Commentary & Analysis
What is Print, Anyway?
By Pete Rivard I am forever meeting eighty-
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: May 16, 2005
By Pete Rivard I am forever meeting eighty-year-old men who gaze at all the technology and all the cool graphics on the walls and say they wish they were twenty again. May 16, 2005 -- The last two weeks has seen Dunwoody College of Technology's 25th, 40th and 50th annual reunions. These are alumni events that host Dunwoody graduates reaching back to earlier days, when the college was an institute. For three days, large groups of mostly senior citizens who launched their careers at Dunwoody and made it all the way to retirement toured the campus. One of my favorite gags is to intercept these alumni tours as they make their way through the Graphics and Printing Technologies center and scold the tour guides. "We're looking for young recruits, dammit! Young recruits!" In return, the guides knock on one of the lab doors and inform me that some of the tour group members would like directions to the Printing Department. You're in it, Granddad! (And probably wondering what all those beige- and cream-colored boxes are, and why they have TV screens on 'em.) The debate Coincidentally, the last two or three weeks has seen a volley of letters to OnDemandJournal.com weighing in on whether or not print is still a viable career, whether or not people would steer their own kids into a print career, and whether or not print is even cool. I'm loving this debate. There are people who have been working in this industry for twenty years or fewer who have as much trouble recognizing print when they see it as the 40-year club alumni who stare at the spot where the massive horizontal cameras were--and try to guess what the heck that Xerox DocuColor 6060 could possibly be. And I am forever meeting eighty-year-old men who gaze at all the technology and all the cool graphics on the walls and say they wish they were twenty again. We have never had a greater array of printing technologies than we do right now. We have never had more ways to put some sort of colorant on some sort of substrate in order to communicate somebody's message to somebody's target audience. Offset, digital, flexographic, gravure. There are still pockets of letterpress print providers locally, every bit as stubborn as those Japanese World War 2 soldiers that just would not come out of the jungle with their hands up, decades after VJ Day. But we're not calling it printing anymore Talk about Media Graphic Communications and Print (as opposed to Printing) and students listen. It was only last year that my own college finally gave in to relentless pressure from yours truly and allowed that Print probably shouldn't be classified as manufacturing anymore. Now we're reorganizing the Graphics and Printing Technologies program under the larger umbrella of Media and Communications. No student in my trolling experience ever was awestruck by that Manufacturing label. Manufacturing? Aren't those the jobs that are going to India? No, the telemarketing and phone support jobs are going to India. The manufacturing jobs went to China. Oh, but talk about Media, and Graphic Communications, and Print (as opposed to Printing) and now they're listening. My students are in the process of digitizing Dunwoody's entire photographic archive, dating back to 1914. I keep a copy of a picture of the Printing program from an earlier time showing a large, industrial looking room with brick walls, tall windows and exposed pipes. The room has a row of hot metal typesetting devices running down each side of the room, each typesetting machine staffed by a Dunwoody student wearing an apron over his starched collar and tie. Stationed in the center aisle between the typesetters is a bald, cold looking gent in a lab coat, holding a pointer or cane of some sort in his right hand, looking like he's just waiting for a reason to thrash one of his charges. Dunwoody's typesetting machines have gone the way of corporal punishment. Now we set type in InDesign or QuarkXPress and I have to find motivational strategies devoid of physical trauma. Nonetheless, that bald old cane-wielding instructor and I are two versions of the same thing. Just as the six-color Heidelberg Speedmaster and the Xerox iGen3 are two versions of the same thing. You can lump me in with the Print Is Cool persuasion. That's what I teach my students. And that's what they tell me when they pull back into the parking lot in their new truck or their new convertible, with a pile of print samples on the passenger seat to show me. Six years into this teaching gig, and I haven't needed to apply the cane once. And as for those of you in the Print Is Doomed crowd, come out of the jungle with your hands up.