I stirred up a lot of comment with my blog Steering into the Slide. I really appreciate my new friends with LinkedIn opining on the issue. Most responses favored my never-say-die attitude, but a few expressed concern that it would never be the same again in the printing world. I have to ask myself, “When has anything ever remained the same?” The printing industry is being confronted with what I call buggy-whip changes. You know, with the advent of the automobile, buggy whip manufacturers went out of business. We are facing a catch-up or get-out world. The problem is knowing which way the wind is blowing. The best guessers win. The worst lose.
We in the business have all seen change coming. We’ve been watching it for a long time. Sometimes technological change happens too fast despite our best efforts to prepare for it. I’m thinking now about the latest generation of co-processors. I read that the computers are not currently developed to the stage where they can take full advantage of the chips and installing them could actually hamper performance by slowing it down. Isn’t that a kick in the head? We are so used to the next annual upgrade that we never suspected we could go backward. How long will this be a problem? Well that is the beauty of it, it won’t take long. In fact, I read that article a couple of months ago and in techie-time that’s like twenty years or so. The problem may already be fixed.
Printer-time goes much slower than techie-time. Printers who have millions of dollars tied up in equipment can’t turn around that fast.
I toured a large plant in Denver, Colorado a few years ago. As I was being shown the shop we passed large area that was jammed with old letterpress equipment. They must have had thirty non-operational, dusty, cobwebbed presses and Linotype’s just sitting there. I asked about it and was told in an offhanded way, “Oh that junk? The man who operated it died.”
“Don’t you have anyone else to run it?” I wanted to know.
He said, “No one wanted to learn.”
I felt a little sad to see the memorial to this man’s life rusting on the floor and I knew that it was just a matter of time before it became scrap. On the other hand, the man had probably spent his entire life operating that equipment, or something just like it. Press operators now have no such assurance of a lifetime of work. The skills they’ve worked so hard to perfect could become useless in the new printing reality. They can be the best in the business, top-of-the-heap right now and in a relative blink of an eye their services may no longer be needed, they’d be buggy-whipped into oblivion. No one wants to see that happen, but how do you stop the technological juggernaut? You can’t. Change is coming and no one can stop it and honestly why would anyone want to?
The whole industry needs yoga classes to calm us, and teach us flexibility. Breathe in the prana you printers. We’ll find a way together. We’ll all find the way together.