Tag Archives: history

american newsprint: 1690-present

2 Sep

Stanford University has created an interactive visualization of American newspapers, beginning at printing’s dawn in 1690. Don’t write it off as just one more infographic. It’s worth checking out. An interesting bit, from 1808:

“When an Irishman named Joseph Charless came to St. Louis to start the Missouri Gazette in 1808, it was the first newspaper to be printed West of the Mississippi. A year’s subscription could be paid in cash or vegetables.”

Plus, do you know where the Associated Press came from? It’s the result of a cooperative five New York dailies formed to afford the high costs of transmitting information via telegraph, in order to report on the Mexican War. “The telegraph also forever altered news-writing style,” I learned, “making it more concise, and inspiring the ‘reverse pyramid’ style: the most important facts up front, in case the rest didn’t make it through.”

As you click through, note the explosion of American newspapers between 1860 and 1890.

man as industrial palace

22 Jun

You’re Part of Technology, Too

I use Radiolab as an escape while I work out. As a radio show, it can be fascinating, funny, cute, and gruesome in a single episode. It’s the perfect distraction while I lift weights or bike—things that don’t come naturally to me.

I was at the gym when an episode stopped me in my tracks. I felt the wind go out of me, and I ceased moving. Robert Krulwich, one of the hosts, was interviewing Kevin Kelly, author of What Technology Wants, and something Kelly said was chilling. Going back to it now, I can’t recreate the poignancy of the moment, but it was a haunting realization for someone who avoids technological gadgets and fancies himself “set apart” from the fast-paced world of technology.

Let me set the scene. Krulwich has been talking to Kelly for nearly 20 minutes, and Krulwich has repeatedly made known his discomfort with several of Kelly’s ideas. At this juncture, Krulwich reads someone else’s summary of the book, and asks Kelly if he too is not at least a little creeped out by these notions.

Robert Krulwich (quoting): “‘Humans cannot direct or prevent technology’s course. Like water contained behind a dam, relentlessly seeking escape, technology will eventually find its own way.’ Now doesn’t that creep you out a little?”

Kevin Kelly: “No, no—”

RK: “Oh, you’re just you.”

KK: “No, no, no. Seriously. If you said the same thing about life, would that creep you out?”

RK: “No, I’m part of life; I’m just worried about the things—”

KK: “No, you’re part of technology too. Don’t you understand? We humans have invented ourselves. We have this external stomach we call cooking, that has changed our diets, that has changed our teeth, our jaws. We remade ourselves when we became literate; our brains are rewired, we think differently. We’re not the same people that left Africa. We have domesticated ourselves. And we’re going to continue doing that.”

Now, I’ve read about technological devices as extensions of human ability. The telephone was an extension of our mouths; it projected our voices across impossible distances. But this was an eye-opening way to see myself: An invention. Not readily separable from technology.

I found myself the next morning trying to imagine life with no technology, not just without our MacBook or Civic, but without the building systems that were used to create our apartment building 80-some years ago. Without the pipes and pumps that bring water up three stories and into our tub. And, yes, even more basically: without the books on our shelves or a simple pencil or written language at all.

If technology is not just gadgetry but the whole invented world—every machine, no matter how simple—then I can’t distinguish myself from that world any easier than I can pretend I’m not part of the natural system of sun, water, and air.

:: :: ::

Right up there with Swaziland

No matter how you run the data, you get a correlation between technology—whether you buy the above definition or not—and a change in the way we work. Faster, everyone says. And they’re right. In college, we learned it by rote: “Technology may mean that things get done faster, but you’re now expected to do ten times as much.” They were trying to prepare us for the real world. Except, what we didn’t learn was that this real world wasn’t everywhere.

Americans now put in an average of 122 more hours per year than Brits, and 378 hours (nearly 10 weeks!) more than Germans. The differential isn’t solely accounted for by longer hours, of course—worldwide, almost everyone except us has, at least on paper, a right to weekends off, paid vacation time, and paid maternity leave. The only other countries that don’t mandate paid time off for new moms are Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Samoa, and Swaziland.

Now, certain economic systems that sound great don’t always live up the hype. Greece, for instance. It probably offers weekends off, paid vacation time, and paid maternity leave. But it also has zero accountability, which means government officials there make about three times as much as a private-sector employee and collect bribes to boot. One IMF official put it this way:

“The way they were keeping track of their finances—they knew how much they had agreed to spend, but no one was keeping track of what he had actually spent. It wasn’t even what you would call an emerging economy. It was a Third World country.”

So we don’t want to always call the European grass greener, but I must admit that my views on work don’t necessarily align with American culture’s, and yet from within such a powerful system, it’s difficult to see a way out. Not to say I’ll quit trying. Just like I won’t quit creating ways to limit—or at least remain in control of—my relationship with technology.

:: :: ::

Man as Industrial Palace

I didn’t initially see the connection, but I ran across something today that well symbolizes these complex thoughts on human evolution and industry. It doesn’t answer any of the questions, but it does provide a little room to breathe. It’s an animated installation of Fritz Kahn’s 1927 lithograph, “Der Mensch als Industriepalast,” or “Man as Industrial Palace.”

Hardscrabble Blend

19 Apr

Been drinking a blend lately so dark it stained the white plastic spoon I used to stir our French press. It might be our chosen brewing method, but the coffee is gritty, grimy almost. The grounds in the bottom of the mug like factory sludge at the bottom of the Chicago River. Yellowing our teeth quicker than cigarettes.

Fitting then, that the coffee is called Hardscrabble Blend, roasted by Bridgeport Coffee Company, from the eponymous Chicago neighborhood, which is shaped like the state of Missouri. Tucked back off Hwy 90/94, it isn’t known for much other than its proximity to the White Sox stadium. But, like everything in a large city, things weren’t always so. Bridgeport used to be known as Hardscrabble, which itself is a term that’s fallen out of usage but which carried certain connotations:

“Our community, Bridgeport, was Chicago’s first slum. A grim place refered to as Hardscrabble. Hardscrabble was a word in the early 1800s that implied poverty. This early community was inhabited by Irish immigrants (shovelmen) who built the Illinois and Michigan Canal. They worked for whiskey and a dollar a day. This hearty vienna roasted blend is a tribute to them.”

I rarely prefer dark roasts to light, but this one is perfect for this week, when winter takes parting shots at us like a retreating villain.

Chaplin sketch

16 Apr

Google just keeps outdoing itself with these honorary homepage designs.


Our Past, The Avalanche, Its Memory

22 Jan

In a swirl of color and time,
that tepid cloth,
history is a detached movie scene

I saw it about me

those rotten and perfect teeth,
the wailing voice of a torn robe
who tightens his cravat,
and puts the pen to the stone, the papyrus

a silk scarf is whisked over my eyes
I walk its caress
to where I now sit
this desk, here

in its drawers
and habitants’

fools, and clowns, scholars
Sewing mother
Drunk father

I am a small tree in an avalanche
stay inside, carve out a home
the pressure, Claustrophobic
but warm,
quilted from indulgences,
who straighten their collars, sit on the bench

those who came before me
all the passions

those inventors and lovers,
corncob pipes, toothbrushes
the Hamstring,
the Snare,

Without a breath in my body

my head inside a heart
which is an unceasing drummer
the collective bow of an opening night

The avalanche man is at the summit

Looking down,
a tiny fir, peaking,
like a child,
a tiny finger, needles, then a hand
the air its promise of a future

unladen with a sight such as its past

you have 42 days worth of music

6 Jan

i want to mention something.
2 things.
they’ve been bugging me.

a) there is a tragedy (an inevitable one; similar to the inevitable tragedies all young people experience) that will soon envelope our generation:

the DIGITIZATION of music.

when our children grow up, and become interested in things, like their parents’ music collections, they will be deprived of an experience: that morning they wake up and make coffee (perhaps it’s a saturday, or they’re home on break) and meander outside, despite the cold to explore the garage; and they discover, in old boxes, rows and columns of thin, flat, deteriorating cardboard.

Or maybe thin, plastic cases, with light-weight discs.

And they wonder what we were like. they can imagine all sorts of things, yet not imagine it at all. they stand, in awe, wondering, sorting, pulling out what draws them to it, mesmerized. things we once touched, they touch.

this fictional morning, the one we got to have (the coffee and garage and records and CDs), will never happen.

because by the time we have children, our music collection (no matter how grand, how diverse, how eclectically or perfectly shaped) will be in the form of


stored (alphabetically by artist name) in

ELECTRONIC libraries,

displayed on

COMPUTER screens,

and measured in


Where is the form? What can they grab? Hold? Understand? there will be nothing to help them grasp our time. Only the ever-present reminder that what is real then may not be real now. And who can tell? What will we say?


[i’m out of time, stay tuned for the item 2]