The Information Dirt Road

"The printing of pictures...brought a completely new thing into is hardly too much to say that since the invention of writing there has been no more important invention than that of the exactly repeatable pictorial statement (e.g., the print)." William M. Ivins, Jr., from Prints and Visual Communication

"But most important of all, printing proved to be the greatest extension of human consciousness ever created." Paul Gray, Time Magazine, December 26, 1999

As a letterpress printer and printmaker reading these quotes, I felt my vital importance to society immediately reaffirmed, but not for long. This was the 15th C. they're talking about. Much easier and quicker means of repeating pictorial and textual statements have long since come into widespread use, relegating letterpress printing to commercial obsolescence, and printmaking to, well, mere art.

But I'd like to take a page, pun intended, from the Slow Movement and suggest "Slow Information," the ongoing inheritance of the 15th C. technology of Gutenberg. It's still going on, and not just at Colonial Williamsburg.

There are many of us quietly toiling underground in a mess of ink and paper, considering the kiss impression, cap heights, lowercase x-heights, stem weights, etc., and how all these essentially visual elements are the vehicle of our most perfect expression of the word. And making all this happen slowly, by hand.

I won't argue that the Internet and electronic media have not been every bit as transformative an "extension of human consciousness" as printing and printmaking were in their day. I imagine commentators in the mid-15th C. were inveighing against faddists who commandeered the new medium of printing and waxed nostalgic about a graceful hand in Chancery italic on freshly scraped vellum. But taking a moment to back quietly away from the speed, unevenness, sound, and fury of the current information deluge to see the voice of the word elegantly and indelibly impressed on paper is a slow pleasure not to be forgotten.