I’ve seen the future of the written word.
Or rather, I’ve visualized it in my head, based on some recent items on tech-rumor sites.
As some of you longtime readers know, I’ve long believed the Web page, as we currently know it, is not the ideal showcase for professional journalism (or several other forms of professionally made content).
News-biz people will tell you how Web ads just don’t attract nearly as much money per reader as print ads.
They’ll also tell you how the Web’s basic structural metaphor (individual pages, infinite links) works against the notion of a journalistic product combining different stories about different topics into one whole.
And I’ll tell you that Web-based typography and layout, despite many clever workarounds, still leave a lot to be desired.
And it’s damn difficult to charge for content on the Web, as you may have heard. Even some commercial porn sites are having trouble.
Meanwhile, two or three big new platforms have emerged with great possibilities for content-based profits:
Netbooks (Windows and Linux PCs in less-than-laptop sizes) have become such mass-market items that wireless providers are giving them away with new contracts. (This entry is the “or three” of this list, because these devices are still tied to the traditional Web.)
Dedicated ebook reading devices have finally taken off, in the form of the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader. New competitors are promised over the next few years. These platforms were designed from the ground up for commercial content, but are so far crippled by graphics and design limitations.
Then there’s the beloved Apple iPhone, and its limited-feature-set cousin the iPod Touch, with their highly successful App Store.
It’s revolutionized the whole consumer software business with its inexpensive, do-one-thing-well applications. It’s revolutionized the digital content business as a single mobile hardware platform for audio, video, games, and texts. (Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble now sell ebooks for the iPhone/iPod Touch platform, as do several smaller vendors.)
In the New Yorker, novelist and print-media historian Nicholson Baker lauds the iPhone/iPod Touch platform as a more satisfying e-reading environment than Kindle or Sony Reader. He likes that the iPhone’s screen offers sharper resolution and full color. He likes its (slightly) greater typographical diversity.
I agree, except for the size of the thing.
Yeah, I’ve got 52-year-old eyeballs and prefer larger-sized type.
But I also want the juxtaposition of word and image you get on a well-designed print page. I want the visual sensation of ordered confusion a good newspaper page can express. I want the “splash” of a good magazine spread. I want the visual sequential narrative of a well-curated photo essay.
Yet I’d like that in a handy, go-anywhere device. Something where you just turn it on and it works; no complex interface to fuss over, no confusing setup and maintenance issues, no frustrations. (Hint: This means I don’t want a Windows Mobile tablet.)
What I want is the iPhone/iPod Touch, only in a bigger, splashier, more useful size.
And that’s apparently what we’re going to get, sometime in early to mid-2010, if you believe the current industry rumors.
Some of the rumor articles call the gadget a “Mac tablet,” and claim it would run a stripped down version of Mac OS X.
But that’s not what I want it to be.
I want it to be an iPod Touch with more, not a Mac computer with less. I don’t want something that runs MS Office or Adobe Photoshop really poorly; I want something that delivers documents and media really well.
I truly believe such a device, or the second or third versions of it, could be the breakthrough product we need to truly replace print.
I’m no Photoshop whiz or demo designer, so let me verbally display what I’m imagining.
In my vision, individual newspaper and magazine articles would still be available as Web pages for free access. What readers would (quite willingly) pay for, in one-shot buys and subscriptions, is a whole package of carefully chosen and carefully designed words and pictures, in on-the-go tablet reader form.
Each “issue” would be a complete, self-contained document, including any embedded audio or video files. No additional downloading would be required. The reader could receive it at home in the morning, then access it on his/her iPod Tablet whenever and wherever, with or without a cell or WiFi connection.
They’d have full use of modern digital typography, not merely Microsoft’s ten “Web-safe” fonts or Flash-based font substitution schticks. PDF-like rendering would overcome HTML’s severe typesetting limitations. Justified columns, smart hyphenation, kerning, footnotes, superscripts and subscripts, indentations, drop caps, charts and graphs — these e-mags would look and read like professionally made works. (Technical manuals and scientific textbooks could go treeless and keep the typographical tricks they need.)
Like Zinio’s electronic editions of magazines, they’d have clickable headlines and table-of-contents listings, zoomable text, and intuitive navigation including animated “page turning.” Unlike them, they’d be designed for on-screen reading from the ground up, not merely digital replications of print layouts.
On the software end, this is all doable. The pieces and programming tools exist. So do the e-commerce platforms, such as Apple’s App Store.
Now, at last, the user-end hardware is almost here.
(The hardware doesn’t have to be Apple’s, as long as it’s got a hi-res color screen, internal storage, and the ability to play common file formats such as Adobe’s PDF.)
If my suspicion’s right, near-future historians will see the mid-to-late aughts as a tough but necessary transition period from print to ebooks and emags.
What will those ebooks and emags evolve into?
That’s a topic for another day.
Arcade, the Northwest architecture and design quarterly, devoted its summer issue to environmental themes.
But instead of hyping new “green” buildings and products, many of the issue’s essays (guest-edited by Charles Mudede and Jonathan Golob) propose a world with fewer buildings and products.
Granted, this year we’re not adding too much to the total world supply of them.
This is particularly the case with California professor Barry Katz’s closing piece, “The Promise of Recession.” Katz remembers how past designers such as William Morris sought to influence the world by promoting an honest, simple aesthetic. Then Katz imagines a near-future in which “every act of production and consumption stabilizes, or even adds to, our collective natural assets.”
This, he believes, means a lot fewer new products (of all kinds), hence a lot fewer people employed to design those products. But there would be work for “post-designers.” Some of these would revamp the already-built world to be more sustainable and more nature-friendly. Others would devise “an ecology of information, thinning the festering datamass and rehabilitating the printed page.”
Similar themes are posited by Golob in “Green On Wheels.” He argues that today’s gasoline-powered automobiles are just about as efficient as they can ever be, when you figure in the costs of refining and transporting the fuel. No, Golob avers, “carrying about two hundred pounds of human being in four thousand pounds of boxy steel, glass and aluminum” is an activity whose time will soon pass, by necessity, whether we like it or not.
Also in the issue:
Three fantasy illustrations by Jed Dunkerly, depicting speculative attempts at “Engineering the Environment”—using sky-bound sprinkler systems to rain on farmland, using offshore “wind rigs” to alter air currents, and using construction cranes to plant fully-grown trees.
Nicholas Veroli on the meaning of “catastrophe,” and whether any situation (including the present environmental crisis) can be called one before it’s past-tense.
Erin Kendig on Krazy!, a book documenting last year’s Vancouver Art Gallery exhibit exploring the surrealistic sides of comics, animation, and related arts.
Jim Cava reviewing Tony Fry’s book Design Futuring: Sustainability, Ethics and New Practice. Cava agrees with Fry’s assertion that the constant making and selling of what Cava calls “unnecessary consumables” is bad for the planet, no matter how “green” any individual product is claimed to be. Fry and Cava insist we need to redesign our whole consumerist culture, not merely individual consumer products.
If we take Fry’s case (and those of the other Arcade contributors) seriously, the human-built environment will change. It’s not just unwise to keep going the way we’ve gone this past century, it’s impossible.
The only question is what we’ll change into.
(Arcade: http://www.arcadejournal.com )
In This Economy (to borrow what’s already become a cliche), what real estate activity might actually boom? Would you believe, artists’ spaces? Conan Gale insists just that. He’s led the redevelopment of two buildings at the former Rainier Brewery on Airport Way into artist-housing cooperatives. Now, he’s started work on a third.
He’s recruiting people who can buy or lease live/work spaces in Rainier’s Building 25. Some 20 spaces are available, more or less (some interior walls can be added or taken away). When enough people are on board, his Seattle Living Arts Group LLC will buy the whole building from the site’s landlord/developer, Rainier Commons.
While he doesn’t want to get into specific numbers (without people visiting the property first), Gale insists his spaces are among the cheapest in town: “You can’t buy a home, or a studio, for this little per square foot anywhere in Seattle.” His group also offers a lease-to-own option for potential occupants who aren’t ready to buy right now.
However, Gale’s the first to warn that the loft life isn’t for everybody. These large open spaces can be expensive to heat. There are no manicured gardens or white picket fences; the building’s “back yard” is a state-owned stretch of mowed grass underneath the freeway pillars. Shopping and dining opportunities can be a ways away (though the new light rail will alleviate that). The units with view windows overlook the rest of industrial SoDo.
And, as was the case with Gale’s first two “Arts Brewery” cooperatives (now occupying the buildings they will soon purchase), a low initial price doesn’t include the cost of remaking the space to be practical and/or habitable; that’s the occupant’s responsibility, and it can be a considerable investment of money and labor.
“During the last major recession for Seattle (in the 1970s), artist studio dwellings started appearing in all industrial areas. Now the trend is restarting. Why? The amount of money it takes to convert one of these studios to support dwelling is a fraction of any home restoration. Looking at all the numbers involved, this is by far the most affordable path to follow for those who like the idea of living in their studio, in the industrial district.”
Gale is a filmmaker and a former resident at 66 Bell, another artist-loft building in Belltown that was later converted to condos. He was also a paid consultant to Rainier Commons for six years until this spring.
“My experience working with the ownership has honed the process to something relatively simple, compared to the great unknowns we started with six years ago. There’s simply no mysteries left in setting up a group like this.”
Gale continues to run his own company, consulting on industrial-to-art building conversions as far away as Italy. After Building 25, he’s already looking at a couple of Pioneer Square properties.
With Building 25, the site’s artist dwelling spaces will nearly double to some 70,000 square feet. It would make the Arts Brewery combine the largest single aspect in the serpentine amalgam of buildings, ahead of its better known tenant, the Tully’s (soon to be Green Mountain) coffee roasting plant. (Tully’s sold the production facility but is keeping its retail coffee shops, as well as its head office at the Rainier site.)
Some of the buildings date back to 1878. The site is a narrow, curving strip of land hugging the western bluff of Beacon Hill. When Interstate 5 came in in the early 1960s, the brewery became a landmark for radio traffic reporters. The place was last used to make beer in 1999, when the Stroh family shut down the Rainier Brewing Co. and sold its brand names to Pabst. Benaroya bought the place but sold it four years later (minus the bottling plant across the street, which was razed for Sound Transit’s light-rail train yard).
Meanwhile, Rainier Commons is offering 11 other buildings on the site, totalling 33,000 square feet. They’re all up for sale on an as-is basis; some will require more redevelopment than others. The company’s Web site (oldrainierbrewery.com) suggests they could be used for everything from offices and meeting spaces to restaurants and retail storefronts. (That stretch of Airport Way was never a high foot- traffic spot, but this might change once the nearby light rail station opens July 18.)
Another company, Rainier Storage and Work Lofts, is building a new structure on the site’s south end.
Gale’s holding an open house for potential housing-group members at noon Sunday, July 5. Call 206-948-2256 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gary Merlino Construction Co. crews uncover and recover Second Avenue in Belltown on Thursday. Working north to south, new concrete forms are set between Bell and Blanchard streets, while pile drivers rip up the old pavement between Lenora and Virginia streets. The City of Seattle is repaving Second in separate stretches from Denny Way to South Jackson Street, in a project that should last into mid-July.
MICHAEL JACKSON, R.I.P.: The ultimate tabloid celebrity was also the ultimate mess of contradictions, as you’ve long known. He was a devout student of classic R&B who had a series of nose and chin reconstructions, straightened his hair, and wore whiteface makeup on and off stage. He was a self-made sex symbol whose mark of “toughness” was to shriek in an attempt to reach the high notes of his early fame. He was a creator of effortless-sounding music whose life was rife with chaos, drug/alcohol abuse, and music-industry sycophants. He was a beloved entertainer who was accused of some of the most heinous crimes. He’d attained unlimited wealth (or the closest thing to that any African-American man has ever had), then spent the last third of his life scrambling to avoid total financial collapse. My favorite quotation about Jackson came in a Facebook message from ex-Seattle semiotician Steven Shaviro: “MJ, in his musical genius and in his sad racial and sexual confusions, epitomized American civilization more than anybody else ever did.”
FARRAH FAWCETT R.I.P.: Celebrity can be a fickle thing. So can typecasting. Fawcett was only on Charlie’s Angels for one season, 22 episodes (plus a three-episode return in the show’s fourth season). Yet that one role, and the accompanying glamour-image marketing, established her celebrity persona for life. From serious film roles to two Playboy appearances, nothing she did since overcame that initial inconography of the nipples, the teeth, and especially the hair. Only her slow, very public death did that.
The Seattle Times, citing state-government sources, recently claimed that six neighborhoods in southwest King County have again become officially “affordable” to those earning the county’s median household income. Tukwila wasn’t one of them. On the other hand, it’s avoided the type of mass foreclosures seen in some newer McMansion suburbs.
Will this sparsely-built neighborhood survive any future push for high-density “transit oriented development,” such as has been built or proposed along south Seattle’s light rail stations? We won’t know for a few years, thanks to the current construction slump. Enjoy strolling these peaceful, unassuming roads while you can.
If airport strip highways are places of transience, the surrounding Riverton Heights neighborhood is a place of digging in, of getting one and one’s family established, both in this region and in this country. It’s a real place with real people striving to get ahead. It has community organizations that try to help this. One of these, the Church by the Side of the Road, is a former Tent City host.
The rail line stretches from gentrified Seattle.
Eventually, it will get to the airport and the world.
This is a gateway.
Tukwila has two restaurants and at least six groceries specializing in halal (the Muslim equivalent of “kosher”) meats. Other places offer Indian, Mexican and Chinese fare, among others.A lot more than you’ll find in whole big swaths of gentrified Seattle.