Being in Shape

Signatures

It is the 21st century, and we have immense power at out fingertips — the power of the printed word. We usually don’t think twice about what it means. Some historians believe that the big schisms in religion and modern thought happened shortly after the printed press was (re)invented in Europe, and all of a sudden words became cheap and widespread, in print. The printed word — in the form of cheap newspapers — later gave rise to odd notions (which we all find commonplace today) like freedom of expression, and, in a sense, even to democracy, by providing a pillar upon which human rights can be founded. I might just have compressed 650 or so years of history into a single paragraph, and these conclusions are far from consensual, but they tend to point to the overall idea that if you can set ideas to print, and do so very cheaply, these ideas become powerful, and enable revolution of thought. At least, to a degree.

But in this century we have gone a step further. We have eliminated editors, distributors, copy-writers. Anyone with a computer can create the printed word very easily and disseminate it to millions. The power, as Bill Gates would have said, is truly in our fingertips. But… we lost something in the process: a word is just like any other word. A typeface used by someone looks just like the very same typeface used by someone else. Thus, when writing an article (or an essay, or a book — or even an email), we lost, to a sense, a certain degree of individuality. All emails look the same inside Gmail (or your favourite e-mail application). Of course, you can change font types and colours. You can even write in a different way than most people; assemble words differently; after all, a talented author doesn’t write like a 4-year-old.

But seen from afar, a piece of paper just printed out looks like any other.

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