Friday, December 4, 2009

LIFO: Printing. What's Next? Fire or the Wheel?

I began to study the craft of typesetting at age 13. That was back in the mid-1950’s when learning a trade was thought to be a better option than going to college and majoring in some subject that might not help put the proverbial “bread on the table”. Marrying as quickly as possible after graduation from high school, however, was also considered a good idea. How quaint those halcyon days. How far we’ve come in so short a time.

Since I liked to read, especially comic books and newspapers (my father owned a newsstand), and because I had an uncanny knack for often spelling words correctly, I thought that typesetting would be an excellent career choice at the time. Also, I assumed that it would be a safe choice as well, since typesetting had pretty much been done in the same way ever since Gutenberg invented moveable type about 500 years earlier.

Then, in the early 60's I began to hear people ominously speaking of something called “Computer Automation”. Typesetters, as a rule, didn't like the sound of this, but we were assured (mostly by those white-collar guys who majored in such subjects in college) that this new innovation would actually create many more jobs than it would eliminate. We didn't protest too much against the computer’s entrance into the printing and publishing industry. Not that it would have mattered if we had.

As a result of computer automation, hot metal typesetters, like myself, soon became grist for the mill of anthropological studies. In what seems now, looking back, like the blink of an eye, a craft that had been developing for more than half a millennium suddenly disappeared, like a dinosaur, from the planet.

Luckily for me, I managed to keep myself versatile enough to stay employed for 50 years by continuously upgrading my typesetting skills in much the same way that you now have to continuously upgrade your software and hardware to survive in this brave new world.

The Internet today stands poised to erase yet another once ubiquitous tool of human communication: printing itself. My advice to any youngsters starting out today in whatever their choice of careers is simply this: Marry late, marry smart, marry rich, but in any event: go to college first.