Please visit the active Ultrasparky blog to browse the for the content that has accumulated since this all began in 1996.

« Subway Cutbacks | Main | Archives | Unsettled »

What Was It Like Before?

Trash Addict was reminiscing about his earliest online experiences, when the idea of communicating with strangers outside your usual sphere seemed so new and fascinating. Of course, it's still quite fascinating, but I bet you take it for granted as much as I do, right? It all seems so matter-of-fact that there are so many ways to draw in words and pictures from the worl outside you, and forge relationships of one kind or another through a medium that offers both the gratification and the threat of immediacy, breadth, and a more malleable identity.

A friend and I were talking just the other day about what office jobs were like before the internet. We could hardly recall how we got through the day without switching to e-mail or news for a few minutes to break up the monotony and reach out past the workplace. I’ve had some kind of access since about 1994 (when I would use a telnet session from my desktop at the B.U. Office of Publications Production to read and write stuff with cryptic, elegant command-line tools like pine and lynx), so my memories are fuzzy, but I recall spans of time where I would just stare blanky ahead when there were no tasks at the moment, since there was nothing better to do with my concentration. Even then, I would wonder back to what it was like to work without a computer in front of me, which could at least provide some kind of distraction for a curious, developing nerdling. (When all else failed, I would fiddle around with the software and try to discover obscure little features to pass the time. Thankfully I was able to do even that, or I’d never have become the employable whiz-kid I’m considered to be today.)

On the flip side, though, I think about how grateful I am to have grown up and gone to school without much computer access, if just because I picked up the skills to make things with my hands, a process that gives me greater joy than any kind of electronic activity. Especially in the world of design, hand-skills and craftsmanship are like luxurious relics. If I hadn't straddled the ages of physical and electronic production the way I did (My first job was laying out a 180-page book by pasting down type galleys onto mechanical boards and drawing FPO boxes with a ruler and a pen, but now I earn a living writing code that automatically typesets and assembles electronic data into complex books), I’m sure I would be a very different kind of designer today. I also think I’d be far less adept at understanding the relationship between tactile and virtual experiences.

Of course, my fondness for the tactile experience and the process of making things with my hands is part of the reason I loathe doing web design so much (not to mention why I design this site to look like it was made out of paper). I may keep up with it out of curiosity and an appreciation for good communication, but I don't get the same kind of sensory gratification out of the end product with electronic stuff. My fingertips and my nose and even the more discerning powers of my eyes feel left out of the experience. Booooring. Pretty, maybe, but boring.

That’s why I made the wedding invitations out of cardboard, silkscreened inks, rubber stamps, paper bags, and twine. (They look awesome, by the way, which some of you will discover in a few days.) There's something very magical to me about the way I draw on other parts of my mind when I make stuff, and something very magical about the way people hold and view and explore something physical. Even with the parts I prepare electronically, I do so with the end result of the tactile experience in mind. It's a way of adding other layers to the whole process. In a way, there's something very luxurious to that extra bit of care, even when the materials are modest. (Or, as my friend Jennifer caught me saying the other day, "It's all about bein' cheap and lookin' fancy.")

Hmmm, I seem to have wandered off my original point. Oh well more topics are just more bang for your buck.

« Subway Cutbacks | Main | Archives | Unsettled »
Powered by Movable Type 5.2.13Creative Commons License