After many years, I finally made it to a dorkbot meeting, a tech meetup before there were meetups. One of the three presenters was Ted Johnson, a great tech guy and overall hacker. He showed a handful of projects, but my favorite is his Instant Digital Camera. Hacking together a Gameboy camera, screen and calculator printer, he captures digital images (which was pretty decent resolution) and translates it into analogue numeric printing, which is reminiscent of ASCII art.
The best thing about this project is how Johnson takes printing back in the opposite direction. The abstract rendering of forms by smudged numbers is a reminder how digital color printing’s “perfection” can look really soulless at times. At work, I always prfer the old HP black and white laser printer over the color printer. The HP produces crisp black type, which you can physically feel to the touch. The color pages come out slick and shiny, as if they were still on a screen.
However, I’m skeptical of this nostalgia. Growing up in the transition from print to digital text, my infatuation with the physicality of text may merely be a reflection of age. The physicality of printed text gives the illusion of permanence that digital text lacks. This psychological relationship we have towards that illusion is powerful, which is reflected in the tendency to downgrade online academic journals and ebook over their print countrparts. As the march toward digital text continues for reasons of both efficiency and sustainability, the question remains on what we will lose in the process.