The Process is the Experience

The Fascination

I pulled the press with the excitement of a young child seeing the newest Disney movie for the first time and the fascination of a scholar learning new knowledge. From puzzling over the furnitures to secure the metal type, to rolling ink on the types, then experimenting with trials and errors to determine the solution to our uneven arrangement of metal type, finally gazing upon our product with adoration and pride.

I was so proud of my work. Although it took us multiple class periods to print a few pages, we were actively involved in every step of printing. Most of the pages we printed weren’t completely legible due to our uneven arrangement and we had to play around with different printing orientations - however the process is what defined the experience.

The Process

We all thrive on a sense of achievement. Holding our products in our hands, knowing that we took a part in producing the results, I think is the most satisfying moment of the entire letterpress lab. I think this plays a crucial role in the revival of similar artisanal practices. We are often fans of instant gratification and as a result drawn towards practices where we can immediately see the fruits of our labor.

Nostalgia definitely plays a part in this revival, but so does the unfamiliarity and the unknown which leads to intrigue. Something that is similar to the growing letterpress scene is the growing spinning records scene. Many aficionados of music or simply hobbyists often own vintage record players and records despite the large variety and availability of music at the tip of our fingers. I begin to think about why this is, why do some people seem to take steps back and grasp firmly on technologies that seem to be outdated? Why do we still linger in the past? Because of the process. Printers may wish to actively engage with printing as opposed to merely being a machine operator. The process is the experience.

The Outcome

Technology evolves slowly in a pendulum-like manner. It swings back and forth but gradually moves forward. One example of this can be seen in radio communication. I was a licensed amateur radio operator in high school and a few of my friends were too because we were interested in the science behind it. There is still a very active amateur radio community all over the world, many radio operators still communicate among themselves with radios despite the exponentially more convenient alternative cellphones. Society as a whole is advancing forward technologically because the inventions and innovations are improving everyone’s quality of life in general. However, a significant population, specifically the hobbyists, who prefer the outdated technology. The hobbyists enjoy the weight behind and the complex process of letterprinting; the hobbyists enjoy the tedious yet refreshing exercise of composing type letter by letter and arranging white spaces; the hobbyists enjoy the tuning of the radio by hand to find their friends across the globe. In the end it is about the process.