Monday, July 4, 2011

The Sky Is Not Falling on the Book

Never mind what you've heard, the sky is not falling. The idea that the book as we know it is coming to an end has popped up in conversations for the past sixteen years. I'm not kidding. I first wrote an article for Artweek (the demise of magazines are a different story, and that one shut down in 2009) about using the computer and how it pertains to my bookwork for the January 1995 issue: vol. 26, no. 1. Here is how it began (am I really quoting myself? I don't think this was ever digitally archived):
Pessimists fear that the advance of the computer signals the decline of the book. Computers, however, are not only an aid to the creation of books, their very distance from their users prompts the user to crave something to touch and hold, something other than the plastic keyboard, the track ball or mouse. Book art can satisfy that craving.
Hmm. 1995. 2011. Don't see much change there. And the ending:
Nowadays, we can read another form of book on the screen and even interact with it, discovering sound and moving pictures. However, the experience of reading a physical book is different and necessary. Book art provides weight, texture and smell, even the sound of the pages turning, which all satisfy the senses. Portable and compact, it can be shared with a friend and passed back and forth. The computer is not a replacement for books as we have known them; it simply adds another dimension to the creation of book art.
Someone said to me recently that we didn't have to accept the computer, the new technologies, that we could have collectively said no. I don't see it. Technology is discovery, a looking to the future with hope. You gotta roll with it. I only recently realized that. So you could say I'm a technoconvert, of sorts.

My realization began with the debate between those setting metal type by hand and those who used a photopolymer plates. I initially felt that metal type looked better when printed: it was not perfectly uniform. It had character that the polymer plate didn't have. I was stunned when I walked into a printshop that had no type. Type was reusable. I didn't have to pay to get a plate made, and plates were expensive. When I was done I could strike the type and leave no trace. What would I do with those plates afterwards? In any case, I always liked setting type as part of the writing process. I set the type, letter by letter, forced to examine my text as if it were under a microscope. I still had time to correct any flaws. On the other hand, I could run out of a letter and have to change a word. No e's? Okay, instead of "little" I would revise and put "small." I didn't mind the puzzlework of it. It presented an interesting challenge.

What changed? I wanted to print my drawings, for one thing. My students wanted to print more colors and  be able to print them faster. They, too, wanted to incorporate drawings or handwritten text (English, Korean and others) into letterpress work. I learned how to set up the files on the computer so I could teach them, and now I feel as if I have learned another language. That can't be bad.

I like to think that there is room for all of it: books on e-readers to bring on vacation or read in bed without disturbing your partner; books made as art to nourish the soul and eye and senses, and all the other forms we now know or haven't yet discovered. The sky isn't falling. It is opening up.

1 comment:

Mary said...

Initially many people want to get onboard with the latest technologies and inventions. There will always be people like myself, who value the traditional ways of doing things.