August 28, 2017

Horse 2316 - On The Cheapness Of Text (And Probably 20th Anniversary)

If you are reading this blog post on its native website, then you are looking at white text on black. If you have picked this up on some other reader, then it will be displayed in whatever the settings of that thing happens to be. The third possibility is that you are reading this in the future and through a series of highly unlikely events, I have picked up a book dead and this has been printed on dead tree product. I make mention of this because already in tapping this into my tablet computer, I have typed and deleted many characters; a process which even as little as the beginning of this century, would have been impossible.
In just my lifetime, computers have gone from being a thing which only big businesses​ had, to something which lots of people had, to something so ubiquitous that we're actually bored of the modern miracle which sits in our pockets. There is quite literally more computing power sitting in the palm of people's hands, than the banks of computers which was able to get twelve people to land on the moon.
Rather than just marvel about how wonderful computers are, I want to return to the opening lines of this post and specifically look at just text itself, or rather our relationship with it.

Let's go back to the days before moveable type. If you wanted to write anything down or read anything, the whole process had to be done by hand. This made​ books hideously expressive and only the richest of people or perhaps scholars got to use them. There were such things as slaves which people could write notes on and there have been strips of wood found to right throughout China, Korea, Mongolia et al. which have handwritten correspondence from hundreds and thousands of years ago. Still, those slates, strips of wood, and the papyrus and vellum which made books were all the direct product of human hands and I think that there's something special about that.

I don't know about you but the only thing that I ever seem to hand write these days are notes for myself​. I'm not really inclined to write many personal letters because I'm not sure who I'd be writing to anyway. Any official correspondence at work or something which I have to read later, is almost always tapped out on a computer somewhere. There's something to be said about the lost art of letter writing and there a number of reasons for that, including that you can just call someone on the telephone but it's still most singular that for many people, their most treasured of personal possessions are the letters that they once received oh so long ago.

Jump forward in the story to about the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth century when Billy Shakespeare was doing his thing. This is well after the invention of the printing press and moveable type but I bet that every single member of Billy's theatre company was given hand written copies of the plays that they were performing, which were probably handwritten by the bard himself. Now this is wild mass speculation but if you were the writer and director of theatre company, it makes sense to me that you'd want to copy out all of the play so that you'd remember it. Dare I suggest that each of the members of the cast of a play, might have written out their own copies of the play for exactly the same reason.
When players in a modern production of a play or other kinds of thesp get their scripts, I wonder how many write out their own copy. Probably not many. Having written a play, I can tell you that if I had to get someone else to read my chicken vomit of handwriting, they'd want to organise some kind of vendetta against me.

Speaking as someone who prefers the printed word to that found on a screen, I am one of a dying breed of those who prefer black ink on murdered tree product than the absolute regularity of text on a screen. If I've gone to the investment of buying a dead tree product, I find that I'm actually kind of more engaged with it. I prefer fighting the physicality of a newspaper than anything which you'll find online; it is the same for books. If I read a novel or something factual, I'm more likely to remember what was contained therein than if I'd read the same thing on a screen. I have tried using a Kindle and reading PDFs on a tablet and there's just no fundamentally wrong about it. Plus, if you have real books, you can display your horde like a macrophage displays bits of everything it's killed.
My tablet computer is handy because I can delete things ad nauseum but it's still a cold and impersonal thing. The internet has opened up the ability to publish things to an audience of millions but I suspect that if people wrote each other a letter, they'd find that to be far more precious than someone pressing the like button on Twitter or Facebook. I don't know how many people keep their emails for years and years but I suspect that it can't be many. Pressing the Delete key on a computer is a simple act and going through your inbox and deleting hundreds at a go, is also pretty easy. Nobody displays their emails like a digital macrophage at all.

Text is the vehicle by which many ideas are driven around in. A lot of us have the ability to write and publish things instantly but most of us are just content to send small parcels of text that only contain small items. Because the barrier to entry is so small, text has almost become the most worthless thing on the internet. People won't pay for news even though it is expensive to gather and produce, they won't pay to send message by Twitter and Facebook despite them being really really useful, buy they will sign up for things that they can not produce themselves, like television and movies and pay for them.
As text is so incredibly cheap and disposable, the amount of effort put into the vast majority of pieces of text that are sent around, is minimal. Quite rightly, nobody is going to pay a dozen dollarpounds for the collected Facebook posts of an average user. I have seen a book for sale with selected Tweets from Donald Trump, with running commentary throughout; I think that that has more to do with his position and power, rather than the actual value and content of the Tweets themselves. Nobody would have paid for a book of selected Tweets from him in 2014.

On a more personal level, I have seen the rise of blogging platforms, watched as people realised that putting words and ideas together is not as easy as presumed, and then seen the blogs which were kept so assiduously, slowly fall silent and die off through lack of effort. I think that it's fair to say that of all the people that I knew who kept blogs of note in 1997 when I started this, that none of them have posted within the last twelve months and most of them haven't posted anything within the last twelve years.
To be honest, I have no idea when Horse No.1 was published
other than to say that I definitely know that it happened before the beginning of the 1997/98 Premier League season; which was definitely twenty years ago plus some time. Again, the price of text was so cheap and the available audience was so massive that many many blogs filled the space. Within a decade though the true cost of doing any piece of writing, which is time and effort, was a price that was too much to pay for most people. A lot of that crowd has since moved on to Facebook, which has become an advertising behemoth and hoovers up revenue left, right, and centre; to such an extent that dead tree publishing is but a shadow of its former self. It is now only the nerdiest of people and perhaps scholars who regularly use books and other real print media.

Autocorrect sometimes suggests words that I have never heard of. Half way through this, it suggested the word "Hordoleum". I hope that a Hordoleum is a museum, an amusem, a bemuseum, or a mausoleum, which is where one displays one's horde. I imagine that a Hordoleum is a specially curated pile of tat which has a target audience of one. 

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