Pulling the Press
The resurgence of the letterpress in recent time does not surprise me in the least. People love holding onto things that harken back to a simpler time. There’s an aesthetic quality to it. It’s considered “hipster” to listen to vinyl records, to use a type writer, to do something not because it’s convenient but because there is a nostalgic quality to it.
For the letterpress to follow this path makes so much sense because it isn’t convenient to lay type and use a printing press but there are so many affordances to it that we lose with a computer and keyboard. First, as I discussed at length in my previous lab, the process of putting together a page of type is very satisfying. When my partner and I finally saw our shiny, printed, finished product after days of grueling work it was like looking into the eyes of our newborn child. You really don’t feel this when you type something on your laptop. There was also the tactile aspect of getting to feel the keys in your hand and put them exactly where you wanted them to be printed. The specialness of letterpress and its products are why it has become popular once more.
Another position to take could be one that we discuss a lot in ToT. The idea that emerging forms of media scare the general public because of the negative advances they could bring and the expected pushback. We saw it with Aristotle when people began to write, we saw it when the novel emerged as a form of writing, and we see it everywhere today with the popularization of internet journalism and social media. Because people disagree with this “bastardization” of type, the idea that anyone anywhere can post anything they’d like to a global audience, they push back with using letterpress, a much simpler way to create type from days long past.
The main difference between the modern day letterpress and its historical forebears is that today it is used for novelty, not for necessity. Once upon a time the only way humans could print was with the letterpress but now that we’ve advanced and have easier ways to do so people who use the letterpress do so because they want to for artistic reasons, not because they need to. This idea tells us that living in our “Information Age” where everything is so much easier and available to us than it once was gives us time and space to do frivolous things like drink craft beer or do embroidery for fun or use a letter press instead of a laptop and digital printer. Following close behind this division between novelty and necessity is the idea that what was once necessary meant that it was widespread, while today the novelty of the letterpress means that it is more niche during its modern resurgence. Because we have other ways of receiving type now that are easier not everyone is going to have a printing press, but only the few who find charm in using them.