Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Between Ink and the Internet

I enjoy learning new things.  Sometimes they are new things with a purpose and sometimes, it is simply because they are interesting.  No matter the why, in the ideal, whatever it is that I learn helps me understand something larger than the skill or task at hand, helps me see or think differently, or at least notice a glinting light reflecting somewhere I had not thought to look in the past.

I am the director of Barat Spirituality Centre, located on the first floor of our community house in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  It has been open for about two years now and is steadily becoming better known in the archdiocese.  We advertise our programs in different places, have an email list of those interested in knowing what is happening, post on Facebook, Twitter, etc.  What we did not have was a website.  Until about a week ago.

We Now Have a Website!

I’ll not go into the joy of knowing that I accomplished a significant goal I had set last spring when meeting with a member of the provincial team or even the benefit that I hope the site will be for generating new interest and participation in events at the Centre.

What has been reason for deeper contemplation for me is the depth of pleasure I have received while learning new skills that have to do directly and differently with writing, design, and how those things interact with humanity.

I find it absolutely fascinating.  Besides learning how to set up a simple, clean, functional site and what Search Engine Optimization even means before learning how to cultivate it, I have experienced a coming together of heretofore seemingly disparate concepts.

A librarian by graduate degree, I am well familiar with the e-book vs. print debates that extend beyond questions of personal preference and reach into the future of “print and ink culture” and the debate of its sure demise. For the record, I am unabashedly in the print book category—unless traveling for such a time as to make it impractical to carry enough material to last.  And, I will vehemently argue that the demise of print and ink culture would spell the demise of something essential to the flourishing of civilization.


I think the world of the internet and the world of print culture might not be so far removed as they are sometimes made out to be—or at least, as they are sometimes imagined to be.

When I was staring at a blank template for the website I was creating and looking at the menu—Add: Text; Image; Table; etc… and noticing that choosing the Text option brought up a text box that could then be expanded, contracted, generally manipulated, to accommodate both the language and the space on the particular page, I was imagining typesetters of days gone by.  Typesetters and their sticks, arranging the letters and inserting the lines in their arrangements, adding “furniture” to get the spacing they needed for the confines of the paper and in consideration of the other items that would be inserted before locking the whole thing with quoins in a chase, giving you the forme that is the whole which will run through the press.

The process is really not so far removed.  It’s just being done on a computer.  So, yes, it’s “easier” but what you are considering as you work is not all together different.

How many times have you gone to a website and thought no-no-no-no…too much flash, too many things for my eyes to attend to…  With printers, it was about the quoins and the furniture…how to space it all so that an eye could both see a unit and move to the next, or to an advertisement.  Font and size of font… Think about famous headlines from history—BIG CLEAR FONT across the front of the page.  It’s where you want the eye to go because there is something the public needs to know.  How do I want to have the eye move on a website I might be designing?  How does the shape of the font relate to the content it is relating and what is the take-away feel I’d like to promote in the person who is visiting my site?  Calm? Excited? Is the subject more matter-of-fact/clinical or is it something else?

The links are many and fascinating to me… because as I consider all of this I realize that no matter what the medium…iron gall and dip pen on vellum, metal type and printing press on cotton paper, a keyboard and a screen on no paper at all… the act of creation, the putting forth of information, the desire to reach out and communicate something necessary, whimsical, provoking, despairing, loving…must consider the human being who will connect with it.

And while the formats might have changed over time and I know there is science that says brain wiring has changed in this digital age, I can’t help but think that the essence of our humanity hasn’t.
Communication matters to us.  Relationships of all kinds matter to us.  In part, it is how we make sense of the world around us.  And as that world becomes more and more complex, it seems like those relationships have taken on all together new import.

Maybe we get more emails with emojis than letters with illuminations…but if it’s from someone you love, can’t you still tell and aren’t we still grateful? The pop-up message from a friend too far away that simply says “CLUNK” and has a picture of a coffee mug…  I love knowing she’s having a coffee and thinking of me.  The fact that I can re-visit exhibitions at the Metropolitan Art Museum online!  How cool is that…

And, print, pen and ink haven’t gone away…

New books still smell good and I love a good set of Smythe sewn pages…
Also, I got a letter and a postcard just this morning.  And it made my heart happy.  So does working on our website.

“Do I contradict myself?  Very well then, I contradict myself.  I am large and I contain multitudes.”
—Walt Whitman—

(And if you'd care to visit the site for Barat Spirituality Centre, you can click HERE )

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