Living as we do in an age when litera scripta does not enjoy the primacy it used to a few decades ago, it still has not become completely irrelevant, far less redundant. Design guru Glynn Kerr mulls the phenomenon
Books, I was brought up to appreciate, are things of great value. For millennia, they represented knowledge, handed down from the great scholars and philosophers of their time, sometimes at the expense of the authors’ own lives due to claims of heresy. The accusers would point to earlier books considered sacrosanct; any deviation from which — say, discoveries — being considered blasphemy. So books can simultaneously represent both knowledge and the stifling of knowledge, depending on the agenda. When that agenda is religion or politics, it can be more about the closing of minds than the opening of them.
My parents were both teachers. In the early part of their careers, they were instructed to read a specific chapter of the appropriate teaching manual, memorize it, and regurgitate it to the students the next day. Knowledge was set in stone, or, at least, in print.
That may have worked in the 1950s, when information didn’t change on a minute-by-minute basis, but today’s rate of technological advancement makes information more fluid. The media with which to convey that information have also moved on, leaving paper virtually redundant.
The small library of automotive books that fill the shelves in my living room are mostly historical and/or pictorial. It’s all great reference material, but any of those dedicated to specific brands becomes redundant the moment the manufacturer brings out a new model. Consulting Google is usually a faster
method of reference, and an essential one if up-to-the-minute information is required.
As well as the ability to be infinitely and instantly updated, the digital media offer convenience and timesaving advantages that match the complex multi-tasking demands of modern-day life. It also fits the shorter attention spans that instant access to colourful presentation demand. Printed paper may be a thing of the pre-digital era, with newspaper and magazine sales suffering as a result. For many years, this column went out in seven different magazines across the world. Now it’s down to two, although, happily, both of those are still going strong. Even the mighty Cycle World has gone from monthly to quarterly in 2018 and most remaining motorcycle magazines are supported by an online offspring. Periodicals exist somewhere between books and the digital media, being of-the-moment on a mostly monthly or weekly production cycle. Unlike digital, they may sit around on the coffee table until the next issue arrives, inviting multiple readings or readers, and on a less hurried schedule.
Despite all the advantages of the digital media, there’s less likelihood that material will be read in depth. When they buy a magazine, most readers want to extract as much as possible from it, if only from a value-for-money viewpoint. They are more likely to read articles which hold only partial interest for them and read relevant ones right to the end. Digital invites dipping and flipping. And if the source of digital information is social media, the information itself can be suspect. Much of it is unverified and can easily be manipulated to sway public opinion. Sure, most newspapers have a political bias one way or another, but, all the same, the more respected ones have an obligation to report the facts with some level of accuracy, albeit with their own slant. Litigation is a pretty strong incentive to remain within at least some bounds of legitimacy. It’s rare that they will entirely invent a story just to create public unrest or attempt to de-legitimize anything that doesn’t support their agenda as “fake news”. The social media have been exploited to do both, and in volume. As Special Counsel Robert Mueller can testify.
Design has gone through a similar revolution. When I was designer with BMW in the 1980s, most of the concept design phase was still done by hand, be that sketching, tape drawings, bodywork engineering, clay models or plaster masters. For much the same reasons as with publishing, most of this has since gone digital, allowing the simultaneous input of multiple R&D disciplines, which has reduced lead times dramatically.
And yet certain aspects are still most naturally crafted by hand, even if digital processes lend a helping hand. Ideation sketches or “scribbles”, as some managers who wouldn’t know which way up to hold a pencil like to call them, seem freer when drawn on paper. And even though clay models are now frequently auto-milled from CAD data, they are often subsequently reworked by hand, then reverse-engineered to get the final surfaces back into CAD for the tooling. Some things literally still need the human touch.
As long as they continue to be published, I will always sit down with a print magazine rather than the online version. Ditto with the local Sunday newspaper — the only day of the week I have the time to read it. After spending all day in front of a computer monitor, the last thing I want is to peruse my leisure reading on the same screen. Or worse still, on my smartphone. I want images I can see in the full glory the photographer intended and print I don’t have to enlarge before I can read it. I want to sit on my sofa, or outside on the back patio, kick my feet up and turn the pages manually — preferably with my dog by my side and an appropriate cold beverage on the table beside me. But then I was born in England in an age when teachers read to us from textbooks, often written decades before. And we wonder what killed the great British motorcycle industry.
Ignoring the wide-screen television, literature (mostly automotive) has always been a pretty big thing with me. This represents about 25 per cent of it
Final clay surfaces are still best crafted by hand
Hand-drawn concept “scribbles” are more emotional than computer-generated drawings