Back when News was Physical

etaoin shrdlu are the first line of letters on a linotype keyboard, arranged based on frequency. The phrase is used to mark the end of a column. It is also the title of a short documentary about the last run of the linotype machines at the New York Times on July 2, 1978.

There are all sorts of wonderful details in this 30-minute film. We learn the origin of words such as hot type and mattress and are shown how a “pig” of lead is melted down to cast type forms.

The mechanical crank and whirl of the linotype machines are wonderful sound, especially when contrasted with the castanet-like crackle of the new chicklet keyboards on the the new mainframe terminals shown later in the film. As the 9pm first edition deadline approaches, the “make up men” hunch over their tables side-by-side with page editors physically laying out the paper on full page forms. There’s a wonderful exchange as they figure out how to make the page work, a construction project of words.

Farewell – ETAOIN SHRDLU – 1978 from Linotype: The Film

These days are long gone now but I’m glad for this film which captures a technology that was a wonder of its day.

h/t Open Culture

The Modern Luddite’s Prayer

Sherry Turkle write’s in this week’s Sunday NY Times (The Flight from Conversation) that in the pursuit of connections via technology (email, texting, social media) we are forgetting the slow rhythm and cadence of face-to-face conversations.

FACE-TO-FACE conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits. As we ramp up the volume and velocity of online connections, we start to expect faster answers. To get these, we ask one another simpler questions; we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters. It is as though we have all put ourselves on cable news. Shakespeare might have said, “We are consum’d with that which we were nourish’d by.”

Reading this, I was reminded by an essay I whipped off in Paris last Summer. I was there coming off a two-week holiday. I rented a flat for my family in the Marais district and we spent each delicious day walking the city and drinking in it’s vibrancy. One evening, I think I was amped up on too much espresso and was channelling Keroac, I scribbled the words below, by hand, all in one go. I never even went back to it. But Ms. Turkle’s piece made me think of it again.

I never posted it because I’m a little of embarrassed about it but, hey, it’s a blog so what the heck, indulge me.

The Modern Luddite’s Prayer

The spindled algorithms of our time are optimizing the sinews of humanity. Gnashing life’s great works in the gears of its Engine. These are the Satanic Mills of our generation.

Spitting out matchsticks of knowledge that are mere sulfur-tipped flashes of attention-seeking knowledge, no longer able to light the pyre of change in our mossy, over-grown minds which have been deadened by years of trackpad-enabled twiddling.

We are addicted to the “new” in our Newsfeed but have lost the wisdom of perspective

Supplicants to the superior recall of the internet brain, we slavishly log time on the social media treadmill with a thirst to be first. Dark Times ahead if we continue to blindly submit to the false gods of Real-time and PageRank.

Step away from your monitor, stop stroking your little glass-faced friend. Look into your neighbor’s eyes and wonder at their soul. Smile to the passing stranger on the street and note them for who they are. Feel the warmth and smell of humanity. Marvel at life’s infinite choices.

Live to create, not consume.