Two compelling versions of print

Over the last month I saw print as both forward-looking and nostalgic  

We all experience print in several ways. Over the last few weeks, I got to see and experience both the exciting ways in which print is moving forward, and the role it played in a more nostalgic era.

The first experience was EFI’s Connect user conference in Las Vegas. These manufacturer user groups are often some of the most positive events in the industry. This one was no exception. About 1,000 attendees converged to hear the latest updates from EFI and some of its partners and to hear customer stories.

Based as it is in Silicon Valley, EFI has been adept at making the connection between printing and the disruptions that emerge from the home of Apple. For example, CEO Guy Gecht some time ago began talking about the imaging of things, a riff on the internet of things—IOT—the notion that anything that can be connected to the internet will be connected to the internet, from your smartphone to your juicer and every object in between.

In Gecht’s view anything that can be imaged will be imaged—from tiles to wallpaper to your juicer. And this capability enables a new definition of print: any material that needs an image on it is print. This is how EFI has structured its product portfolio and now has devices that image just about anything. Developments showcased at Connect include the new Nozomi packaging press, an example of a new trend that promises to image and personalize boxes that arrive at your door with all your online bargains. Driving all of this, of course, is smart automation and inkjet, a technology that prints without touching substrates. Everyone at Connect who is adopting these technologies, said Gecht, is making money.

That’s the forward-looking view of printing. But I recently experienced a more nostalgic perspective when I went to see “The Post,” with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, a film that retells how The Washington Post exposed the Pentagon Papers.

The film is about journalism, liberally dosed with allusions to today’s social and political climate, but it resonated with me because, somehow, my go-to position is still to think of print and journalism as intertwined. When The Washington Post ran those ground-breaking stories exposing the lies the US federal government had told about the Vietnam war, the news was distributed through print. Print was an integral part of the communication chain that brought the news to readers and, by extension, a player in the democratic traditions that protected freedom of the press.

In some ways the film is also a love story to print. There’s the antsy ink-stained press operator anxiously waiting for the go-ahead to start the huge webs so he can make the distribution deadline. There’s the rush and excitement after finally getting the word, and the close-up of that button being pushed and setting the press whirring. There’s the camera almost lovingly closing in on the rollers and other parts, celebrating the feat of engineering and precision that the machine embodies. And there are Metropolis-inspired scenes of newspapers clipped to conveyor belts and soaring toward the ceiling on their way to being bundled and shipped. It’s heady stuff.

When I first started working in the print industry, newspaper presses were still being exhibited at tradeshows – mostly drupa. It was mesmerizing listening to the rhythmic sounds and watching the countless moving parts all magically working in unison. Years ago, manroland took a bunch of media people to Detroit to see the Detroit Free Press being printed at midnight. Walking the several levels of the huge structure, taking in its incredible speed and precision, and grabbing tomorrow’s news off the belt was pretty cool.

Alas that version of print is no longer. And print’s role in the communication chain has been overtaken by 24/7 websites. Journalism today has moved online, for better or worse. I wonder if today’s young journalists will look back with romantic nostalgia when, decades from now, they remember how they felt when their stories appeared on computer screens. The speed at which you can disseminate information and its wide, instantaneous reach are intoxicating in their own way, but I’m kinda glad I remember a world when the relationship of news to printing was strong.