Editor's Letter, Issue 286

New technology

From this month's Editor

photo of editor Wayne Ellwood

When I started working for NI more years ago than I can believe, the computer revolution was in its infancy. We banged out our articles on a variety of manual and electric typewriters, a trusty bottle of white-out always at the ready.

The design studio across the hall was where the raw copy became a finished magazine. The typed (and occasionally hand-written) material was first coded for point size, leading and measure, then sent out to be typeset. A few days later it came back in spiralling rolls of neat columns.

Next, the typeset text was sliced into a variety of lengths to fit the rough page design, coated with hot wax on the back and burnished into place on the page grids. All headlines were meticulously hand done from sheets of Letraset, letter by letter. It took about a month for one editor working with the designers to put together each issue.

That era has now faded and would seem as quaintly archaic to most young graphic designers today as a steam engine. I can be as nostalgic as anyone about the past but I'm not sorry about those changes. Nor, as far as I know, are our designers. Instead of drafting tables, parallel rulers and scalpels they work with scanners, Macintosh computers, a keyboard and a mouse. And they can do all kinds of nifty things on the page which would have been impossible even five years ago. Photos can be manipulated and text shaped effortlessly, charts and graphs knocked off in a jiffy, colours and tints from an infinite palette tested in a flash.

The magazine looks better than ever. And the editing is probably tighter too. However, the curious thing is that it still takes about a month for one editor working with the designers to put together each issue.

Progress? Well, maybe. But it's that kind of irony that got me thinking about producing this issue on the computer revolution. What I didn't expect was the critical flak I got from my fellow editors, all of whom spend a good portion of their working day hunched in front of a computer monitor.

It was a bit like I was advocating a return to the horse and buggy. You can't possibly argue that we should get rid of computers? said one. Surely the point is to make the best use of them. I guess it was the faint whiff of defensive self-interest that confirmed for me that I was on to something. And eventually I half-convinced my colleagues too. Incidentally, since researching this issue I've repeatedly run into the assumption that people who question the basic technologies which underpin our society are either loonies or Luddites or both. I still think it's more complicated than that. You're invited to read on and find out why.

Wayne Ellwood

for the New Internationalist Co-operative

PS You'll have longer to digest this issue than normal. In place of a regular January magazine we're producing a special bumper January/February issue which subscribers will receive in late January or early February depending on where you are in the world.

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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996

New Internationalist issue 286 magazine cover This article is from the December 1996 issue of New Internationalist.
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