Physical Intimacy

World domination begins on Thursday.

If there ever was a trace of doubt in my mind, it has been throughly eradicated: People love print. The feedback we have been receiving for our magazine has been overwhelmingly positives (Save for a comment that our cover “looked as though it depicted a headless caterpillar”). After a few months of long hours, wrecked nerves and that special feeling of accomplishment that a completed project brings, it was somewhat stunning to walk into a bookstore and see the magazine casually wedged between other publications. Most of the analogies we used at the office had something to do with either giving birth or at least fathering a child, which tells you something about the kind of euphoria prevalent at the office.

Nevertheless, it was a bit ironic. Here after all, was the printed version of something we had technically been doing for years. Sure, we might have more through in everything we did, as to avoid the pitfalls of a printed product, but it was nevertheless true: We had done our work, had it bundled up in a nice design and printed it out. In June I wrote:

Even in 2012, print seems to command a certain authority that online just doesn’t. Despite all of my personal experiences, it seems that we haven’t yet ventured as far into the digital world as the advent of tablets, omnipresent connections and multiple channels has made me believe. I am almost inclined to call it a stigma: An online publication is shrugged off as “some blog” (or worse, a portal), whereas the mere announcement of a printed product warrants some immediate respect.

The excitement about giving birth/fathering a magazine therefore came with a slightly bitter taste: I simply did not understand what exactly caused the enthusiasm – other than a fetish for the tried and true.

Two separate events finally made me grasp it: The first was another episode of the excellent 99% Invisible. In a piece about pneumatic post, Roman Mars explores not only the design of pneumatic tube networks, which existed as vast networks under several European cities, but also people’s fascination with this clearly outdated technology: The fact that a piece of information is transported across a city through an elaborate system (rather than being sent electronically) results in the same object reappearing on the other side. Through these admittedly complicated means, the object retains a certain “physical intimacy” – something arguably missing from electronic communication.

The second clue came from talking to my father, who – as these things go – had some smart insight to share when I laid out my scepticism: “A magazine is inherently a finished product. What is printed is also completed, bundled up, set in stone. In an ever-changing digital world, this notion has become fleeting – hence the fascination.”

I think I finally get it.