Ghosts of Tech Past

Today, I visited the amazing City Museum in St. Louis. It is a playground for the body and imagination that fills and overflows an old factory building. Every space and surface is filled with design features such as this printing plate on a wall of extremely varied printing plates. This one struck me for several reasons. The image of geared rings that was printed from this plate hearkens to a technology that is gone. The plate itself is a memento of a printing process also in the past, and yet it has found a new life here in this visually rich environment.

When I lived in St. Louis, I had the pleasure of taking some bookbinding classes, and the teacher had a printing press in his workspace. In other times of my life, I have run into various types of presses and seen them in action or even used them. There is something to the act of creating media one sheet at a time as the end result of a process of creating the text and images. I have only once set type, and that hands-on experience led to such a greater understanding of kerning, leading, and other type related ideas than any other graphic design class or tutorial I have taken.

And yet, these experiences are less and less common, and our children are less likely to have access to them. I cannot imagine life without the memory of a typewriter in my fingers or of the impatient wait for a rotary phone to return from dialing 9 or 0. I provide excursions for my students to try these things out once or twice, but they will never have the repetitions to make these motions part of their body memories. I wonder what will theirs be? Will the finger swipes that we see in tablets and now operating systems be a fading memory when they are teaching their children? What will be replacing those?


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