A couple find a quiet corner in Singapore's Raffles Hotel

A couple find a quiet corner in Singapore's Raffles Hotel

Johannes Gutenberg, of course, was the German inventor who in 1440 revolutionised the communications world with his printing press, a cumbersome machine that threatened to bring an end to pen and ink.

Why am I introducing this with a photo from Singapore? I’ll explain why below, suffice it to say that it helps to illustrate my point that our way of life does not have to change simply because a new form of communication enters the market place. We still need to think.
But back to Gutenberg for a moment. His printing press, along with that of William Caxton who introduced a similar method to England later, was to remain the prominent means of communication on a mass scale until the late 19th century.
Newspapers and book publishers used refined versions of their machines to transfer text and images onto paper. But pen and ink persisted.
Along the way, as the clunky printing presses were improved, came the typewriter, invented by Christopher Sholes and manufactured by the Remington Arms company in 1873. It was a revolution, speeding up office work and providing authors and journalists a means of producing readable text. Pen and ink remained, however.
And then, of course, came the computer. It killed off the typewriter as a tool for communicating and gave us all a speedy means of writing, along with unlimited access to information. I found its introduction a great asset when writing newspaper stories or books – no more telephoning libraries or hunting through thousands of cuttings to check out a fact. The information could be found in a flash.
The computer has become so popular that many turned to it as their main source of information. And as newspapers began feeding their stories to online readers – because their competitors were doing it and the public had come to expect it – sales of the printed newspapers began to fall.
Now the imminent announcement of a new form of computer from Apple is set to take communications further. There are predictions that it will be the nail in the coffin for newspapers, just as doomsayers are insisting that the introducing of devices like the Kindle digital reader will be the death of the printed book.
Despite these incredible advances, I still have to be convinced that all the things we love – pulling out a pocket book to read on a beach, spreading out a newspaper on the coffee table – will die. It’s very difficult to read any kind of screen in the sunlight and seeing people working at a laptop in a coffee shop just doesn’t seem right (even though I do it myself). And still pen and paper remain.
For all the great advances in technology we can’t live without our pen and paper. OK, emails have sounded the death knell for the old fashioned letter, but you still need a pen and paper to jot down the odd note. You can’t use a fancy digital voice recorder in a court room. You can’t do anything at all if the battery on your computer runs flat. Yes, you can write what appears to be a good book with the assistance of special programmes that correct your spelling and guide you into creating a grammatically correct sentence, but it doesn’t make you a writer.
Technology cannot do anything to change who we are, what we want, alter the intelligence, awareness, call it what you like, we were born with. Sit two people who  do not write for a living side by side, one with a pen and one with a computer, and ask them to compose, say 500 words about anything they wish. I’ll bet the computer writer turns out a very neat project, but I wonder if the person with the pen will have shown more heart in his or her words because he or she has had no technical assistance to call upon.
We still can’t live without our pen and paper, which has been with us for much longer than any mechanically or technically-produced text. It’s our fall-back when modern means fail.
The question, which no-one could have dreamed of asking a decade ago, is: are books and newspapers going to die? Some newspapers will – and have – and digital book readers will become popular but I believe the printed word, just like pen and ink, will persist. Books and newspapers will be able to live side by side with the computer, despite Apple’s fantastic advances. There are interesting times ahead.
But what has all this to do with my photo of Singapore? Well, stopping off in the island republic for a couple of days I was struck by the fact that just about every one of the thousands of tourists was carrying a camera (digital of course), some of them very expensive models. These advanced cameras have changed how the mechanical side of photography works. I watched as tourists pointed them at everything, pressed the shutter, assured that the camera would get the focusing and the exposure right. To hell with composition or finding a more interesting angle. Leave it all to the camera. Then they flew home with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pictures on the memory card, all  perfectly exposed – but absolutely boring shots because no demands had been placed upon them to think: the camera was going to do that for them.
This is not a rave against technology. I love the advances, but there are areas of the world of communication that I believe will never die because there are people who believe that technological advances will never replace our ability to think. We need our in-hand newspapers not only to keep us in touch with what’s going on around us but also because you can read them anywhere at any time and keep on reading them for hours on end without the fear of a battery dying.
As for Singapore, I tried to be different. My simple camera could do it all, but a fine photograph needs a human brain to compose it. Hence, I decided to spend day photographing ‘circles and arches’ – a theme, a project, to make me work at it. Just as we have to work at clinging to a world of communications that is slipping away from us as technology takes over. Because there are some things we cannot do without – the feel of a book in our pocket, that newspaper in the coffee shop and, yes, a pen and paper.
Here are a few circles and arches from Singapore – and perhaps we, too, will go full circle one day and end up with pen and paper. Wait until the next power failure and see if I’m right.

A model poses in an arched walkway in Singapore

A model poses in an arched walkway in Singapore

Johannes Gutenberg, of course, was the German inventor who in 1440 revolutionised the communications world with his printing press, a cumbersome machine that threatened to bring an end to pen and ink.

Why am I introducing this with a photo from Singapore? I’ll explain why below, suffice it to say that it helps to illustrate my point that our way of life does not have to change simply because a new form of communication enters the market place. We still need to think.

But back to Gutenberg for a moment. His printing press, along with that of William Caxton who introduced a similar method to England later, was to remain the prominent means of communication on a mass scale until the late 20th century.

Newspapers and book publishers used refined versions of Gutenberg’s and Caxton’s machines to transfer text and images onto paper. But pen and ink persisted.

Along the way, as the clunky printing presses were improved, came the typewriter, invented by Christopher Sholes and manufactured by the Remington Arms company in 1873. It was a revolution, speeding up office work and providing authors and journalists a means of producing readable text. Pen and ink remained, however.

And then, of course, came the computer. It killed off the typewriter as a tool for communicating and gave us all a speedy means of writing, along with unlimited access to information. I found its introduction a great asset when writing newspaper stories or books – no more telephoning libraries or hunting through thousands of cuttings to check out a fact. The information could be found in a flash.

The computer has become so popular that many turned to it as their main source of information. And as newspapers began feeding their stories to online readers – because their competitors were doing it and the public had come to expect it – sales of the printed newspapers began to fall.

Now the imminent announcement of a new form of computer from Apple is set to take communications further. There are predictions that it will be the nail in the coffin for newspapers, just as doomsayers are insisting that the introducing of devices like the Kindle digital reader will be the death of the printed book.

Despite these incredible advances, I still have to be convinced that all the things we love – pulling out a pocket book to read on a beach, spreading out a newspaper on the coffee table – will die. It’s very difficult to read any kind of screen in the sunlight and seeing people working at a laptop in a coffee shop just doesn’t seem right (even though I do it myself). And still pen and paper remain.

For all the great advances in technology we can’t live without our pen and paper. OK, emails have sounded the death knell for the old fashioned letter, but you still need a pen and paper to jot down the odd note. You can’t use a fancy digital voice recorder in a court room. You can’t do anything at all if the battery on your computer runs flat. Yes, you can write what appears to be a good book with the assistance of special programmes that correct your spelling and guide you into creating a grammatically correct sentence, but it doesn’t make you a writer.

Technology cannot do anything to change who we are, what we want, alter the intelligence, awareness, call it what you like, we were born with. Sit two people who  do not write for a living side by side, one with a pen and one with a computer, and ask them to compose, say 500 words about anything they wish. I’ll bet the computer writer turns out a very neat project, but I wonder if the person with the pen will have shown more heart in his or her words because he or she has had no technical assistance to call upon.

We still can’t live without our pen and paper, which has been with us for much longer than any mechanically or technically-produced text. It’s our fall-back when modern means fail.

The question, which no-one could have dreamed of asking a decade ago, is: are books and newspapers going to die? Some newspapers will – and have – and digital book readers will become popular but I believe the printed word, just like pen and ink, will persist. Books and newspapers will be able to live side by side with the computer, despite Apple’s fantastic advances. There are interesting times ahead.

But what has all this to do with my photo of Singapore? Well, stopping off in the island republic for a couple of days I was struck by the fact that just about every one of the thousands of tourists was carrying a camera (digital of course), some of them very expensive models. These advanced cameras have changed how the mechanical side of photography works. I watched as tourists pointed them at everything, pressed the shutter, assured that the camera would get the focusing and the exposure right. To hell with composition or finding a more interesting angle. Leave it all to the camera. Then they flew home with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pictures on the memory card, all  perfectly exposed – but absolutely boring shots because no demands had been placed upon them to think: the camera was going to do that for them.

This is not a rave against technology. I love the advances, but there are areas of the world of communication that I believe will never die because there are people who believe that technological advances will never replace our ability to think. We need our in-hand newspapers not only to keep us in touch with what’s going on around us but also because you can read them anywhere at any time and keep on reading them for hours on end without the fear of a battery dying.

As for Singapore, I tried to be different. My simple camera could do it all, but a fine photograph needs a human brain to compose it. Hence, I decided to spend day photographing ‘circles and arches’ – a theme, a project, to make me work at it. Just as we have to work at clinging to a world of communications that is slipping away from us as technology takes over. Because there are some things we cannot do without – the feel of a book in our pocket, that newspaper in the coffee shop and, yes, a pen and paper.

Here’s another circular sample from Singapore (others are in the photo gallery) – and perhaps we, too, will go full circle one day and end up with pen and paper. Wait until the next power failure and see if I’m right.

A food court in Singapore.

A food court in Singapore.

One Response to Death of Newspapers and Books? Over Gutenberg’s Dead Body!

  1. Cam Laird says:

    Points very well made Rick – I can think of nothing scarier than a 20hr flight from SYD – LHR and having to rely on a tablet/e-book reader with an 8 hour battery!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *