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Latest Communication Craze?

It's called paper.

By Lisa Christiansen 25 Oct 2005 | TheTyee.ca
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Technology is a gift to lazy people. As you read this article, some uber-smart person is working hard to make something in your life even easier and less time consuming. Think TV remotes. And remember, they were created before our multi-channel, digital universe.

While nothing is inherently wrong with sitting on the couch to change the channel, the cumulative effect of pursuing the less difficult has a cost. Some people have decided to look inward rather than outward for signs of decay and for alternatives.

For a lot of young artists and writers, a look inward has resulted in some almost anachronistic projects. In a recent New York Times Magazine feature article, A.O. Scott profiled the minds behind two American literary magazines The Believer and n+1. He sees the writers' inspiration to create these not-destined-for-massive-success publications as a "generational struggle against laziness and cynicism, to raise, once again, the banners of creative enthusiasm and intellectual engagement."

Rebellion against technology

Two Vancouver artists and friends were pioneers in this trend when they began what was described as a "rebellion against technology" a few years back. Rebecca Dolen and Brandy Fedoruk had been steadily making their hand-made books out of their own homes, and selling them at makeshift apartment galleries. Then one day Dolen sent an email to Fedoruk, who was in Costa Rica at the time, asking if she would like to open a store together.

The two Emily Carr grads took a year to put a business plan together and find the right location and opened The Regional Assembly of Text on Vancouver's Main Street in August. It's a stationery store, but with a higher agenda in mind. They think people connect more intimately with others when they speak face to face or use paper stationery, rather than relying on computers and cyberspace.

"We hope to find people that appreciate handmade, not mass produced products," Dolen explained. "It's a slower pace here, and one that we hope inspires other people to feel they can make things, too."

Handmade relationships

The shop acts as a monument to a way of thinking and doing that feels strangely original. It carries handmade books, journals and stationery as well as buttons, wrapping paper and the lowercase art gallery. Also housed in the shop is Dolen's collection of typewriters; ones that can be used to create the books sold in the store, but also to be used by customers who come to the monthly letter writing nights.

To be fair, the two aren't mired in some mythic past, they do use Photoshop from time to time, and Fedoruk admits to never deleting a single email she has ever received. But they acknowledge a chilliness at the world that swirls around them. They are both big letter writers and have massive Christmas card lists.

"Anyone can send an email," said Fedoruk. "But what does that say about your relationship to that person? I would much rather get a letter than an email."

The two do understand that the rebellion might take time. Some people, they admit, "just don't get it," said Golen. "They have trouble understanding why we are doing this. But some people understand right away and appreciate what we do. The rest just have to be converted."

Recycled communication

Sharilyn Wright, another 20-something grad of Emily Carr believes in communication, as well. In 1999 she started her own paper company called Lovely Design. It specializes in journals, stationery and the hugely popular again Rolodex. Wright is also an accomplished graphic and web designer, but it is her mail-order paper business that has kept her working for herself.

Wright spends a lot of her time scouring thrift stores and other possible locations for paper, using old library cards as well as maps and instructional manuals. She cuts the pieces up for her books and journals making one-of-a-kind pieces that are old and new.

"A lot of people have laptops or palms, but that doesn't mean they don't use plain old-style stationery items as well," she explained. "I think most people still mix it up. Of course, there is always an element of nostalgia to hand-crafted, simple paper-based items."

Thinking small

The innovative minds behind Two-Star Press took their own passion for small books and paper products and put it to work. Run by the husband and wife team of Andrea Gin and Joe Clark, the two publish zines and chapbooks featuring emerging writers and have just recently decided to make a line of stationery products.

Gin, a local radio producer, has always been a fan of stationery and letter writing. With her husband, they create and revel in the time it takes to make their wares.

"It has been pointed out to us many times that the writing we publish could be achieved with greater efficiency if we mass-produced and did off-set printing," she explained. "The fact that practically all communication in our world is instantaneous (cell phones, instant messaging) has made us steadfastly stick to the most elaborate and painstaking way we can manage printing, just on principle. I've noticed a lot of small printers out there doing letter press or silk-screen and it feels like there is a small but growing contingent of people who want to try and keep the dying art of letter writing alive."

The joy found at the Regional Assembly of Text, in the work of Lovely Design, Two Star and other home-grown paper ventures share much the same values as the Believer magazine's mission "to capture the aesthetic of mixing and matching, swapping and rediscovering."

After all, it's not really so much about rejecting those clever people busy making our email faster and our iPods smaller. It's about also embracing those people who don't want anything to do with all of that.

Lisa Christiansen is a writer and a host of CBC Radio 3.  [Tyee]

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