Ventura Publisher, using a 286 computer with 20mb hard drive. (Later, another department loaned us an Apple Quadra for the summer. Whee-ha, was that da bomb!) Each page came out in sections on a HP Laserjet II, and those were then spliced together on a light table.

      Because we had no scanner, ads and photos had to be waxed and pasted in separately after each page was assembled. The white space was roughly accounted for, but we still had to cut and lay down the pinstripe-tape borders by hand.

      I would have hated to have had to do all of the layout on letterpress equipment. But I am also thankful that there was still some old-fashioned hands-on assembly to be done. It made the final product that more magical when the sweet-smelling, ink-damped copies came flying off the far side of the press.

      Thanks for the memories.

    3. I've decided that whether blogging counts a writing or not, I'm officially calling it Writing. Capital W.

      I've waxed and pasted and pinstriped sometimes all night long. I was younger then, and a little stupid. It was great fun, though. That was back when all the pressmen in Little Rock were bikers. I don't know why.

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