In commemorating the life of Steve Jobs much of the media attention this past week has focused on his recent inventions: the iPod, iPhone, iPad and understandably so because they are extraordinary devices. Though beautifully designed, at their core they are merely ways of listening digitally to music, making a phone call, and viewing digital content. Jobs did all these things with more style and features than anyone else, but he didn't invent a new way of interacting with the world in any of them.
For church communicators, however, Jobs totally changed our world
What he did has become such an everyday part of the church office, it is easy to forget what happened and if you are were not around in the days before the personal computer was invented, you honestly have no concept of the extraordinary revolution brought about through the Macintosh computer, the Apple Laser Printer.
With these two devices, the art and practice of typography changed significantly for the first time since Gutenberg printed his Bible in the 1450s. Simply stated, though typography had become mechanized and modernized in various ways in the intervening centuries, the craft and practice of successful type-setting was still one that required intensive training, significant cost, and time. Here's what that meant in practical terms to me and other church communicators. . . . .
My history with type and Macs
I started in church communications as a writer and I remember thinking that technology would never get any better than the self-correcting typewriter. My IBM Selectric had a ribbon that was like white-out and you could correct as you went along, provided of course that you were able to catch your errors which I wasn't very good at doing.
I'd been a published writer since I was 16 and though editors seemed pleased with my writing, correct spelling was never something I mastered and so when personal computers came along and I heard that something called a "spell-checker" had been invented, I had to get one. The Kaypro was my first computer when floppy disks were really floppy and I worked on that, progressed to main frames and dumb terminals, and finally as senior editor at an international Christian organization to a stand-alone PC.
Though the computer revolution was moving along, until the Macintosh arrived, all the organizations I worked with, both churches and major Christian ministries did typesetting and publication layout not much differently than it had been done for hundreds of years. The language was the same, the skills needed similar. As senior editor I worked on our ministry newsletter, brochures and other many of the PR and print pieces. At that time anyone one of these typically took weeks, if not months to produce because of the time needed after all the writing was done and edited, to specify and order type, create and modify artwork and photos so they could be printed, do the layout, check, revise, recheck, do press checks and finally the production of a piece.
The task of specifying type alone was not for the faint of heart. To be a competent editor and publisher you had to learn the craft of typography: names of typefaces, history, uses, how to set type, the details of line length, leading, kerning, type sizes. You had to know all of this because the editor did not create the type. It had to be ordered and you had to learn the math formulas so that you could take a type-written manuscript and know exactly how many words would fit into how many lines of an exact width and length because typesetting was expensive and if it was not camera-ready for your layout artist, it had to be completely redone. Though I found typography fascinating to study and work with, the implementation of the formulas, the math, the checking and rechecking found me alternating praying, crying, and saying things to the computer that someone working at a Christian ministry ought not to say.
Because of the time, complexity, and cost creating professional-looking newsletters, brochures, and other print materials was for large organizations only. Few local churches or small Christian ministries had the skills or resources to do that.
For the publications I did at church, press-on letters were a big deal when they became widely available because you could do headlines in a bigger and different type, though you had to apply each letter by hand. After I was trained as a graphic artist I was able to do a respectable job of paste-up on ministry newsletters, but for the type, I used the typewriter in much the same way I'd used it for years.
How an Apple changed everything
As noted earlier, though we used computers to write instead of typewriters, little else changed until Steve Jobs and Apple Computer teamed up with Aldus PageMaker and along with the Apple LaserWriter. The first time I saw a demonstration of all three working together—where the typesetting was done and printed perfected in the layout without any calculation on the part of the user, where you could move graphics and images with a mouse—I knew it would change everything about the way the church communicated.
It did. The invention in particular of the Mac Plus in 1986, with its ability to upgrade to 4MB of RAM (yes, that's megabytes, not gigabytes) instead of the previous 128k of the earlier Macs, it became realistic to create communications with numerous images and typeset pages.
Any church, any organization, any person now had the power of the press
Though the potential was there, few had the skills to make the most of it and when the Christian ministry I was working for had to shut down their in-house communications department because of budget cut-backs, I started the ministry I've been doing ever since--helping church communicators create effective church communications.
I started with my Mac Plus. I got one of the first ones off the assembly line--it was hand-signed inside the case by everyone who worked on it. That greatly impressed the guy who fixed it when I had problems, but it didn't impress me. What impressed me was that I had a way to create a book that would actually show people how to do desktop publishing with the new tools we now had. I used it to create a book on the basics of church communications design, typesetting, and writing.
Though I've used many computers since then, much faster, much more powerful--the Mac Plus was wondrous in a way no other computer has been and enabled me to accomplish ministry dreams. For that I'm grateful to Steve Jobs.