End of an Era?

“Horrible news – its like someone dying – i can’t help but feel every minute i spend on this fucking computer is helping to destroy wonderful things such as HAND LAYOUT”

– 1:51 a.m. email from Eggplant

This issue marks the end of an era — it is the first issue that Slingshot has had to be “processed” through a computer before it reached your hands. In early January, Slingshot’s newspaper printer since 1988 told us that they had gotten rid of their camera and that they were only accepting newspaper copy in digital form. Until this issue, we would make a “camera ready” layout by hand, the printer would take a photograph of it on a huge camera, create a huge negative, and use that to burn printing plates that would then print the paper. Without a camera, the printer now burns the plates directly from a computer print out. [Note: the printer for the Organizer still has their camera so that publication is still old school.]

This is basically a symbolic loss; our friend Sandi offered to help us continue doing hand layout by scanning our camera-ready originals and emailing them to the printing press. But like Eggplant says, this is another step in the march of progress which always brings us more technology and allegedly more efficiency, but which never considers whether we want to actually live in the homogenized, soulless world that is emerging. It’s easy to get caught up in the march of progress and excited by each new shiny gadget and forget that you’re an animal — a living thing — with needs and desires far more complex, interesting and meaningful than making everything fast, efficient, easy and cheap.

The process of making Slingshot is different from how most printed publications are made these days — we still do it mostly by hand, using computers as little as we can. We physically cut, manipulate and glue back together pieces of paper to make a collage — text, artwork and headlines — that become each page of the paper. This is how publications were designed before computer layout, and after the demise of setting type on pieces of lead. Our production method means we have a collection of scissors, razor blades, pens, a waxer to glue stuff together, rolls of line tape, and huge piles of art we can cut up.

Some of these hand-layout tools are now endangered — they are no longer being manufactured and you have to become something of an antique collector if you want to continue to use all the tools that used to exist to do layout this way.

So, we’ve decided to officially become antique collectors by asking everyone to send us their un-used hand-layout tools: particularly border tape, clip art books, waxers, zipatone film, rub-on letters or other cool hand-layout stuff we may not even know about yet. We want to build a living archive of these materials — to preserve tools as well as skills as we continue using them for their intended purpose.

How you do something and the tools you use help shape your experience and your thinking while you’re using those particular tools. We think that our use of these old-fashioned publication methods is both a product of our political and counter-cultural thinking, which is skeptical of the de-humanizing effects of the high-techization of our lives, as well as helping us develop these ideas in the first place.

Computers isolate people in front of their personal screen and divide them by rewarding ever-more division of labor and specialization in particular micro-specializations. Some people have special skills while everyone else is disempowered because they lack those skills. This process of stratification promotes individualism and competition and frustrates people building community, cooperation and equality.

When we use ancient tools to make Slingshot, these tools permit a more inclusive, cooperative and equal relationship between members of the collective since everyone has a more equal knowledge regarding the means of production. Everyone can cut stuff up and glue it back together — you learn this in grade school.

As a bonus, we achieve a diversity of style within the paper, rather than the drab standardization you see in a lot of publications these days. Even a lot of radical publications look like they are trying to imitate the slick computerized style of the corporate machine they are presumably opposing — how sad. These days more than ever, we are starved for forms of expression that haven’t been sterilized and computerized — that look like they were made by living human beings rather than machines.

When we make Slingshot, each person in the collective usually does 1-3 pages, so the look of the paper changes from page to page. We do it all together in a chaotic room — sort of like a party with razor blades and scraps of paper. This environment is engaging and cooperative — breaking down the loneliness it is so easy to feel in the standardized world of sitting in front of a computer screen. Unlike computers, other human beings tell jokes, give you a hard time, challenge your ideas, teach you things and help you when you need help.

They’ll give you a hug if you need one. Creating the paper becomes much more than a means to an end — it expresses a model for how we would like to reorganize the whole world.

You always hear how the internet is turning everyone into the media and opening up new opportunities for community, creativity and access — and maybe that is true in some ways — but this isn’t the only side of the story. People are in “community” sitting alone looking at a screen. Their creativity is expressed in narrowly constrained technological forms of media expression.

The mainstream society always seeks the newest technology and the most efficient tools. But you don’t have to use these gadgets just because they exist — newer and more efficient is not always better. It is crucial to ask how each technology, tool or method makes you feel and how it impacts your relationships with others and the earth. When you start asking these questions about every technology, you start realizing how often new technology exists not to benefit the user, society or the earth, but just to enable a corporation to sell stuff.

The whole idea of efficiency is suspect — why do we always want to do everything faster? Maybe the joy of doing something slow and really engaging with it and experiencing the process is the essence of being alive — is the key to leading a meaningful life. Processes that are tough and complex can make you feel way more alive, competent and satisfied than stuff that seems easy because it has been pre-digested, computerized and managed for you by a corporation. And having everything easy can come with invisible environmental and social costs — using lots of oil, chemicals, transnational transportation and cheap labor from the third world.

If you fly an airplane across the USA, you will not know the USA. If you walk, bike and hitch, you will have really traveled. Who wants to make love as fast as possible when you could spend a lazy morning at it?

So in the spirit of slow lovin’, send us your clip art books and bordertape. Or better yet, figure out how to use them yourself and step back from computerizing every last bit of your life.