Hayles 2021

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Hayles, N. Katherine. Postprint: Books and Becoming Computational. New York: Columbia UP, 2021.


“It is time — indeed, past time — to create a vocabulary and conceptual framework acknowledging the the sea change that occurred when computational media permeated the printing industry … The term I propose to designate this new state of affairs is post print” (2)

“The period from 1950 to 2000 represents a difference in scale so dramatic that it amounts to a qualitative, not merely quantitative transformation. It is not exaggeration to say it constitutes a rupture in the genealogy of printed books — the rupture denoted by the term postprint.” (2)

“The codes underlying digital texts position print in a profoundly different way than it was positioned in previous epochs, for in the posprint era hard copy becomes merely one kind of output among many possible displays.” (3)

“Th e diff erence is emphatically not between the materiality of print and the immateriality of digital forms, as is sometimes proclaimed, but rather between diff erent kinds of material instantiations and diverse kinds of textual bodies.” (3)

“My approach has been to scale up (and down) to what I see as the catalyst for all of postprint’s diverse aspects— namely, the emergence of cognition in artificial media.” (6)

Defines cognition as “the process of interpreting information in contexts that connect it with meaning” (6) — all lifeforms exhibit some kind of cognition, as does computational media

“interpretations and meaning- making practices circulate through transindividual collectivities created by fl uctuating and dynamic interconnections between humans and computational media, interconnections that I call cognitive assemblages” (8)

“The cognitive-assemblage framework enables to different kinds of discourses: one that focuses on the materialities of individual participants and another that focuses on the more abstract flows that bind entities together into a collectivity” (12-3)

“What kind of work can the cognitive- assemblage framework do in relation to postprint? It provides a way to conceptualize innovations in print technology as redistributions of cognitive capabilities between humans and machines.” (15)

2. Print into Postprint

"This chapter provides specific examples of cognitive assemblages in the history of printing technologies as the machines increasingly incorporated computational components and interacted in different ways with the humans who invented, implemented, operated, and oversaw them. As the machines’ cognitive capacities increased, so did their flexibility and their ability to take on tasks formerly done by humans. But the chapter also shows that the distribution of cognitive tasks between human and machine does not always mean that the more cognition the machine has, the more successful it will be. On the contrary, the Paige Compositor discussed here illustrates just the opposite; this case study indicates that if the cognitive load exceeds the technology’s ability to implement it, fragility rather than flexibility will be the likely result." (41)

5 nodal points:

  • "shift from human to machine cognition int he Paige Compositor"
  • invention of Lumitype phototypesetter -- rupture rather than shift
  • C/A/T (Computer Assisted Typesetter) of early 1970s -- digression; "opened possibilities that were cut short when phototypesetters gave way to more fully computerized devices such as laser printers and typesetters" (43)
  • merging of reprographic technologies with desktop publishing to make print-on-demand possible (43)
  • development of e-books and e-readers, making these earlier shifts/ruptures/transformations apparent to readers

"If we ask when text first became computational," would have to go back to Jacquard, example of woven book of prayers

Paige compositor

Linotype ultimately won out -- "By preserving the rendering system but scrapping the renditions, the Linotype instantiated in its “hot- metal” casting technique a new way to instrumentalize the traditional spatial distinction between type pieces set in forms and type pieces ready for distribution. Precisely because this new way reconceptualized how a manual technique could be mechanized, it simplified the cognitive load on the machine." (52)

"Paige sought to give the machine too much cognition at a time when cognition could only be implemented electromechanically and so ended up with a machine of such complexity and fragility that it could not be made commercially viable" (52-3)

“Interpenetration of computational devices into typesetting and printing technologies, focusing on what happens once the writer has completed her task and turned her manuscript over to a publisher” (53) — complementary to Kirschenbaum’s work in Track Changes

“Decisive for this story is the invention of phototypesetting, for it broke the link between metal type and printing by using light and images rather than cumbersome pieces of metal to produce printed texts. Moreover, as we will see, photographic images lent themselves to pixelization and consequently to computational representation.” (54)

Lumitype — essentially inventing a digital computer when inventing phototypesetting (57)

Computer Assisted Typesetter developed by Graphic Systems International in 1972 — in Lumitype, image conveyed through mirror and prisons, which could easily become misaligned — in new machines, fiber-optic bundle encloses the light carriers in a conduit — each optic fiber one pixel of light; accomplishing image digitization

“When the era of phototypesetters began, their main competition was mechanical typesetters such as the Linotype, a contest in which phototypesetters had the advantages of lower cost, cleaner operation, easier methods to change typefaces, and less storage and operating space. Th e incorporation of computational components changed the nature of the game, however, so that the competition then shifted to handling more and more data faster and faster. With the push to produce fully assembled pages mixing text, graphics, and color, laser devices became the technology of choice, and by the 1980s laser imagesetters began to replace the phototypesetting machines.” (64)

Phototypesetting peak: 1980-1984

first book to be produced entirely by phototypesetting: Albro Gaul’s Th e Wonderful World of Insects in 1953

“While phototypesetters were becoming standard in commercial print shops, a parallel line of innovation and development focused on desktop devices such as the dot matrix, daisy- wheel, and electric typeball devices such as the Selectric— a trajectory that entered a distinctively new phase with nonimpact printers.” (66-7)

“Whereas the use of phototypesetters began in the 1950s, as we have seen, it was not until the 1980s that desktop devices using nonimpact technologies, in particular ink jet and laser printers, were suffi - ciently developed to initiate a comparable revolution in desktop publishing.” (67)

Adobe’s development of PDF: “Th is development accelerated the shift, already gaining momentum, from thinking of proprietary solutions that worked for only one device to a systems view in which interfaces were developed that allowed for fl exibility and adaptability— the principle that made the web possible.” (67)

First LaserJet printer hit the market in 1984

1990, Xerox launches DocuTech, “the machine that single-handedly created the market for print-on-demand” (69)

Switch from photons to electrons required rethinking all aspects of the machines

With DocuTech and development of POD market, “Intellectual property as instantiated in books was suddenly plunged into an entirely diff erent temporal regime, and book production was changed forever.” (73)

“Th e decisions bounded by Higonnet and Moyroud’s midcentury practice of using binary inputs up to the end- of- the- century decision to use software instead of hardwired logic circuits for the DocuTech had two enormous consequences that unfurled in the gale- force winds of change that blew in the new millennium. Th e fi rst was to open the door to the rapid development and expansion of the cognitive capabilities not only in the devices that produced books but also in those that served as electronic reading platforms for them, the e- readers. Th e second was to accelerate already- existing trends to separate content from its material manifestation by introducing a clear delineation between electronic data and the devices that interpreted them, a development that made e- books conceptually and practically distinct from e- readers. Th e fi rst consequence led to radically changed relationships between electronic reading devices and human readers; the second to a seismic shift from books that were owned by those who bought them to content that was merely leased and subject to significant restrictions on how it could be used.” (76)

“So dramatic is this break, in fact, that it is no exaggeration to say that it constitutes an ontological rupture from the print era.” (77)

“For someone who regards an e- book as a convenient way to access print content, reading text on an e- reader may not seem very diff erent from engaging with a print object. Nevertheless, an adequate understanding of the interactions between a user and an e- reader requires a model of distributed cognition and, as a necessary corollary, an understanding of the interactions between user and e- book as instances of distributed agency. As a result of its cognitive capabilities, the e- reader immerses the user in a very diff erent media ecology than a print book does. Once the device is not only a cognitive support, like the print book, but also a cognizer in its own right, it becomes in eff ect a collaborator with the human reader, able to sense and respond to the reader’s desires and execute commands of a quite sophisticated nature.” (78-80)