Keyword: Typing

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Typing as a term can generally mean two different things: On the one hand it describes the act of “producing text via keyboard;” on the other hand it describes the process of defining and categorizing objects and people according to discipline-specific categorization systems. For the purpose of this keyword activity, the first meaning of typing will be investigated further.

The term typing is derived from the word type, which designates the combination of font and cast in a printing press. Types were assembled into lines and then into a form from which prints could be made. 

Examples of metal types. Image source:

For several centuries, typing required the repeated manual composing of each type to build a text. To make this time consuming task more efficient, the 19th century saw various efforts at mechanizing the process, not all of them successful. For instance, the Paige Compositor, named after its inventor James W. Paige (1842-1917), substituted a mechanical arm for the human typesetter. Its lack of precision, however, made it more or less useless for the printing industry and the machine is today mostly known for almost bankrupting author Mark Twain who had invested both his royalties as well as his wife Olivia Clemens’ inheritance.

Other and more successful typesetting machines were already based on the principle that commands entered through a keyboard would result in the mechanical arrangement of the types into a text. The Linotype machine from 1884 was named after its capacity to arrange an entire line of type in one step.

In the Monotype System, holes were punched into a paper tape via a keyboard, with the tape then fed into a casting machine that arranged the types for print. Since these machines were based on the actual molding of the various types in the printing establishment, the process was also cold “hot metal typesetting.”

As the printing process evolved in the middle of the 20th century, so-called “cold type” or “phototypesetting” replaced the “hot metal” casting of types. Instead of casting actual types, the “cold type” process was based on the projection of fonts onto light-sensitive paper, hence the term “phototypesetting.”

Image source:

In the 1970s, these phototypesetting machines gradually became merged with evolving digital technology. With the advent of personal computers in the 1980s the typing process once again fundamentally changed the process of typesetting. The process had now become much faster, even though purists bemoaned the fact that it was the qualitatively less compelling fonts of the phototypesetting period that made the transition to digital fonts instead of the aesthetically more appealing fonts of the “hot metal” type era.

Lately the arrival of touchpads and touchscreens on a range of digital devices, from the laptop computer to the tablet and to smartphones, has complicated the definition of typing. The term typing invokes the rather static configuration of information moving from a human being’s brain into a technological “container” via a normed keyboard. But this kind of information can now also be produced via voice input and via different hand gestures. Additionally, media in general have become more interactive and dynamic, with information being updated repeatedly and not only by the gatekeepers of certain media platforms by users themselves. A more appropriate and flexible term might thus be “interfacing.”

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