Typing vs. Typesetting

Fresh Ribbon

I ran across this little ditty in my travels and it’s given me pause.

For the better part of the twentieth century, the distinctive forms of typewriter type (notably its single-character width and unstressed stroke) characterized the immediacy of thought: getting the idea down without dressing it up. Now that computers have replaced typewriters, most word processing programs default to Helvetica or Times Roman (or their derivatives) as the typographic expression of simple typing. […] As a typographer, you should recognise the difference between typing and typesetting. Time and usage may ultimately make Inkjet Sans the expected typeface for letters. For now, however, on paper, typewriter type is still the best expression of the intimate, informal voice — direct address. Imitating the formalities of typesetting in a letter is always inappropriate because it suggests an undeserved permanence — the end of a discussion, not its continuation. (John Kane, A Type Primer, p85)

I raised rent money during college by selling advertising for a local newspaper. At the time, that meant laying out the ads as well, and we did that on light tables with Exacto-knives and streamers of print from the typesetting machine. I wasn’t allowed to handle the typesetting machine, of course, because there was a Typesetter whose job it was to set type. A person who, by the way, made four times the money I did. It was a highly skilled position.

I’m beginning to believe the computer has turned us all into typesetters. As a matter of fact, I’m typesetting right now in various ways to make this little blog post presentable. I’m also editing and creating layout without sharp instruments or a light table, but it’s cut and paste and move and re-adjust all the same.

Well. I’ve called the act of throwing together this blog “writing,” but now I’m not so sure. And I’m feeling more than a little guilty that a whole skilled trade vanished while I was looking the other way – at a computer screen, no doubt.