The Kinder Gap: Brave New Word

  1. The Joy of Publishing
  2. The Kinder Gap
  3. Exercising Control Through Anarchy

Print is dead.

Freedom of the press used to belong to those who owned one. Now it belongs to the customers as well.

One of the hardest things for experienced editors and publishers on the net is realizing that the reader has control. Traditional editors expect to have control over what you see. They don’t: you have all the control they used to have. You choose which font you’re going to use to view the text of their work. You choose whether or not you’re going to view pictures immediately, or wait until you’ve read the text of the page before viewing the pictures--or you might even choose not to view the pictures at all.

You choose the color of your paper and the color of your words. You even choose what it means to “emphasize” words and make them “stand out”. You choose the size of the page, the size of the text, and the size of the headlines.

Most of the time, of course, you’re going to exercise the choice of not deciding--that is, you’ll leave everything set they way it came when you bought your web browser. But if your eyesight begins to go, you can tell your browser to increase the size of the text on the page. If you happen to be color blind in some fashion, you’ll make sure that the choice of paper color and text color remains readable.

Traditional designers don’t like that. They want to know where the page ends. They want to know where every line ends. They want to force you to waste time downloading their pictures before you have any idea if the page is something you’ll want to read. They want to control the size, color, and shape of the words on the page. They want to control your computer. The horizontal, the vertical, and everything in between.

It isn’t print that’s dead. It’s printers. Printers and the politics of control that go along with paper printing.

On the web you don’t even have to look at the page. Blind? Can’t read? Tell your browser to read the page for you. (!) You’ll never even see their precious text. That possibility makes traditional “page layout” designers cringe in fear. And when they realize that they can’t even guarantee which language you’re going to read it in, they’ll die of apoplexy or leave the net forever. Some people already run their e-mail through translators to bring it into their native tongue. There’s no reason it can’t also be done on web pages. Once you have the text, you can do whatever you want with it, and they can’t do a thing about it.

They’re a dying breed. Their ancestors cringed in fear when Gutenberg took books from the rich and gave them to the masses. Their gods in Greece pinned Prometheus to the mountain for the crime of stealing fire from Olympus for the cold subjects below.

They cried in the seventies that computers would never leave their air-conditioned temple behind the boardroom. The average employee would never have a computer on their office desktop. That the average employee might even take their computer home never even occurred as something to scoff at.

They cried in the nineties when they lost their job, but you were too busy discovering the Internet to notice.

You can tell who these people are. When you go to their web pages, they call you an idiot if you aren’t reading the page with their favorite web browser.

They believe that the net will replace the book by emulating it. A friend of mine claims that he has “the right to decide how people view my book”. Of course he does. And if he chooses to exercise that right, he’ll print his book on paper. Of course, he’ll have to go through all the hoops affiliated with that medium--convincing an editor that his book is “worthy”, convincing a publisher to fund it. It’s a lot of heartache just because he’s not willing to adjust to the times.

The net can’t “replace” the book unless it renders the book obsolete. Electronic communicatios will become the preferred publishing medium except for specialized purposes. Much like the camera rendered drawing obsolete. At one time everyone could draw--it was necessary if you wanted to be able to describe a complex scene. Naturalists had to be able to draw animals and plants in the wild. Tourists sketched out simple images when they went sightseeing. Photography changed all that. Today, the majority of people can’t draw worth shit. And they don’t need to. Even years of training can’t approach the simplicity and speed of the pocket camera. Printing will remain--but it will move back from the Gutenberg mindset and return to the world of art.

The entire point of the net is user control. Otherwise, there is no reason to move away from the book. No one comes onto the net in the hopes of curling up in bed with a hot cup of tea and a nice video screen.

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  1. The Joy of Publishing
  2. The Kinder Gap
  3. Exercising Control Through Anarchy