Don’t become fatalistic about technology

Life is a lump of habits, according to William James and the lead into the review by The Economist of Charles Duhigg‘s book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Scientists, and marketers, look at how habits shape our behavior, and hopefully, not just manipulate the habits we want to have changed or replaced. One great marketer, Claude Hopkins, brought the number of toothbrushes in American homes from 7% to 65% in ten years. There is evidence we even have the ability to adjust our habits all on our own, through life experiences and by the simple reflective pause in knowing what we don’t want; or as some health book once told me, becoming sick of being sick. But that would be speaking of the bad habits. I think it is better to remain positive while at the same time understanding that our emotions are part of and helpful to moving through the contradictions in our lives. Dan Blank has a blog and newsletter that reminded me of positive thinking. Dan is doing good things to help writers and publishers think about things in new ways. So often we try to solve new problems with old solutions, the sign of an habitual approach. If we have strong feelings about something, our feeling can lead us to discovery and then developing change for our selves and perhaps for others. Good advice from Dan Blank for me means: don’t just listen to and accept old viewpoints, don’t fall into old habitual responses, and try applying your own questions and ideas in order to make progress.

Success in business can come with developing a new strategy, and with determination, transform an organization, the way a pledge can create a chain reaction. It might be whispered that this is the way belief systems can work, by gaining momentum and effecting the surroundings as they move. Success can be measured in different ways and many good successes are not measured monetarily.

One has to marvel at, say, how Claude Hopkins could sell a breakfast cereal by claiming it was fired from canons. That it worked is more of a curiosity perhaps than the idea and imagery. What is it that the audience responds to, really? Or is it a combination of things? Can we compare the marketing of one product with another? Books have been written about topics going viral on the internet and these books have done well. But try to get the strategy to work once everyone else is trying to do the same thing, reactions begin to resemble those we have for SPAM—the unfortunate occurrence of those less sincere comments / ads stuck to blogs make it more challenging for the rest of us.

Maybe puffed wheat was not only marketed well but a new product (the age of breakfast cereal; the beginning of fast food) that got people’s attention and made their mind think of eating little wheat pops in milk. Is there any way to actually find out (the conditioned response) and apply the information or is it more useful to come up with an original  idea that makes sense to you, has some innovation and maybe some humor, then put your energy into that idea? Have the courage to use your understanding.

Fatalism; a fatalist believes events are predetermined and therefore inevitable; I may be becoming  one regarding my experience with editing this blog.

We all have contradictions that send us on searches for an end to them, perhaps in search of truth, maybe for comfort, or to reach goals. I have contradictions. My background is in visual art and making things by hand. I have spent time in the city and in nature. When I was studying library science and book art, a very exciting time of my life, swore I’d never use computers I was so taken by the fine limited editions put out by fine presses throughout history that I saw and handled at a few special collections in Alabama, Georgia and Texas. That was 30 years ago. In 1991 I began learning to use a Mac to design books and do typography. When I was in graduate school in Alabama the computer was, probably, the Commodore, and one had to learn basic 80 to do anything on those computers. I understand the benefits of computers and how they have improved aspects of learning and business, though sometimes I think they cause problems in the financial sectors that let them take over too completely. When do we know what works best? Digital technology has transformed the printing industry, but I can spend all day sitting in front of my computer and not feel like I accomplished everything. Other days the computer enables me to do a number of things multitasking for a project as a publisher. Dan Blank has a good formula in one of his posts for those of us who are creative writers or small business operators. Some times distractions come in and lead me off pat. If you work at home any number of things can come up and the need to deal is strong. It can be hard to say no to spouse or friend when what we really need is to focus and concentrate on the work, whatever it is.

pulling the bar of the iron handpressThere is an irony to the technological advancement theory. The personal computer industry has always been plagued by constant changes, albeit improvements, but many tasks have limitations and complications, things get lost, have compatibility issues, technical issues. It just adds to the pressure, that sense of being overwhelmed sometimes makes me wonder. My questions come mostly out of wonderment. Just plain old simple thinking on the edge of confusion, looking down the road for a little bit of happiness and wanting some comfort knowing that I am doing the right thing, that we can have trust in the stewards of our  special collections, as one example, and that they use every possible precaution to keep them safe.

Please note: The Economist allows limited access to online articles without registration.

The digitizing of industry has been happening for probably twenty years. The development of 3D printing made the news a couple of years ago. Manufacturing is changing remarkably so much so that it might seem that the worker is becoming obsolete. But read the latest article in The Economist about what they call the industrial revolution and you will find that there are plenty of jobs in the new manufacturing world, it’s just that the factory no longer looks the same and many of the jobs are more like support jobs. Jobs may be coming home and the general state of things may enable us “little guys” to make it in spite of the “giants”. What seems clear is that for us to keep our jobs coming home there needs to be education and on a scale beyond the bickering in Congress. Congress in fact seems out of touch; or is manipulating the discussion for political reasons, not unheard of, right; when it speaks of constituencies and the American People and what they want, by not letting us know what is really happening and by speaking in old language  about why their attitudes are the best. Why aren’t they educating us, why are so many Americans still thinking inside the old box?

Over the past ten days there has been news about e-books and publishing, which frankly surprised me to frustration when I think of all the Federal agencies could be doing about invisible practices in the financial industry, the FCC going after Google for a $120k or so seems hardly worth it. The smell of monopolistic tendencies has been in the air for a while so why be so concerned about publishers and giants like amazon having price wars in seeming favor of one when the e-book scene is not what its projected reporting leads us to believe. The simple fact is that there are different types of file formats that reading devices can use and some are truly limited. What will come  can only be speculated on, whether the book will go by way of photographic film, and who is to say what is best to do with all the information that we need for research and development in the face of the world energy crisis. Maybe many of us will just stay at home and order everything we need on line and save energy that way.

files used by ebook readers

There are a lot of e-books  reported as being read, details about what corner of the world shows most volumes consumed is hardly ever mentioned. Relationships point to the market being driven by competitive, though elaborately produced, trendy commercials weak promises of interaction and connectivity that approach demoralization of the very technological advancements that are supposed to be the foundation of the so-called information age. Are we being flashed into a techno-inebriation while who knows what is happening to our information, our extant archives of rare books, and while no help seems to come from a congress more concerned with some form of thirteenth century state? I am not turning gloomy with inevitable doom. My only concern is that we don’t forget attending to the important. The Economist article covers an aspect of industry in labor and cost of one Apple device, and several other companies using countries like India and China for inexpensive workforces is all very interesting in suggesting how that may change. Then, what will happen to those towns that have built up around their manufacturing complexes should those companies suddenly shift their mode and location of operations?

Interestingly enough many university libraries have or are digitizing areas of their collections which compliments the preservation of rare originals using what appears to be reliable database companies like EBSCO.

The University of Alabama Gorgas Library has digitized certain collections and one can browse limited size collections on the Web, some require membership and login. There is no longer a card catalog, there were once several, each taking up entire rooms. They are now on an online network.


Archives not just kindling

Small Press Points / Trends of the July-August Poets & Writers caught my eye. I was pleased to see Adrian Versteegh saying that though e-readers “are supposedly wooing readers away from paper and ink.” . . . “yet the world’s books have yet to crumble to dust under our uninterested noses. For those who appreciate the fine art of bookmaking . . . the reason is simple: The fancy digital devices can’t replicate the physical pleasures of a well-made book.” The article is about Blue Hour Press and how they are “bridging the gap between the beauty of print and the accessibility of the Web.” Something I have considered would have to be done some day. Now I am concerned with making books and getting the marketing and promotion done, regular books in print, presented as well as possible in well designed pages and covers.

It is my feeling that most Deerbrook authors don’t seem interested in ebooks, though I haven’t taken a pole. It still seems too much like giving in to publishing being about money, maybe we could earn more by selling books in PDF. I wonder how many customers actually do that? As with so many e-things, one has to be high-speed cable or DSL to be able to download large files quickly.

I was curious about Blue Hour because it is located in Tuscaloosa, AL, where I studied book arts, printing and publishing, library science, and making books by hand at the University Institute for the Book Arts. I was one of the first few students that helped Gabriel Rummonds and Dean Ramer set up the MFA program in the Library School. Even then there was (1982) talk of how computers could very well replace the card catalog, and who knows what else. There were no Macs or Lap-tops then. School computers, if you wanted to use them, one had to learn basic 80, a difficult language code. I learned just enough to complete a library science assignment. Certain to have nothing to do with computers, I vowed I never would.

And by the way, the Gorgas Library is a wonderful library full of beautiful books and an enormous card catalog, ever retrievable. In fact, there is where I started my first press, Muse Press. Inspired by rare books in special collections and the likes of my teachers’ books, The Plain Wrapper Press, contemplated publishing for the first time. Seeing and feeling pages of handmade paper with well inked letters pressed into to them is a feast for the hands and eyes, as mentioned above, “a physical pleasure.”

Well, I began using a Mac computer in 1991 and still use the same design program, QuarkXpress. I like it because it has functionality that relates to the composition of metal type by hand in composing sticks using letter and word spacing.  I know I have to upgrade software and spend a lot to get the new Adobe Design Suite, as I learned discussing a job with a publisher who was surprised that I was still using Quark, since, according to him, the industry preferred Indesign, and they had switched over. It became the crucial factor in not landing the job I was trying land. The fellow was nice enough, even complimented me on my “sophisticated design sense” but that even if I got Indesign the learning curve was steep. I decided that it was pointless to try to come up with ways of working to exchange files in other ways, since they didn’t want me to design the books, but make templates or the like, and send them to their people to complete the book files.

Bridging the gap seems to be what small business is all about. The internet is allowing us to market and promote in ways that we might not be able to otherwise. In some way the internet is paralleling that point in the industrial revolution when books for the millions, mass production was deemed necessary. It was also producing such poor quality materials and products that William Morris and others began what would be called the Arts and Crafts Movement, to carry on the design and craft of making beautiful books. Although mass market products have their function and place, thank goodness for the artists and craftsmen that carry on with the skills of a tradition.

People still value well made books for the feel, touch and personal experience of reading them. They also have the inherent advantage of being open and accessible to research and for jumping from one section to another, use the index, use the content page, finger tip control. After all, digital uses the word for finger, ‘digit,’ as it’s root. When I think about it, it seems that many favorite web pages and sites emulate the printed word in ink on paper. But maybe it’s just a generational thing. Digital technology has given us some wonderful advancements. But lets not forget there are definite advantages to a library full of books or bound reference when we consider that it is a fact that CDs do not have much of an archival life.

type in a composing stick