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Analog Digitizing

Posted by Dirck on 29 November, 2012

A recent meditation on the current state of hand-writing (some of which conducted while I reclined in the box of recycling paper in my fever-fugue yesterday) bore some interesting fruit.  One of the points in favour of handwriting, which I go into somewhat last month, is that it puts the reader in almost direct contact with the writer, a brushing of fingertips at one remove, and one of the problems with electronically-moderated communication is that there is insulation preventing such contact.  Even Skype, while one is more or less talking right to the opposite number, is not much different from chatting with a Mi-Go brain-jar.

It was in part the notion of technologies as construed by ages past which knocked my train of thought down a bit of a siding.  What, in the past, was there apart from letters? There were telegrams, of course, which in the absence of very clever composition had all the warmth of a Dalek wearing a clown nose; when the message was REGRET TO INFORM SAM BLOGS KILLED AT FRONT 10/10/18 there was a limit to how clever a compositor wanted to be.  The telegram also had the charm of being rather expensive, since one was paying by the character.

This brought me to a very interesting if short-lived phenomenon.  During the interbellum period, microfilm came into its own.  In this age of terabyte drives, it seems rather quaint, but when all data storage was hitherto done on paper, any sort of compression was seen as a boon.  When the Second World War irrupted the technology was, as most other technology available at the time, pressed into service.  One of the less bellicose ways in which it was used was V-Mail; the name of this service has now been co-opted in some quarters to mean “voice mail’, but in its original incarnation is was a way of shipping mail to the boys at the front without clogging the supply chain with letters.

The way it worked: the letter is written on a specific form, then shrunk down to a mere dot on a strip of film after being read and redacted by military censors who probably had the odd laugh in a working day.  The film, with a mail-bag’s worth of Dear Johns aboard, was shipped to a distribution centre near the action, printed onto a piece of paper (embiggened, if you like), and passed along to the intended chap, whence bucking up occurred.

…or so one assumes.  Given the dire circumstances in which the readers found themselves, contact from home in any format was no doubt very welcome, but one wonders if the distant G.I. while crouching in the shelter of a tree felled by enemy fire would look at the item of V-mail most lately delivered and say , “Gosh, this looks like May’s handwriting, but somehow it doesn’t feel quite right.”  It is, after all, filtered twice through technology, and thus loses that my hand to thine aspect of actual mail.

However, it is a reproduction of the writing itself, rather than the mere impression of words as you are looking at now.  Since I find that I have a readership from which opinion may be solicited, I will attempt to do so now; do you find that you got a better, or at least different, sense of the author of this raving nonsense from having read it as it came from my hand, as one could back on Fountain Pen Day, than from the arrangements of scraped-together pixels that constitute the regular entries?  While not in paper form, the effect is much the same as V-mail; scanning and reconstituting a hand-written page that it may be read at a distance with radically lower shipping costs.  The fact that it’s not a paper reconstitution may be balanced by the fact that it’s in very nearly the original colour and density; V-mail demanded black ink or dark pencil, and the reproductions were rather higher contrast than the originals.  I don’t suggest for a moment the answers will change how I do things here, since I indicated in that previous entry what a trial the other way of doing things is, but I am curious to find what folks think on the topic.

…and I’ll beat you all to it: “Curious?  Downright peculiar!”

Today’s pen: Waterman Crusader
Today’s ink: Noodler’s Walnut

A reminder to all– the big pen draw is less than twenty-four hours away.  If you’re not in, and you want to be, you’d best get on it!

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3 Responses to “Analog Digitizing”

  1. Andrew MB said

    The late Ivan Illich claimed he could read the difference in a book between one written (or even typed on a typewriter) and one “written” on a computer. I don’t doubt that in the least. The rhythms are different. To get a bit hippie about it, there is a warmth that is missing on work bloodlessly done on a computer. It is mediated by another dimension past simple pen to paper. Whenever I write reviews I always write them out longhand before I attempt to commit them to the electronic dominion. I am too old to pretend that I can think on a computer. I am sure it is possible, and necessary to those who have grown up with one by their side.

    Still, I don’t relish passing judgement on what’s better or best. I’ll simply leave it as “different” now, so you can excise the “bloodlessly” adverb above.

    Thanks for sailing this thought balloon…

  2. Given some of Illich’s notions about the likely longevity of capitalism, I’m very hesitant to gainsay anything else he might offer. However, while I’m now striving to keep my fiction-writing, in its first drafts at least, in an analog mode, I do recall occasions when the figurative drops of blood have stood out on my brow while staring at a monitor. Whether anyone else would know they’d appeared, though… there lies the question.

  3. Walter Beaumont said

    I’m now perpetually bummed out, the post office no longer sells air letters. The cut rate, blue international letters that you could write to your hearts content and mail off after licking three sides. A sign of the times…

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