Sunday, May 31, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Regarding the Screed
Self-publishing: a recent phrase; virtual buzzword now drained of fresh vigor, left to wither on the vine in the summer's heat, life's perennial distractions in ample supply. It's one thing to assemble the tools and mechanics of self-publishing, while it is quite another to actually write, with quality of word and content that would interest others enough to warrant a read, and print, bind and distribute such work.
I am reminded of countless revolutionaries (and wanna-bes) cranking out mimeographed handbills and manifestos, declaring the end to imperialism, capitalism, the war, any war or ism; Che hand-cranking the ditto machine. I must confess that the mechanics of self-publishing fascinate me at least as much as – okay, more than – the message being communicated. Perhaps I should strive to be a printer or bookbinder, rather than dabble at writing.
One local Albuquerque venue of note is Basement Films, a mobile, makeshift cinematic organization, who are noted for their Xerox art handbills and posters advertising their micro-cinema shows. I had an opportunity, a few years ago, to witness one of these being created, an advertisement for a seminar on low budget video production that I was fortunate to teach. Keif Henley, the front man of Basement Films at that time, and handbill-maker extraordinaire, accompanied me to the local copier store where he proceeded to assemble on the glass face of a copy machine a collage of typed text, using fonts of various sizes and styles, and appropriated graphical elements: a copier collage. He then had the store make a PMT master from the original copy, from which a run of handbills were printed. I loved the results, and Keif's work was great. I still love this style of self-publishing, and take note whenever I see a handbill posted to a wall or light pole or bulletin board. I felt privileged to have witnessed the creation of my seminar's handbills, by an artist such as Keif.
I've had an old HP-5L, black and white laser printer, for more than a decade. This printer didn't use ink-jet technology, rather xerography, and yielded a quality of font that was every bit professional in appearance. The feed-rollers, made of a rubber-like substance, finally dry-rotted and cracked after a decade of use, rendering the printer nonfunctional. I tried replacing it with another printer brand, of Korean extraction, but the quality of print was marginal, like a poorly working old copy machine. My wife recommended that I let the copier and printer repairman, who frequents her office, have a go at repairing the old HP-5L. Well, it's now back in my home office, and I'm happy to report printing as good as ever. Oh, did I not mention that in the decade I've used this great printer I've only replaced the print cartridge once? Yep. That's about 80 bucks for a decade's worth of professional quality printed text.
I recently bought an extended-reach stapler, the kind you can use to center-staple and bind a pamphlet. You can see where this is going, can't you? Printed at home screeds, manila card stock covers, center stapled, micro-published direct to the streets. Or the local bookstore, if they'll have me, assuming there are any locally-owned bookstores left in town (but that's the subject of another post.) This opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Now all I need is the artistic skill of both a writer and publisher. If it were only as easy to acquire those skills as purchasing a stapler or printer!
This also reminds me of the typecast blog of Strikethru's, where recently there has been interest in a micro-published typewritten journal. This fascination with publishing written works on paper continues to be an anachronism, given the fact that a decade or more ago we were dutifully informed that the paperless office had officially arrived, rendering the paper mills and document-stuffed filing cabinets of the world obsolete. I wonder if the fascination with paper-based documentation systems is in any way related to the fascination with film-based photography. Both have their basis in the physical realm of the tangibly real, where one's hands can hold and fondle and manipulate. I wonder if this isn't an important clue to the resurgence of interest in what has become known as “retro technology,” in that the new world of the virtual has left a void of forbidden desire for things tangibly physical.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Toward a New Technology Paradigm
Anyone who has come of age in the latter half of the 20th century has seen manufactured consumer technology change from being a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution to the enabler of the Information Revolution.
The seeds of this change began during the Second World War, during which America's industrial might, energized and accelerated by the demands of an all-out global conflict and virtually unlimited capital, was forced to develop and adopt newly discovered principles of high volume, lean manufacturing. After the war these same industrial manufacturing principles were inculcated into the culture of the rebuilding Japanese economy by the occupying American forces, the result being that, decades later, Japan had begun to out pace America as the leader of efficient, innovative high volume industrial manufacturing.
Simultaneous to the manufacturing revolution underway in Japan, American industrial manufacturing began a long period of decline in efficiency and innovation as new domestic markets for manufactured goods were satisfied by the dictates of short-term expediencies, ignoring the need to begin competing with more efficient foreign firms in a soon to be globally competitive economy. America had won the war, with the help of American business acumen, and had all to itself an explosively growing domestic economy to satisfy. Innovation and efficiency were not the prime considerations in an economy monopolized and isolated.
This lack of foresight caught American industry off-guard in the 1970s and '80s as Japanese consumer manufacturing gained world-class status and opened up entire new markets for products that American firms were entirely unable to manufacture, such as the VCR and other high technology consumer items.
While industrial manufacturing declined in America, an entirely new field opened up, due to spin-offs from the Manhattan Project and later from America's fledgling space program. This was the new arena of solid-state electronics, which rapidly supplanted the vacuum tube and ushered in the age of the transistor, and later the integrated circuit. It was this new field, and the subsequent development of the microprocessor by Intel, that gave America a new-found competitive advantage in innovation. The marriage of the microprocessor with American research on networked computers led to an explosion of growth that we have come to know as the Information Age and the Internet.
As the computer age matures, we once again see foreign manufacturing dominating the market place, and even the market for computer software, an area almost exclusively dominated by American firms is beginning to erode.
Paralleling the explosion of high technology lean manufacturing has been the maturing of advanced principles of consumer marketing. The science of marketing is as advanced a field as is manufacturing, with social scientists, behaviorists and statisticians employed in a global effort to dominate existing markets and locate, develop and monopolize newly emerging opportunities. Social scientists, psychologists and behaviorists began studying the field of influence and persuasion long before the Second World War, but it was not until afterwards that these principles of influence and persuasion over masses of people began to be applied to domestic markets in the free world. Previously there had been the examples of state-controlled propagandizement of whole populations by repressive regimes, such as under Stalin's Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, and also in freer countries of the west during periods of national conflict in order to motivate and alter the public's behavior so as to garner an acceptance of the realities of the tough war years.
Perhaps the most outstanding example of the success of the new science of influence and persuasion has been the principle of planned obsolescence and its necessary requirement to foster a continual cycle of replacement and upgrade. Although consumer products or services may continue to function for years after their intended useful lifespan has been exceeded, often they are rendered obsolete years earlier by lack of support from the manufacturing industry, or newer, competing replacements offer conveniences and features that compel the consumer to voluntarily obsolete their purchased products prematurely.
One of the most common paradigms promoted for the advancement of the so-called technology treadmill has been the establishment of hierarchies of technological sophistication within consumer technology, often stated in simplistic terms such as “better,” “faster,” “upgraded,” “newer,” etc. These hot words are commonly used by marketers as a propaganda tactic to manipulate the consumer into accepting the belief that the products and services they currently employ, and which satisfied them yesterday, can no longer satisfy them today. The root principle at work here is the necessity to change psychological perceptions in the relationship between the consumer and the consumed. Once this internal battle has been won, the consumer will act out his desires as the manufacturers and marketers make available a plethora of choices designed to temporarily satiate the internal lust of the newer, the better, the faster and the sleeker.
It therefore becomes crucially important for those who, desiring to remain unmanipulated and free from the influence of contemporary marketing, and wanting to inoculate themselves against these tactics, must understand that their area of study must be their own internal desire, motivations and psychology. They must know themselves, as the ancient philosopher said. In knowing themselves they must also understand the distinctions between wants and needs, that any minor consumer purchase of some frivolous nature may seem inconsequential or trivial, but it helps to reinforce previously implanted desires to consume uncontrollably. Like the alcoholic, to which even one nip of the bottle is non-trivial, so too are minor consumption patterns establishing and reinforcing of more destructive behaviors.
Another effective principle of psychological inoculation against marketing is to tear down the false categories of old versus new, mechanical versus electronic, larger versus smaller that dominate the mental landscape. Implicit to this process is that, in order for them to remain as valid alternatives, older products and services must be found to continue functioning in personally and socially useful ways. Micro-economics of repair and reuse must be actively supported, along with the personal courage to get one's hands dirty and learn to maintain these products themselves.
Several useful questions to ask oneself are: “what is the intrinsic usefulness of this product or service,” and “what alternatives to this new purchase do I already possess?” This kind of personal cost-benefit analysis can go a long way toward inserting a grain of rational thinking into a spending habit that is usually driven by the primitive, reptilian brain. A higher degree of consciousness is required in order to maintain one's self-control in this era of unparalleled, mass psychological manipulation, promoted by private interests, media and governments alike.
One recent and positive trend has been the popular acceptance of older products and styles, commonly termed “retro,” as if an attitude of inevitability has crept over the popular culture, an intrinsic awareness that we must, in order to survive as a species, curb our insatiable appetite for the new and different and begin to learn an appreciation for the past and the present. We must begin to accept and actively promote this new technology paradigm as a de facto philosophy and guiding life principle.