Risograph print, Facebook Analog Research Lab
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Good news! I’ve brought the cause of retrotech to the University of Washington, and will be contributing to a weekly column on the Master of Communication in Digital Media blog, Flip the Media, that’s about offline culture, retrotech, etc.
The column is called The Analog-ist. I’d love to see your comments and observations over there, because I think some of the discussions in the typosphere are brilliant and I’d love to see them reach a wider audience. Come on down.
That said, I plan to keep rambling on Strikethru on my regular not very often schedule. So no change there.
Surely someone out there in the ever-growing typosphere has posted about the maker movement, and I’m just late to the party remarking on it here. Is the maker movement an answer to the question of whether you can earn money with a typewriter?
I’ve always faintly been aware of Make magazine, thinking it was just another source of information about the well-established D.I.Y movement (and therefore haven’t showed it much interest, as I’m unlikely to ever find the time to can my own food or build a water purifier out of diodes and fishing nets) but Forbes describes it as people who “create, build, design, tinker, modify, hack, invent, or simply make something” from the intersection of analog and tech. Isn’t this essentially Clickthing, among others of you who’ve modified cameras, typewriters, and other offline tools?
I’ve got my money on you guys to be the next big thing in the maker movement.
Hope everyone out there in the typosphere is enjoying their Nanowrimo hangover, otherwise known as Christmas. Have been remiss in updates due to various factors, but just checking in to congratulate Mike Speegle on the publication of his book of short stories, Pen & Platen (cover designed by Typewriter Heaven‘s Rob Bowker? Do I have this detail correctly? Love that cover). Did you know that you can give Kindle books as gifts? And Pen & Platen is currently available for the outrageously affordable price of $1?
Now you know.
Mike Speegle is ahead of the curve here in terms of the way publishing works now; moping around the mailbox waiting for rejection letters is not the way it’s done by forward-thinking writers. I just finished a class on managing your digital presence (otherwise known by the distasteful term “personal branding”), and realized that typospherians already do quite a bit of this, and well enough to have built a lively community around it. Speegle here has raised the bar by not just talking about writing, but using digital tools to get himself published, and I admire him for it.
Anyone else out there have a New Years goal of publishing, launching a business (applause also for Type-o-Matic‘s launch!) or otherwise turning their love for writing and writing tools into a creative enterprise? For my class in grad school I merely did some sprucing up of my resume-type web site, but still haven’t thought my goals through like Bowker and Speegle (now, doesn’t that sound like a law firm straight out of Harry Potter?)
In the New Year, I aspire to be more like these guys. What about you?
In a fit of insomnia, I just read an interview with Jaron Lanier, author of You are Not a Gadget, who happens to be a personal hero of mine, in that he dares to question the trajectory of the internet and of technology toward the expectation that as individuals we freely produce information from which search aggregators profit, in the case of Google, and that technology can redefine us as consumers of paid-model content of a company’s choosing simply by changing devices and paradigms, as Apple has done with the iPad:
“The Apple idea is that instead of the personal computer model where people own their own information, and everybody can be a creator as well as a consumer, we’re moving towards this iPad, iPhone model where it’s not as adequate for media creation as the real media creation tools, and even though you can become a seller over the network, you have to pass through Apple’s gate to accept what you do, and your chances of doing well are very small, and it’s not a person to person thing, it’s a business through a hub, through Apple to others, and it doesn’t create a middle class, it creates a new kind of upper class. … Google has done something that might even be more destructive of the middle class, which is they’ve said, “Well, since Moore’s law makes computation really cheap, let’s just give away the computation, but keep the data.” And that’s a disaster.”
By contrast, I think of the typewriter (of course). It is a device in which you define and create the content, without influence from Royal or Olympia. It provides no options to serve up advertisements or content of Royal’s choosing, or shape in any way the kind of content you choose to consume and at what cost. It’s only job is for you to create writing of your choice, completely outside of the connected network of online expectations about the life of information and its uses. There is no function inherently built into the device compelling you to share your work for free with a click to be monetized by Google search; we have to drag out middleman technology like scanners, cameras, and computers to make that possible, and even scans of typecasts evade the search engine’s current requirement for digital text to parse. These things being the case, does the typewriter, by dint of its independence from this work-for-free system offer us the opportunity to profit from our work, in and of itself (and by means other than selling hardware on eBay, I mean, in the act of creating content itself)? Can you create wealth with a typewriter?
It would be revolutionary for one of us to show that it’s possible. I’m curious to know what your wild theories are about this. Mine is this: there is a certain type of person out there who craves authentic experience, not just ideas but the tactile manifestation of authenticity: a hand-bound book, typed or hand-illustrated information, on paper. Not just nostalgics but people looking to engage their mind and creativity not with online groupthink or aggregated crowds but with the real work and ideas of individuals and artists. If the content and the quality of these publications is sufficiently high, the market may be there.
If you take zines as a case study of this kind of thinking, the problem of free reappears in the spectre of collectivism. Any group that functions mostly on the goodwill of people can tend toward this line of thinking, that profit is immoral and freedom is benevolence. (The typosphere itself functions on this sort of value system, in fact). The problem with this thinking is that people need to earn money, full stop. It has to come from somewhere. If it can’t come from, as Lanier says, “the products of our hearts and minds,” if the value of those things is agreed to be zero, except by large corporations that can mine it for advertising revenue, from where does the profit come for the creators? Are we not able to create a viable market between ourselves by agreement? Must we give our work away to the aggregators for profit, but insist that we exchange it between ourselves for nothing?
Putting this to the test, if you had only a typewriter to work with, how would you create an income with it? (Consider this a variant on a common technology interview question, in which one is prompted to come up with a monetization strategy for 1,000 ping pong balls on the spot).