When I was in middle school. some six decades ago, all boys were required to learn trades: “manual arts”. In addition to woodworking, metal working and drafting, a required course was printing. I was given a wooden drawer of about 3 X 2 feet with about fifty compartments, each with small pieces of lead, each with a letter of the alphabet, a number or a symbol. Our task was to compose a page of text and then “set-the-type” in a type box, letter by letter, until our composition was reproduced in raised characters. We then put the box of the type in a printing press (you have seen pictures in your history books – Benjamin Franklin’s press). We had an ink roller to apply to the type. Then taking sheets of paper, one-by-one, at a time, we operated the press to make printed copies of our text. Printing was a trade in the middle of the Twentieth Century when I was a student!
I grew up in a small town in a sparsely populated state, decades before TV was common. The newspaper was beyond ordinary – the newspaper was a community institution.. The Editor of our local paper was a friend of my father and I knew him well. The Editor was held in high esteem, on par with a Minister or Family Physician. The Editor of our newspaper was considered to be our guardian of The Truth. What we needed to know was in the newspaper. Facts were on the Front Page; opinions on the Editorial Page. As citizens, we could “speak” to our community by writing a “Letter to the Editor”. Assuming it was not libelous or profane, it would be printed in the Editorial Page to be delivered another day.
Now my current point is that we lived and communicated in a community of a few thousand people in about 20 miles of one another. When I wrote something, if it was accepted for publication, my greatest audience would be in perhaps 100 square miles, and all of the readers would be English-only speakers, few of whom had traveled as far as 100 miles! Also when I finished my letter, it would be probably a week before read. After written, it was then mailed, perhaps arriving at the editor’s desk two days later, another day passed for review, then to the printer to have the print typeset, then printed in the next day’s edition. Once the paper was printed, stacks of papers were trucked to sites around town where paperboys were given about 50 copies each to deliver to homes at about 6 AM. Thus my letter, if accepted, arrived to a few thousand readers who lived within 20 miles of one another. (papers cost about 10 cents of which the paperboy received one cent fo each paper delivered; minimum wage: 40 cents/ hour). Now as you know, the world has over 6 billion people and seven continents in 60 million square miles of land surface,
Now I can write my observations and opinions on a handheld electronic device, have it spell-checked by the device, then without getting out of my chair, hit the publish button on my personal Web Home Page publishing template and, swoosh! my post arrives in minutes to all seven continents of the world, available to billions of potential readers in 200 countries, regardless of the readers primary language, culture or government. This remarkable event is an unqualified miracle!
Young people are blessed with health, vigor and optimism, but I have been blessed to have had a seat on the “fifty-yard-line” of an incredible journey of communication development which has occurred in a half Century.
Communication, according to Yuval Noah Harari (1) is what has allowed humans to dominate a world of millions of species. Look up from you smartphones! You are living in the middle of a communication miracle! 30
Charles Clanton Rogers – August 19, 2015
(1) Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind