Print endures, and challenges the act of sharing.
Making tangible things: it seems to be a common desire for those working in the web industry. How we define “tangible” is different from person to person, but quite often it manifests in lettering or woodworking, or doing something which involves us stepping away from the laptops and the vectors and into a world where a mistake can’t be undone by rolling back a commit or deleting a few lines of code. Even something like this blog post can be adjusted, edited, and shared with a few clacks of the keyboard— it’s often too fleeting, both to create and to share, and often easily forgotten.
Since becoming editorial assistant for Offscreen’s issue 12, I’ve been thinking a lot about this difference in content consumption, and my own frustrations with it. When I’m reading an article online, there is less commitment demanded of me. The tab’s always open, after all— I’ll get to it. If not now, then at lunch. If not at lunch, then tonight when I get home. Or after the gym. After dinner. Or maybe I can skim it now, and then get back to it later if I see anything worth sharing. After I read these other things and finish off that e-mail and and and—
You get the idea.
That’s why the chance to work on Offscreen appealed to me (other than the fact that it’s brilliant and you should read it, obviously). By necessity, it’s a very different process to the one I’m used to in my day-to-day life. At Myplanet, we take an iterative approach to building web and mobile products— we work in small, deliberate increments while gaining feedback from stakeholders throughout. We propose, deliberate, add and throw out features along the way as is necessary, as swiftly as possible to ensure that no time is wasted. However, with print publications, we can only iterate once feedback is gathered from readers of the issue after it’s already been printed, and by then we may already have lost them. We can iterate on a piece of content, yes, but if the subject isn’t what readers want, the quality of the writing is irrelevant. Producing print requires a different kind of commitment, necessitated by the medium.
And then, once that printed thing, that book is out there, it cannot change. If there’s a mistake, it’s there forevermore, staring you in the face (and for someone for whom a typo is an unbearable error, this permanence isn’t easy to come to terms with). The publication is a snapshot of a particular time and a particular place, for its subjects, its creators, and its industry. It’s a reflection of the tastes of subjects, readers, and publishers. The decisions that we as editors or writers make are locked in ink; we must commit to them, and be prepared to stand by them for better or for worse. Offscreen in particular is web and tech encapsulated in print: the most delightful of ironies. It freezes an industry that staunchly resists standing still, and thereby challenges how we share and engage with each other. This is why print matters, and why— as long as we’re making efforts to slow down— it will endure. It challenges us to share differently.
When something is corporeal in the way that a printed magazine is (my favourite thing is the smell of fresh-off-the-presses, good-quality paper stock, when you first flip through the pages), there’s no quick way to share it. The only way to do so is to actively offer to pass it on to someone else, either physically or verbally, and that’s what I love most about print. It forces us to talk about it, to open our mouths and speak to each other about what we’ve read. We have to articulate our thoughts in a different kind of way, in a way that makes others listen.
…that’s what I love most about print. It forces us to talk about it, to open our mouths and speak to each other about what we’ve read.
I can’t copy and paste a snippet of Offscreen or Ernest or Boat magazine— I can type it into the Twitter box, but it’s not quite the same. Instead, I have to consume it, remember it, and then engage someone else in conversation about it. If I want to share it, I have to hold enough of an opinion to speak about it, and to have an opinion I must commit to reading it. Not skimming it, but reading— immersing myself in the words in a way that I don’t often get the chance to do. And when I do, I am then able to talk about it in a way that sparks that same interest in someone else, and resonates with them. That kind of enthusiasm is contagious, and this industry can always use more of it.
In this way, print and web can go hand in hand. Print sparks conversations which then rekindle or ignite a love for the web and for our work.
For me, it’s not entirely about making something tangible, something to hold in my hands. What it is about is taking a different kind of risk than I do in my work. It’s stressful, pre-emptively worrying about decisions I haven’t made or even foreseen yet. But it’s also exciting, and I hope it encourages others to speak and have conversations they may not otherwise have had the chance to have, and share the love for our craft in a different way. We’ll see. The deadline looms.