From Lead Blocks to Weblogs

The organizers of Spanish tech conference Artfutura asked me to write a primer on the history of weblogs for a publication distributed at the event. The essay is now online, here’s a snip.

“When I was a child, my father hauled an abandoned antique printing press into our house one afternoon. He was an artist and writer who had a habit of falling in love with discarded tools, the same way I became routinely obsessed with broken dogs and fallen birds. But this thing weighed over a ton.

He’d become enamored with the way words from the press felt in his hands, divided into chunks of lead characters. Sentences formed like spines strung from vertebrae. I remember exactly how the blocks of type felt when he placed them in my small hands — they were palm-sized then, but cold; sharp enough along the corners to puncture skin. Heavier than the wooden alphabet building-blocks I played with upstairs.

I remember the acrid smell of black ink, and the slapping sounds of my father spreading each blob into a thin film that coated wide plates of assembled text. Gears made metallic groans when he heaved his giant body into the wheel that set the press into motion, a wheel as tall as he was, a wheel that smashed wet steel plates into paper to form printed words.

The press was an elderly oddity: a fat, shut-in houseguest who consumed two rooms, accompanied by floor-to-ceiling cabinets of paper and type trays. Homes didn’t have PCs in 1974, but there were many more efficient ways to speak to the world. My father wrote on a typewriter, and words were published in books, newspapers, and magazines. But words that came out of this press had a scent. A personality you could feel with your fingers. Whatever my father’s words were, when they were printed this way they had history, as if he had squeezed them through a time machine on their way to the sheets of vellum extra-bright white.”

Link to Spanish, Link to English. For more essays from Artfutura contributors including Terence McKenna, Lev Manovich, and others, try this: Link.

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